Is it possible to increase T4 thyroid hormone in your body without relying on prescription thyroid medications?
Absolutely, and it’s probably not as hard as you might think.
If you don’t like the idea of being on thyroid medication for the rest of your life, or if you just like the idea of naturally increasing how well your thyroid works, then this is the article for you.
Before we talk about how to boost your T4 levels, you need to know some basics.
Getting Enough T4 Is Important
Here’s what you need to know:
T4 thyroid hormone is the most abundant thyroid hormone in your entire body and it makes up about 80% of circulating thyroid hormone.
The other 20% or so is made up of T3 thyroid hormone and some T2 and T1.
T4 serves two important functions:
- As a regulator of TSH (this helps keep your thyroid hormone levels in check)
- And as a reservoir for the creation of T3 thyroid hormone (the most potent thyroid hormone)
Experiencing low circulating T4 is problematic for thyroid patients primarily because it results in decreased T3 production.
The good news is that you can do something about it aside from taking thyroid medication and that’s exactly what I want to discuss next.
These natural treatments all work by impacting different levels of thyroid hormone regulation which are needed to produce T4.
So as we talk about these natural treatments, I want you to keep this diagram in the back of your mind:
- Hypothalamus -> Produces TRH which stimulates the pituitary gland
- Pituitary -> TRH stimulates the pituitary to produce TSH
- Thyroid Gland -> TSH acts on the thyroid gland which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce T4 and T3
Each step is important for the end goal which is the production of T4 and you, as a thyroid patient, can influence each step in a positive or negative way.
When you influence it in a positive way, you encourage more production and release of T4.
When you influence it in a negative way, you encourage less production and release of T4.
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#1. Foods Rich in Iodine, Tyrosine, and Iron
The first and easiest way to influence T4 thyroid hormone production is by eating certain foods because of the nutrients that they contain.
When you look at the production of T4 thyroid hormone in the thyroid gland you will see 3 nutrients that stand out as critical for this process to occur:
- And iodine
Tyrosine is needed because more than 100 tyrosines are needed to create the protein thyroglobulin (1).
As a protein, thyroglobulin binds monoiodotyrosine (MIT) and diodotyrosine (DIT) which are used to create T4 thyroid hormone.
Iron is needed because it helps thyroid peroxidase create thyroid hormones.
Thyroid peroxidase acts in conjunction with thyroglobulin to synthesize T4 and T3.
And iodine is needed because without it you can’t form T4 or T3 thyroid hormones.
Iodine is needed for the creation of MIT and DIT which are then used by thyroglobulin and thyroid peroxidase.
So the logic here is simple:
If you can eat foods that contain a high level of these nutrients then you can ensure that their deficiencies aren’t the cause of your problem.
And doing this is really simple.
Here’s how to get more of each:
- Tyrosine: Tyrosine is an amino acid found in chicken, turkey, fish, and dairy products. True deficiencies in tyrosine are very rare outside of some serious genetic conditions but it never hurts to increase your protein intake if you have a thyroid problem. You can also get more tyrosine by taking supplements that contain l-tyrosine.
- Iron: Unlike tyrosine, it’s actually very common for thyroid patients (especially women) to not have enough iron. This is due to a combination of absorption issues from thyroid problems, intake issues based on food preferences, and the menstrual cycle which causes a loss of iron. Iron is found in many different foods so I’ve broken it down into plant vs. animal-based sources depending on your nutrient preferences:
- Animal foods that contain iron: red meat, liver, organ meats, and fish.
- Plant foods that contain iron: spinach, quinoa, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, and legumes.
- Iodine: Like iron, many thyroid patients simply do not have enough iodine. If you don’t have enough iodine then you won’t be able to create thyroid hormone. Period. You can get more iodine from these foods: seaweed, fish, organ meats, eggs, and turkey breast.
As needed, add these foods into your diet to boost the intake of these critical nutrients required for the production of T4.
Note: This natural treatment works by targeting thyroid gland function which is where T4 thyroid hormone is created.
#2. Food Volume
On top of the nutrients in the foods that you eat, you should also be conscious of food volume.
This is important because we know that calorie restriction can seriously impact how much thyroid hormone you are able to produce.
