Natural Treatments For Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism, otherwise known as an underactive thyroid, usually means that your thyroid gland (in your neck) is producing less thyroid hormone. It is a common condition affecting up to 8% of women and 3% of men in the UK, and is higher for those over 60, affecting over 10%(1).
What Are The Symptoms?
If you have hypothyroidism (low thyroid) you may have no symptoms or feel:
- Very tired
- Cold and sensitive to cold
- ‘Brain fog’, poor memory
- Weight gain
- Slower than normal
- Dry skin, sometimes loss of colour in patches of skin (vitiligo)
- Hair loss or dry and rough hair
- Aches, pains and swelling of your arms or legs (sometimes muscle weakness)
- You may develop carpal tunnel syndrome or a puffy face
- Your speech may go deeper
- Depression and mood changes
- Heavy periods in women or impotence in men
- Your heart rate may be slower
- Your cholesterol may be raised
- Your thyroid may be enlarged (goitre).
How Is It Diagnosed?
The thyroid gland is triggered to produce thyroid hormone by your brain, which produces TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) from the pituitary gland. TSH travels from your brain in your blood stream to the thyroid gland and tells it to produce thyroid hormone.
To diagnose a problem with the thyroid gland we measure TSH (the signal from the brain) and the levels of thyroid hormone (T4). Hypothyroidism is diagnosed if:
- TSH is high: This is because the brain knows that thyroid hormone is low and keeps producing more and more signal (TSH) to try and get the thyroid to work.
- Thyroid hormone (T4) is low: The thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormone.
If just TSH is raised then it is called sub-clinical hypothyroidism and a blood test is repeated in three months to see if the thyroid hormone has dropped. This is a great time to use some natural thyroid supports to stop it developing into full hypothyroidism.
Usually low thyroid hormone is caused by a problem that develops in the thyroid gland caused by your immune system i.e. it is an autoimmune disease. You can check whether this is the case by having your thyroid antibodies tested (shows your immune system is attacking your thyroid gland). If your thyroid antibodies (thyroglobulin antibodies and antithyroid peroxidase antibodies) are raised it is called Hashimoto’s disease.
Occasionally low thyroid hormone can be due to a problem in the thyroid gland from surgery, medications, radiation or a problem in your brain (pituitary gland). Or simply you can be born with a problem with your thyroid gland. These causes are all much rarer.
What Does The Thyroid Gland Do?
The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones that affect your metabolism. If you have an overactive thyroid gland it is like you are pressing the accelerator too hard - everything is sped up. If you have an underactive thyroid it is like pressing the brake too hard - everything is slowed down.
There are 2 main types of thyroid hormone produced by the thyroid gland T3 and T4. We also have T1 and T2 which we understand less, but T2 may be important in fat burning, blood sugar control and losing weight(2). T1 may have a protective role for our hearts(3).
85% of thyroid hormone produced by the thyroid gland is T4 - which is a much less active form of thyroid hormone - and a small amount of T3 is produced (much more active form). Most T4 is converted by tissues in the body (liver, brain and gut) to T3. The number 3 or 4 is the number of iodines in the thyroid hormone.
We can tell how well the body is converting T4 to T3 by measuring T3 (not a routine blood test) and also reverse T3.
Reverse T3 is very important as it gives us a picture of how healthy our thyroid hormones are. Reverse T3 is inactive and if there is too much it blocks the receptors and stops our thyroid hormone working as well. It also stops T4 converting into T3.
We produce more reverse T3 when the body is under stress, and this effectively means our body can respond less well to thyroid hormone. This can give you the symptoms of hypothyroidism which may not be picked up by a standard thyroid test. Ask for a T3 and reverse T3 (rT3) blood test as well.
How Is It Treated?
Once your doctor has diagnosed hypothyroidism, they will begin you on a thyroid hormone medication called Levothyroxine which is a manufactured drug version of T4. With regular thyroid testing every 6 weeks the dosage will be adjusted to the right level to correct your TSH and T4. You will then need regular blood tests to monitor the dosage.
It is important to take thyroid hormone on an empty stomach as meals or coffee can lower absorption by up to 40%. Studies have also shown levothyroxine may work better when taken at night(4).
Side effects of levothyroxine include: fever, flushing, headache, heat intolerance, muscle cramps, muscular weakness, oedema, itching, rash, sweating, weight-loss, chest pain, arrhythmias, diarrhoea, excitability, insomnia, palpitations, fast heart rate, tremor and vomiting.
Top 7 Ways To Support Your Thyroid Naturally
1. Natural Thyroid Glandulars
There is a natural alternative to levothyroxine medication.
If you have been on thyroxine for a period of time (thyroid replacement medication) then it may not be possible for you to improve your thyroid function enough to stop it, but you could consider taking a natural thyroid glandular instead of the medication. Natural thyroid glandulars are dried extracts of the thyroid glands of cows or pigs in capsule form.
Some people have a genetically low level of the enzyme that breaks down T4 (the less active form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the more active form). This means that they do not feel better on Levothyroxine medication which is only T4.
Many people will feel better on a natural glandular that has both T3 (active form) and T4, as well as T1 and T2.
It is important to find a good source of natural thyroid gland - ideally grass fed and organic. You will need regular support when changing over in order to find the right amount of thyroid glandular, so work with a functional medical practitioner or endocrinologist experienced in using them.
