Traditional herbs have been used to treat symptoms of hypothyroidism like fatigue, low energy, weakness and ‘brain fog’ for hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years. Scientific evidence is now beginning to show the effectiveness of these herbs on the thyroid and mechanisms for how they work. Dr Jess has used all of these in practice and these are her top 5 herbs to support Hypothyroidism – although we would suggest you see a medical herbalist to find the best herb or combination for your symptoms.
1. Ashwaghanda (Withania somnifera)
The Ayurvedic herb Ashwaghanda is traditionally used as a herbal anti-inflammatory that helps the body deal with and recover from stress. It is considered calming and good for anxiety, exhaustion, poor memory and insomnia.
It has long been used as a thyroid support by many herbalists and has been shown to both raise thyroid hormone levels and also correct subclinical hypothyroidism (1).
Dr Jess says: My number one herb for supporting the thyroid and boosting thyroid function I usually give this as a 500mg capsule and start with one daily but have increased it further up to 8 daily as needed.
Ashwaghanda is a beautiful herb and as well as improving energy, I have seen it help thyroid function on blood tests.
2. Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Ginseng root has a 4000 year history as the most strengthening herb in traditional Chinese Medicine. In our experience it is very difficult to grow but an excellent herb. Ginseng is traditionally used for energy and longevity tonifying the congenital Qi (life energy) of the body. Studies show ginseng may enhance immunity and regulate the hormones (2) and it is often used to combat stress.
In a small study of patients with heart failure Asian Ginseng was shown to increase T3 & T4 and lower reverse T3 levels (3).
Dr Jess: Although Asian Ginseng (Ren Shen) is easily my most expensive herb I would never be without it. We were taught this herb as the ‘corpse reviver’ that can even restore energy near death and I use it successfully in many of my herb prescriptions for serious illness. Where energy is very low and if reverse T3 is high on a blood test, I have found it very effective for hypothyroidism. It can be bought as a tea, added to soup or taken as a supplement.
This herb is considered heating in Chinese medicine so do not use it if you are very hot natured and it is better for older patients or those weakened and depleted after illness. Be careful if you have high blood pressure as it may elevate it.
3. Bacopa Monnieri
A traditional Ayurvedic herb known for its traditional use as a brain tonic to improve memory, intelligence, anxiety and seizures. This plant is a popular aquarium plant for fish tanks (so easy to grow in ponds or wet areas). Animal studies have shown this herb can increase T4 levels by up to 40%(4).
Dr Jess: This is a great herb where ‘brain fog’ or mental slowing have developed in patients with hypothyrodism. This is one of my top herbs generally for anyone struggling with mental focus and memory problems especially where there is a lot of anxiety or stress.
4. Cordyceps Sinensis
Cordyceps is a caterpillar fungus that is traditionally used in Chinese Medicine as an immune tonic, for nourishing energy when weakened, for endurance and for kidney and lung diseases.
Cordyceps is shown to modify the immune response that creates hypothyroidism in Hashimoto’s disease (the most common cause of hypothyroidism). Cordyceps Sinensis reduced the cells attacking the thyroid and also the antibodies against the thyroid in a clinical trial (5).
Dr Jess: This herb is an excellent strengthening and nourishing herb. I find it most effective for treating low libido in women. I also use it to strengthen the immune system. It takes several months to work but I have seen improvements in blood tests and would use this where antibody levels are high. It combines beautifully with reishi mushroom to nourish and strengthen.
5. Seaweed (Kelp and Sargassum)
Iodine is a critical nutrient for the thyroid that we can get from organic cows milk, yoghurt, kefir, seafood, vegetables grown in iodine rich soil and iodised salt. Deficiency can cause goitre (swelling thyroid) and hypothyroidism. Pregnant or breastfeeding women need almost twice as much iodine.
If you are vegan or avoiding dairy, or diagnosed with iodine deficiency it may be worth checking your iodine levels on a blood test. This can now be done as a fingerprick home test by independent labs like Medichecks (https://www.medichecks.com/tests/iodine).
Seaweed is a great source of iodine and many other minerals. Sargassum seaweed (known as Hai Zao in traditional Chinese Medicine) has been shown to reduce goitre (swelling of the thyroid) (8) and regulate thyroid related hormones (9). Kelp is a natural source of iodine that can be taken as a supplement and both this and Sargassum are used as traditional Chinese herbs for nodules and swellings in the neck, and to help oedema.
Dr Jess: We have a seaweed shaker (organic ground seaweed) like our salt and pepper which sits on the table so we can add seaweed to our food regularly – it tastes pleasant and adds nutrients!