Studies have shown that very low-calorie diets (as low as 1,200 calories per day) in as little as 12 to 18 weeks (2) can result in a decrease in T3 levels by as much as 66%!
This change in T3 is associated with an increase in reverse T3 and a temporary (but short-lived) increase in T4 levels (some studies show that T4 levels remain constant as well (3)).
You might be tempted to think that calorie restriction is good because it results in an increase in T4 but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Calorie restriction acts to slow down the thyroid and metabolism by blocking T4 to T3 conversion.
If you prevent the creation of T3 then T4 levels will build up and T3 levels will fall.
This lasts for several months until, eventually, both T4 and T3 levels eventually fall.
Even though your T4 levels are temporarily raised in the short term doesn’t mean it’s good for your thyroid.
This drop in thyroid conversion is what causes a drop in your metabolism.
You can avoid this negative cascade of events in thyroid function by simply eating enough calories while avoiding calorie-restricted diets.
Some amount of calorie restriction will be necessary if you are trying to lose weight but you should always avoid excessive restriction.
If you have a thyroid problem then opt to use intermittent forms of calorie restriction such as intermittent fasting routines instead of prolonged and chronic calorie restriction.
Instead of opting for eating 1,200 calories daily for 3 months, opt for something like a 16:8 eating window or alternate day fasting.
This will allow you with a small amount of calorie restriction that won’t reduce your circulating T4 and T3 levels.
The best way to ensure you are eating enough is by matching your food intake to your appetite.
As long as you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full, you won’t experience calorie-restricted damage to your thyroid.
I can’t give you an exact amount of calories to consume each day because how much you need will vary based on your activity level, muscle mass, and other factors, but somewhere between 1,800 and 2,200 calories is ideal for most women with hypothyroidism.
My perfect thyroid diet is set right around this range and it’s ideal for any thyroid problem.
#3. Thyroid Glandular+ Supplements
Go ahead and call me biased but one of my favorite ways to improve T4 levels is with the use of certain supplements.
There are a lot of different supplements that we could discuss here but the two that stick out include:
Thyroid glandulars are a special type of ingredient that comes from the thyroid gland of animals.
According to ancient medical wisdom, using animal glands that coordinate with the same tissue you are having problems with, may offer some therapeutic benefit.
It was believed anciently, for instance, if you had a liver problem that eating the liver of an animal would help fix your liver problem.
The reality is that there’s not a lot of scientific evidence to back up this method of thinking, but there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that thyroid glandulars can be effective for people with a thyroid problem.
Well, we don’t really know but if you are putting me on the spot, I would say it’s probably because the thyroid gland tissues of animals contain the same (or similar) base ingredients that our thyroid gland needs to function.
So eating the thyroid of an animal probably provides some ingredients and building blocks that our own thyroid needs to function.
It’s also very likely that these supplements contain a small amount of thyroid hormone, so there’s that as well.
If you want to use thyroid glandulars to improve your T4 levels then check out the one I recommend here.
In addition to thyroid glandulars, you can also consider using T2 thyroid hormone to bolster your T4 level.
I know what you’re thinking:
“How can taking T2 help my T4 levels?”.
Well, that’s a good question and it has to do with thyroid conversion and the breakdown of big thyroid hormones into smaller thyroid hormones.
We know that T4 is the biggest thyroid hormone and ultimately gets metabolized down to T2 and T1 through the action of deiodinase enzymes.
Taking supplemental T2 thyroid hormone may put upward pressure on the breakdown of bigger thyroid hormones into smaller thyroid hormones thereby reducing their conversion.
In other words, your body doesn’t break down T4 into T3 and T2 if it already senses that it has enough T2.
Taking T2 doesn’t guarantee that this will happen, though, because the body sort of just does what it wants, but it may be another roundabout strategy for increasing T4 levels through the use of supplements.
In addition, we know that a lot of thyroid patients feel better when taking T2 supplements so there are additional reasons to use it as well.
#4. Avoid Alcohol 100%
This one is pretty simple:
If you want to ensure your thyroid is doing its job, don’t drink any alcohol period.
If you go back to the diagram I discussed in the beginning, alcohol has a negative impact on both the thyroid gland and the hypothalamus (4).
This causes problems for your T4 in two different ways:
The first is by damaging the thyroid gland directly.
