Dr Jess: 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. I have used all of these in practice and these are my top 5 herbs to support hypothyroidism – although I would always suggest you see a medical herbalist to find the best herb or combination for your symptoms. For other natural supports visit our article here.
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.1,2
Dr Jess: Ashwagandha is 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. Our plant+ combination has a main ingredient of ashwagandha. It is a beautiful herb and as well as improving energy, I have seen it help thyroid function on blood tests.
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 is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.3 In a small study of patients with heart failure Asian Ginseng was shown to increase T3 & T4 and lower reverse T3 levels.4
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 have used 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.
brahmi (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%.5
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.
cordyceps (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.6
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.
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.
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) in animal studies7 and regulate thyroid related hormones.8 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!
- Gannon JM, Forrest PE, Roy Chengappa KN. Subtle changes in thyroid indices during a placebo-controlled study of an extract of Withania somnifera in persons with bipolar disorder. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec;5(4):241-5. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.146566. PMID: 25624699; PMCID: PMC4296437.
- Sharma AK, Basu I, Singh S. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Mar;24(3):243-248. doi: 10.1089/acm.2017.0183. Epub 2017 Aug 22. PMID: 28829155.
- Kiefer D, Pantuso T. Panax ginseng. Am Fam Physician. 2003 Oct 15;68(8):1539-42. PMID: 14596440.
- Dai X, Zhou Y, Yu X. [Effect of ginseng injection in treating congestive heart failure and its influence on thyroid hormones]. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1999 Apr;19(4):209-11. Chinese. PMID: 11783267.
- Kar A, Panda S, Bharti S. Relative efficacy of three medicinal plant extracts in the alteration of thyroid hormone concentrations in male mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002 Jul;81(2):281-5. doi: 10.1016/s0378-8741(02)00048-x. PMID: 12065164.
- He T, Zhao R, Lu Y, Li W, Hou X, Sun Y, Dong M, Chen L. Dual-Directional Immunomodulatory Effects of Corbrin Capsule on Autoimmune Thyroid Diseases. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:1360386. doi: 10.1155/2016/1360386. Epub 2016 Sep 18. PMID: 27721890; PMCID: PMC5045992.
- Xiu L, Zhong G, Liu D, Chen S, Liu H, Chen F. Comparative Efficacy and Toxicity of Different Species of Sargassum in Haizao Yuhu Decoction in PTU-Induced Goiter Rats. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:3526186. doi: 10.1155/2017/3526186. Epub 2017 Jun 21. PMID: 28713435; PMCID: PMC5497638.
- Zhang Y, Li Y, Mao X, Yan C, Guo X, Guo Q, Liu Z, Song Z, Lin N. Thyroid hormone synthesis: a potential target of a Chinese herbal formula Haizao Yuhu Decoction acting on iodine-deficient goiter. Oncotarget. 2016 Aug 9;7(32):51699-51712. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.10329. PMID: 27384475; PMCID: PMC5239508.