Underactive Thyroid, Hypothyroidism

From cold hands to excess pounds to exhaustion to hair loss, hypothyroidism can cause a myriad of health problems. Hypothyroidism is one of the most common ailments in modern western society, with more than 10% and up to 40% of people in the US having decreased thyroid function. The sooner you can improve thyroid function, the better you will feel. By learning the best herbs and supplements for hypothyroid, you can take a natural approach to improving your thyroid health.

Causes of Hypothyroidism

In hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormones. This can be caused by:

  • An autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto's. This is the most common cause of hypothyroidism and can be determined by blood testing by a qualified naturopathic physician or other doctor.
  • Viral infection, often triggering Hashimoto’s disease.
  • A lack of iodine. Very common cause or contributing factor in hypothyroidism.
  • Stress and sub-optimum adrenal function.
  • Treatment for hyperthyroidism.

Other contributing factors:

  • Endocrine disruptors such as chlorinated and fluoridated water, bromines from pesticides, plastic, sodas or baked goods.
  • Dietary factors such as eating unfermented soy like soy milk, tofu, soy cheese; gluten consumption for those that are sensitive can trigger Hashimoto’s Disease; and our vegetables being grown in selenium-poor soil.

General Dietary Recommendations

  • Avoid endocrine disruptors. Certain chemicals compounds compete for the thyroid receptors for iodine, an essential nutrient for thyroid function, and will inhibit thyroid hormone production. Avoid bromines from pesticides, used especially on strawberries by eating organic strawberries; avoid bromine containing citrus-flavored soft drinks like gatorade, Mountain Dew, etc.; and avoid brominated flour and commercial baked goods; avoid fluoridated and chlorinated water or use a charcoal filtration system on your drinking water.
  • Avoid foods with soy, which means most processed foods, and tofu, soy milk, soy ‘meats’ and soy cheese. Fermented organic soy such as tempeh, miso and fermented soy sauce Nama Shoyu are okay.

Herbs and Supplements for Hypothyroidism

The best herbs and supplements for hypothyroid may vary depending on the cause of hypothyroidism. However, some common ways that herbs and supplements can help include:

  1. Stress reduction and Adrenal Support: High stress situations and lifestyles cause elevated cortisol levels that suppress the conversion of thyroid hormones. Because of the prevalence of stress and depleted adrenals in our society, always manage the adrenals as part of your hypothyroid protocol.

Herbs (adaptogens) and supplements that support the adrenals and reduce stress:

Ashwagandha

Rhodiola

Siberian ginseng

Panax ginseng

Licorice

B Vitamin Complex

2. Herbs that support and stimulate the thyroid function, assist the body to convert thyroid hormones, and help to mitigate many of the symptoms caused by decreased thyroid hormone production. The following herbal treatments can be effective for addressing hypothyroidism: Seaweeds rich in iodine, hepatics, circulatory stimulant herbs, lymphatic herbs, female hormone balancing herbs, demulcents and astringents:

Bladderwrack herb(A seaweed that contains iodine. It can be quite useful for people who have hypothyroidism from iodine deficiency, but those with Hashimoto's should not use iodine or bladderwrack unless under the care of a physician)

Nettle

Oats

Damiana

Wormwood

Poke root

Milk thistle

Also potentially effective herbs for hypothyroid are:

Guggul, (may stimulate the thyroid to work more effectively, increase the amount of iodine that the thyroid absorbs, and encourage the activity of important enzymes for thyroid function.)

Coleus, (coleus is known to stimulate the thyroid.)

Bacopa, (traditionally used for improving brain processes. Hypothyroidism can cause foggy thinking, so this herb can be helpful for alleviating that symptom. Studies indicate that it may also increase production of the thyroid hormone T4.)

3. Iodinesupplementation with Lugol’s iodine/iodide supplement or Bladderwrack herb is probably the best method and first thing to try in overcoming mild to moderate thyroid hormone deficiency that is not caused by Hashimoto’s Disease. This nutrient is critical for proper thyroid function and most diets are low in iodine. It was once thought that iodine deficiency was not an issue in the US due to iodized salt, we now know that is not the case when it comes to hypothyroidism. Table salt gives most Americans enough iodine only to avoid the disease of cretinism, but still leaves most Americans deficient. Most people are using even less table salt for other health reasons, and that with the increased exposure to endocrine disruptors leaves many people deficient with regard to their thyroid gland function. Also, since table salt is such a poor dietary choice for many reasons, most health conscious people are turning to sea salt without iodine. Iodine deficiency is one of the three most common nutritional deficiencies, including those living in the US, and has many adverse health effects. (Iodine supplementation is not for use with Hashimoto’s disease)

4. Selenium, since our soils are now low in selenium, many are deficient in this vital nutrient for the thyroid gland.

4. Vitamin A is a crucial nutrient for the thyroid.

5. Probiotics and Prebiotics: thyroid conversion by good bacteria also takes place in the gut.

6. Eating cooked cruciferous vegetableswith glutathione such as kale, collards, chard, broccoli, arugula and cabbage actually improve thyroid function, even though they were once thought to be goitrogenic and bad for the thyroid! Cruciferous vegetables also have anti-cancer effects. For the thyroid, best eaten cooked.

For the autoimmune disorder Hashimoto’sDisease:

  • Herbs that modulate and support the immune function: (in rare cases, if symptoms increase, discontinue)
    • Astragalus, also best Lyme prevention herb,
    • Ashwagandha, also adaptogenic (stress-reducing)
    • Licorice, also anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal
    • Boswellia, also anti-inflammatory.
    • Echinacea, also anti-viral and anti-bacterial.
  • Vitamin D. (90% of people with autoimmune hypothyroid have a genetic defect in processing Vitamin D and need higher amounts, 5,000 to 20,000 iu per/day)
  • Gluten-free diet. Gluten intolerance leads to an autoimmune response that can cause Hashimoto’s disease and decreased thyroid hormone production.
  • Selenium is important for thyroid function and decreases inflammation while regulating immune response.
  • Do not take iodine supplementation for treatment of Hashimoto’s.