And the second is by suppressing TRH release from the hypothalamus.
This means you get less stimulus from the pituitary gland to tell your thyroid gland to produce T4.
And you get a double whammy because your thyroid gland gets damaged in the process by the alcohol.
I think it’s best to think of alcohol as a toxin to your thyroid gland and just avoid it 100%.
#5. Manage Sleep & Stress
Two of the easiest ways to improve your T4 levels are by reducing stress and by increasing how much you sleep.
People always get mad at me whenever I mention stress and sleep as potential treatments for the thyroid and I get why, but I can’t just ignore their massive impact on thyroid function without mentioning them.
When it comes to your thyroid, the magic number seems to be 7 hours of sleep.
Data from NHANES (gathered between 2007 and 2012) shows that negative changes in thyroid function (particularly in T3 levels and TSH) are seen when sleep duration is less than 7 hours a night (5).
Getting more sleep up to the 7-hour point can increase thyroid function but getting more than 7 hours doesn’t appear to provide any additional benefit to your thyroid.
Having said that, I still think there’s a solid case to suggest that getting 8 hours of sleep is even better if you can do it given that it impacts other systems in the body.
It’s a little more tricky to accurately assess the true impact that stress has on the thyroid given that each person differs in their ability to handle and manage stress.
What I would leave you with here is that you probably know if you are stressed or not based on your overall health.
If you are constantly in a state of overwhelm, have too much on your plate, or feel an overall sense of anxiety, then it’s probably the case that stress is negatively impacting your health.
If that’s the case then you’ll want to manage that stress with treatments like meditation and adrenal adaptogens.
Doing so will have a positive impact on thyroid function more generally.
#6. Increase Consumption of Essential Fatty Acids & Vitamin D
There are many supplements that can help improve your thyroid but I want to focus on two that are less obvious:
Vitamin D and DHA/EPA.
DHA and EPA, which stand for docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid respectively, are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found primarily in fish.
Vitamin D, of course, is a hormone vitamin that helps to regulate the immune system and calcium levels in the body.
When taken together, though, these two supplements may provide benefits to thyroid patients by supporting the immune system.
A Danish study that tracked over 25,000 people (6) showed that combining omega-3 fatty acids with vitamin D reduced autoimmune disease occurrence by up to 22% (this benefit extended to many autoimmune diseases including autoimmune thyroid disease).
It may not make sense why this happens until you realize that the primary cause of thyroid disease in developed countries is the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s.
And Hashimoto’s is a condition that will cause a reduction in T4 levels due to the damage it causes to the thyroid gland.
So taking these two supplements may actually provide benefit to T4 levels but in a preventative way.
By preventing the most common thyroid disease (or treating it if you already have it), you may be able to indirectly support your T4 levels and, therefore, thyroid function.
#7. Zone 2 Exercise
Another super simple (but not easy) way to improve your T4 levels is through exercise.
Researchers have looked at various levels of exercise intensity and compared how these intensity levels impact thyroid function.
What they found is that exercise at pretty much any level of intensity between 45% and 90% has a positive impact on thyroid function.
The biggest impact was seen at intensity levels of around 70% which is why I recommend something called zone 2 training if you have a thyroid problem.
Zones are the terms used to describe ranges at which your heart rate beats during exercise.
Getting your heart rate into zone 2 just means that you are doing any exercise which places your heart rate consistently at about 60 to 70% of your maximal heart rate.
You can assess your maximal heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
This gives you your maximal heart rate and you can then multiply it by fractions or percentages of 100 to get your desired heart rate percentage.
These are not numbers I made up, by the way, they are official recommendations from the American Heart Association (7).
Recap and Final Thoughts
There are several ways that you can increase your T4 level if you have a thyroid problem.
The fastest way to do this is by taking T4 thyroid medication like levothyroxine.
If you prefer the alternative and more natural approach, however, there are many other things you can do as well.
If at all possible, I always recommend starting with these natural treatments first because you can always lean on thyroid medication down the line.
Now I want to hear from you:
Is your T4 level low?
Did you know that T3 is more powerful than T4 and may be a better marker of thyroid function?
Have you tried any of the treatments here already?
Are you planning on giving any of them a try after reading this?
Leave your questions or comments below!