Hashimoto's thyroiditis (HT) is considered to be the most common autoimmune disease. It is currently accepted that genetic susceptibility, environmental factors, and immune disorders contribute to its development. With regard to nutritional factors, evidence implicates high iodine intake and deficiencies of selenium and iron with a potential relevance of vitamin D status. To elucidate the role of nutritional factors in the risk, pathogenesis, and treatment of HT, PubMed and the Cochrane Library were searched for publications on iodine, iron, selenium, and vitamin D and risk/treatment of HT.
Chronic exposure to excess iodine intake induces autoimmune thyroiditis, partly because highly iodinated thyroglobulin (Tg) is more immunogenic. Recent introduction of universal salt iodization can have a similar, though transient, effect. Selenoproteins are essential to thyroid action. In particular, the glutathione peroxidases protect the thyroid by removing excessive hydrogen peroxide produced for Tg iodination. Genetic data implicate the anti-inflammatory selenoprotein S in HT risk. There is evidence from observational studies and randomized controlled trials that selenium/selenoproteins can reduce thyroid peroxidase (TPO)-antibody titers, hypothyroidism, and postpartum thyroiditis. Iron deficiency impairs thyroid metabolism. TPO, the enzyme responsible for the production of thyroid hormones, is a heme (iron-containing) enzyme which becomes active at the apical surface of thyrocytes only after binding heme. HT patients are frequently iron deficient, since autoimmune gastritis, which impairs iron absorption, is a common co-morbidity. Treatment of anemic women with impaired thyroid function with iron improves thyroid-hormone concentrations, while thyroxine and iron together are more effective in improving iron status. Lower vitamin D status has been found in HT patients than in controls, and inverse relationships of serum vitamin D with TPO/Tg antibodies have been reported. However, other data and the lack of trial evidence suggest that low vitamin D status is more likely the result of autoimmune disease processes that include vitamin D receptor dysfunction.
Clinicians should check patients' iron (particularly in menstruating women) and vitamin D status to correct any deficiency. Adequate selenium intake is vital in areas of iodine deficiency/excess, and in regions of low selenium intake a supplement of 50-100 μg/day of selenium may be appropriate.