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How Vitamin D Affects Thyroid Conditions
Vitamin D is well known for its importance in managing calcium in the gut, bones and blood and disease resistance. But many studies now show that vitamin D levels can also be a contributing factor in many other health problems.
Scientists now believe that it plays a crucial role in how cells communicate. Clinical studies link abnormal vitamin D levels to colon, prostate, and breast cancer, as well as heart disease, weight gain, and thyroid disease.
Vitamin D production
Vitamin D is unique compared to other vitamins because it is almost impossible to get what you need from food. Instead, your body produces it naturally in the skin when you are exposed to natural or artificial UVB light.
Once your body produces vitamin D, or you take it as a supplement, it is sent to the liver. The liver converts vitamin D to 25(OH)D and sends it to different areas of the body and activates it. Once activated, it is ready to perform its tasks.
Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system treats a person’s healthy tissues and cells as a threat. When this happens, their body produces an immune response and attacks. This reaction can cause damage, inflammation and chronic pain in many parts of the body.
Vitamin D deficiency can reduce the body’s ability to fight infections and may be associated with or cause autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s Disease.
Several studies from 2014 presented at the annual meeting of the Thyroid Association are of particular interest. Researchers from Nanjing, China evaluated 34 patients with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and 32 with Grave’s Disease against 52 healthy patients. Researchers measured many thyroid-related factors, including vitamin D3.
Vitamin D is actually a group of compounds classified as vitamin D1, D2 and D3. Vitamin D3 is the naturally occurring form of the vitamin and the most biologically active.
Researchers found that patients with autoimmune thyroid disease had significantly lower vitamin D3 levels than the healthy controls. Patients with high thyroid peroxidase antibodies, which the body produces in autoimmune thyroid disease, also had lower vitamin D levels. This suggests that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with or cause autoimmune thyroid disease.
Brazilian researchers studied 54 Hashimoto’s patients compared to 54 healthy controls. They also found vitamin D deficiency in 63.2% of patients. Those with low vitamin D levels also had higher levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone and a larger thyroid gland.
Lack of vitamin D
Normally, the skin produces sufficient vitamin D when exposed to sufficient UV light. But the risk of skin cancer or melanoma now means that many people use sunscreen and cover their bodies. We also spend more time indoors for work and entertainment.
As more clinical tests show a link between vitamin D and thyroid function, many doctors now recommend vitamin D testing as part of thyroid evaluation and care. Nevertheless, functional practitioners and doctors who follow the medical model may treat you differently based on your results.
Medical model vs functional model
The medical model recommends 400 international units per day of vitamin D. They also define an adequate serum 25(OH)D level as above 50 nmol/L, as it “meets the needs of 97.5% of the population”. The test is used to measure vitamin D levels in the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood sample.
The medical model usually recommends supplementation to boost low vitamin D levels. However, the functional approach to care recognizes several causes of low vitamin D levels. Therefore, recommending supplements before looking at general health and other possible problems can be ineffective and counterproductive.
Dietary supplements do not always correct low vitamin D levels because they do not address underlying problems. The vitamin D receptor in some autoimmune patients cannot be activated due to variations in their DNA sequence. They therefore need higher levels of vitamin D in the blood than normal to avoid vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is fat soluble, and some patients with thyroid problems such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis have low stomach acid and poor fat absorption. Autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease also cause the immune system to work overtime, depleting the body’s stores of vitamin D. Therefore, addressing gut and digestive issues and modulating the immune system is of primary importance before considering vitamin D supplementation.
A highly qualified functional GP will look at your gut and digestive health and if they are satisfied they may order a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test for your vitamin D levels.
Your doctor may recommend supplementation to reach between 60 and 80 nmol/L. This is still well below the threshold of 125 nmol/L where a patient may experience side effects. After several months they will test again. If their serum level rose to an acceptable level, the doctor will adjust the vitamin D intake so that the serum level remains between 50 and 60 nmol/L.
Vitamin D deficiency is just one factor that can contribute to thyroid problems, so self-supplementation is not recommended as it can be ineffective if the underlying problems remain. Discuss your thyroid issues with a functional practitioner to develop an effective treatment protocol.
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