2. The Most Important Nutrients
There are at least ten critical vitamins, minerals and nutrients that we know affect the function of the thyroid. It is possible for deficiencies in these vitamins and nutrients to cause hypothyroidism, and in many cases you can improve thyroid function and symptoms of hypothryroidism by ensuring that you have adequate levels.
These include iodine, selenium and zinc, but read about these and other often overlooked nutrients in the most important top 10 here.
Read about our Top 5 tried and tested herbs for hypothyroidism here. Herbs have been used traditionally for thousands of years to treat the symptoms of hypothyroidism and modern research has begun to show their influence on the thyroid gland and its hormones.
4. Reduce Your Stress Levels
Stress has a big impact on our thyroid gland. Cortisol, which is a hormone produced in much higher levels when we are stressed, affects TSH. When cortisol is high it raises our TSH(5) - this can lead to us being diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism.
Reverse T3 (rT3) is also shown to increase as cortisol levels increase(6) and as previously explained this makes your body respond less well to thyroid hormone giving you the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Mindfulness (being present) is shown to reduce stress levels, as is the practice of gratitude and Shinrin-Yoku (
5. Reduce your Toxins
Many of these are shown to interfere with thyroid hormones. You can lower the chemicals that are most known to damage our thyroid by:
- Eating Organic food is much lower in cadmium and pesticides and herbicides (which contain dioxin).
- Avoid using bleach, bleached coffee filters, bleached paper towels, napkins and tissues, and avoid antibacterial products containing triclosan, pesticides or herbicides as these all contain high levels of dioxins.
- Reduce the amount of plastic you use and avoid cleaning products and cosmetics containing pthalates. Natural makeup and personal care products can be found on sites like mypure.co.uk and naturisim
o.com and by brands like Green People. Natural cleaning products from companies like Method, Ecover and Bio-D are now in supermarkets.
- Bisphenol A is in many plastics including plastic bottles. Minimise your use of plastics and drink from glass bottles instead. More BPA is released at higher temperatures so never heat or microwave food or drinks in plastic. Use glass containers instead.
- Flame retardants are a real problem in furniture, electrics and even nursery cots and mattresses. The highest concentrations are found in dust so vacuum regularly, repair torn furniture to stop them escaping and consider organic wool mattresses and carpets which are naturally flame retardant.
- Perflurinated chemicals are found in water or stain resistant materials and coatings like pizza boxes, non-stick pans, microwave popcorn bags, outdoor and stain resistant clothing. Try to avoid these products and reduce exposure.
- Many of these chemicals get into our water supply. Consider having your water tested and installing a whole house filter if necessary.
Dr Jess says: As an ongoing support to help with the symptoms of hypothyroidism (which patients often find are not fully controlled using levothyroxine) I have found the combination homeopathic remedy: thyroidinum, iodum and fucus 9X taken daily very useful. It works well alongside the medication or where blood tests are normal but there are many symptoms of hypothyroidism.
My other top 5 remedies for hypothyroidism are:
Calc carb: Pale, tendency to weight gain, flabby and poor muscle mass, tendency to be sweaty and clammy. Constipation, slow and steady personality, dependable but with long-term stress. Tired and get short of breath easily with exercise. Like to be at home.
Lycopodium: Often IBS, wind and bloating or digestive problems. Low energy, tendency to cold hands and feet. May have right-sided thyroid swelling / goitre. Energy worse 3pm-6pm. Lacks motivation, discouraged and depressed, low libido.
Nat mur: Depression, sadness, repressed and introverted. Can dwell on past resentments. Headaches. Craves salt. Low libido, fibroids in women, worse in company. Fatigue, worse after exertion. Worse in the morning. Thirsty, tends to dry, hard constipation. Prone to cold sores.
Sepia: One of my favourite homeopathic remedies for overworked, overwhelmed and stressed women trying to juggle too many things. If hypothyroidism began after pregnancy or hormonal treatment this is a great remedy. Patients are tired, feel heavy, may have tension headaches, feel depressed and unmotivated. Heavy periods, fibroids, heaviness or dragging sensation in the pelvis with constipation.
Thyroidinum: Pale patients with a goitre (swelling of thyroid gland). Poor memory, fatigue, weakness and hunger. Hypothyroidism that comes on after illness. Very sensitive to cold and cold hands and feet. Can have oedema, swelling of ankles and aching legs. Palpitations and persistent headache.
It is important with homeopathy to find the remedy that fits best. In my experience the top 5 above are most useful in higher potencies (strength) like 200, 1M or 10M, with the exception of Thyroidinum which is better in lower potencies like 6 or 30. Consult a homeopath to find the best remedy for your symptoms.
7. Natural Progesterone
Low progesterone levels are shown to affect the levels of thyroid hormone. Progesterone supplementation can increase thyroid hormone levels(9).
Dr Jess: I have found that especially in women around menopausal time or after pregnancy, low progesterone levels seem to correlate with hypothyroidism and by supplementing with a high quality natural progesterone cream many women see an improvement in thyroid function.
Consider using natural progesterone cream if you are also having hormonal symptoms or hypothyroidism has been diagnosed after pregnancy or around menopausal time.
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