There are a number of benefits, drawbacks, and common misconceptions when it comes treatment using herbs for hypothyroid, so let’s lay out the facts on some of the most common ones. Firstly, hypothyroidism is a condition where your thyroid is not making enough thyroid hormone. There are various causes of hypothyroid like autoimmune conditions, diet, medications, environmental exposures, and surgical removal of the thyroid. Here are a few herbals that have been traditionally used for hypothyroidism. If you think maybe you need a refresher on how your thyroid talks to the rest of your body, go ahead and watch this quick video first!
Fucus vesiculosus, alternatively known as Bladderwrack, is the herb most commonly associated with the treatment of hypothyroid. This is a kelp and seaweed product that is often used in hypothyroidism due to the high iodine content. Insufficient levels of iodine can cause hypothyroidism – BUT taking additional iodine from Bladderwrack can more often than not be detrimental to your thyroid.1 Why? Iodine has a very narrow therapeutic index, meaning it has a very narrow window between an effective dose and one which produces adverse effects. Put simply, too much, or too little iodine can be harmful.2 In a standard American diet most people already get plenty of iodine, meaning additional sources in supplemental or herbal form can do more harm than good. Please consult with a knowledgeable practitioner before you start taking Bladderwrack to determine if it is actually indicated in your case.
Centella asiatica, or Gotu kola, is a great adaptogenic herb that supports brain health, nerves, and mood.3 It is considered one of the safer adaptogenic herbs and is generally well tolerated by patients. One of the most common subjective symptoms that hypothyroid patients report is “brain fog”. Centella in herbal formula can help support cognitive function. However, on its own, this herbal is not sufficient to treat hypothyroidism.
Ganoderma lucidum, a mushroom, is an adaptogenic herb that is commonly seen in hypothyroid formulas. It improves cardiovascular health, helping reduce cholesterol which is commonly elevated in poorly controlled hypothyroidism.3,4 Once again though, this herb has not been shown to improve thyroid function through research.
Cordyceps sinensis, a fungus, is also often found in hypothyroid formulas. It is a wonderful adaptogenic herbal choice for patients that are extremely fatigued. With the additional bonus that it can help with insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular health. However, once again, this herb has not been shown to improve thyroid function directly.
Glycyrrhiza glabra, better known as licorice, is an all-around great herb. While not specifically for thyroid health, it is indicated for improving cortisol levels. Often, when the thyroid is stressed it can impact other endocrine systems like the adrenal glands, which produce cortisol. If you are feeling persistent fatigue after hypothyroid treatment, this can be due to struggling adrenals. Similarly to Centella, licorice may have some cognitive enhancing effects.3
Nigella Sativa, or black cumin, is used in autoimmune conditions like Hashimotos. It can help decrease elevated antibody levels seen on labs. It has also been reported to help decrease TSH levels and raise T3 levels, in addition to helping to reduce weight gain often seen in hypothyroid patients.5 Unlike the previous herbs, this is generally prescribed in a capsule instead of as a tincture.
Remember that just because something is natural does not necessarily make it safe! Many herbals can have serious side effects, adverse reactions, interactions with other medications/supplements/herbs and may not be OK to take during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. ALWAYS ask your doctor before starting anything new.
While all of these herbs have traditionally been used in hypothyroid, they are typically not enough. Serious long-term effects can result from attempting to treat your hypothyroid condition with herbals alone. Negative effects from not properly treating hypoythroid conditions include elevations in cholesterol and lipids, 3,6 decreased fertility,7 and poor gastrointestinal health. Elevations in TSH can promote unwanted growth of the thyroid gland which is exceedingly important to take into consideration for patients with a history of nodules or thyroid cancer.8 Regular thyroid labs and imaging completed by your healthcare professional are important for the diagnosis and management of hypothyroidism. For more info on how to test your thyroid please check out this article about which labs should be run.
It is also critical to find the root cause of your hypothyroid before starting any natural treatments. Depending on the cause of your sluggish thyroid, herbal products may not be indicated and could cause more harm. Talking with your doctor before starting natural treatments is important.
Well this is when medications are indicated and imperative. There are various medication options to treat hypothyroidism, both synthetic and natural. Talking with your doctor to find the right type and dose of medication can help you feel better as well as mitigate complications from untreated hypothyroidism.
Traditionally used herbs for hypothyroid are often not sufficient to treat hypothyroidism on their own. They are a great option to be used in conjunction with medications and dietary changes. It can help make you feel better by relieving symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, and stress, and in addition decrease elevated thyroid antibodies seen in autoimmune hypothyroid conditions. Before deciding on a treatment option or change to your treatment plan, please speak to your doctor.
Naturopathic doctors have the knowledge to customize herbal prescriptions that are tailored to your unique health concerns and can safely be used with many medications. Naturopathic doctors also can help with choosing a thyroid medication that fits your unique goals and situation.
If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism or Hashimotos, or think you may have hypothyroid I am here to answer questions and help get you back to feeling well again.
Leung AM, Braverman LE. Consequences of excess iodine. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2014;10(3):136-142. doi:10.1038/nrendo.2013.251 ↩
WOLFF J, CHAIKOFF IL. The inhibitory action of excessive iodide upon the synthesis of diiodotyrosine and of thyroxine in the thyroid gland of the normal rat. Endocrinology. 1948;43(3):174-179. doi:10.1210/endo-43-3-174 ↩
Hajjaj H, Macé C, Roberts M, Niederberger P, Fay LB. Effect of 26-oxygenosterols from Ganoderma lucidum and their activity as cholesterol synthesis inhibitors. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005;71(7):3653-3658. doi:10.1128/AEM.71.7.3653-3658.2005 ↩
Farhangi MA, Dehghan P, Tajmiri S, Abbasi MM. The effects of Nigella sativa on thyroid function , serum Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor ( VEGF ) – 1 , Nesfatin-1 and anthropometric features in patients with Hashimoto ’ s thyroiditis : a randomized controlled trial. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2016:1-9. doi:10.1186/s12906-016-1432-2 ↩
Rizos C V, Elisaf MS, Liberopoulos EN. Effects of thyroid dysfunction on lipid profile. Open Cardiovasc Med J. 2011;5:76-84. doi:10.2174/1874192401105010076 ↩
Jokar TO, Fourman LT, Lee H, Mentzinger K, Fazeli PK. Higher TSH levels within the normal range are associated with unexplained infertility. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2018;103(2):632-639. doi:10.1210/jc.2017-02120 ↩
Haugen BR, Alexander EK, Bible KC, et al. 2015 American Thyroid Association Management Guidelines for Adult Patients with Thyroid Nodules and Differentiated Thyroid Cancer: The American Thyroid Association Guidelines Task Force on Thyroid Nodules and Differentiated Thyroid Cancer. Thyroid. 2016;26(1):1-133. doi:10.1089/thy.2015.0020 ↩
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