natural supports for low thyroid function (hypothyroidism)
Natural thyroid glandulars – there is a natural alternative to Levothyroxine medication.
If you have been taking thyroid replacement medication, you could consider taking a natural thyroid glandular supplement to replace your medication. If this is something you are considering, it is important to do this under medical supervision.
Levothyroxine, which is most commonly prescribed to treat thyroid issues, only works to supplement the low levels of the hormone T4, that hypothyroidism sufferers are lacking in. Natural thyroid glandulars supplement T1, T2 and T3 hormones too, offering a more comprehensive approach. They are made from the natural extracts of the hormones themselves. (Be aware, these are of animal origin, so may not be suitable for vegetarians and for some religions).
Some people have genetic differences in the enzyme that breaks down T4 (the less active form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the more active form).1 This enzyme is also affected by long term stress, inflammation, nutrient deficiencies and issues with your neurotransmitters (brain chemicals). If you are struggling to convert T4 to T3 you will not feel better on levothyroxine medication, which only works to boost levels of T4.
Many people will feel better on a natural glandular that has both T3 (active form) and T4, as well as T1 and T22
It is important to find a good source of a natural thyroid gland – ideally grass-fed, Dr Jess likes Allergy Research Group’s Thyroid or TG100. You will need regular support when transitioning to a natural glandular, to find the right balance for your body, so work with a functional medicine practitioner or endocrinologist, who has experience in treating hypothyroidism. They will work alongside your GP to find the best way to safely make the transition. A functional medicine practitioner can also help you address stress, inflammation and neurotransmitter imbalances.
make sure that you’re getting the most important nutrients
There are at least ten critical vitamins, minerals and nutrients that we know affect the function of the thyroid. Deficiencies in these vitamins and nutrients can cause hypothyroidism, and in many instances, good nutrition can help to improve thyroid function and reduce any symptoms, by ensuring that you are eating a balanced diet with lots of variety, containing the essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
Key nutrients that can help improve thyroid function include:
You can read more about these and other, often overlooked nutrients in the most important vitamins & minerals article here.
say hello to herbs
Herbs have traditionally been used to treat hyperthyroidism for thousands of years. Modern science has begun to show the influence that herbs can have on the thyroid gland and its hormones.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses a compound of eight different herbs called Haizao Yuhu Decoction to treat hypothyroidism.3
Read about our top 5 tried and tested herbs for hypothyroidism here.
reduce your stress levels
Stress has a big impact on our thyroid gland. Cortisol, (the ‘stress hormone’) is produced in much higher levels when we are stressed or anxious. When cortisol is high, it raises our TSH4 (the hormone that is above the normal range in hypothyroidism sufferers). This can lead to being diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism.
Reverse T3 (rT3) is also shown to increase as cortisol levels increase.5 This causes the body to respond less well to thyroid hormones, which can show an increase in symptoms.
Mindfulness (being present) is shown to reduce stress levels, as is the practice of gratitude and Shinrin-Yoku (walking in the woods). Meditation, relaxation and other stress-reducing practices can help to lower your cortisol, and benefit your thyroid.
check your exposure to toxins
The thyroid gland is very reactive to toxins such as pesticides6, cadmium, dioxins, phthalates, bisphenol A, flame retardants, perflurinated chemicals7 and medications.
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, which is shown to be much lower in cadmium, pesticides and herbicides (which contain dioxin)
- Avoid using bleach in all its forms. This includes cleaning products, bleached coffee filters, bleached paper towels, napkins and tissues, and avoid antibacterial products containing triclosan, pesticides or herbicide, as these all contain high levels of dioxins
- Reduce the amount of plastic you use and avoid cleaning products and cosmetics containing phthalates. Natural makeup and personal care products can be found on sites like mypure.co.uk and naturisimo.com and made by brands like Green People. Natural cleaning products from companies like Method, Ecover and Bio-D are now available in many supermarkets
- Bisphenol A is in many plastics, including plastic bottles. Minimise your use of plastics and choose glass instead. Hot drinks or food should never be heated in plastic, as the heat will release greater levels of BPA
- 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 (with a HEPA filter, ideally), repair torn and damaged furniture 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 to reduce your exposure
- Many chemicals are present in our water supply. Consider having your water tested and installing a whole house filter, if necessary
Studies have shown that homoeopathy can benefit some people when it comes to treating thyroid issues. A medium-sized randomised controlled study of 507 children showed that homoeopathy significantly decreased TSH and thyroid antibody levels.
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, to be very useful. It works well alongside thyroid medication, or where blood tests are normal, but there are many symptoms of hypothyroidism. This support can be ordered from Helios pharmacy.
My other homeopathic remedies for hypothyroidism are (select the one that most closely matches your symptoms):
Calc carb: Pale complexion, tendency to gain weight, flabby, with poor muscle mass, a tendency to be sweaty and clammy. Suffers constipation. A slow and steady personality, dependable but with long-term stress. Tired and gets short of breath easily with exercise. Likes to be at home.
Lycopodium: Often has IBS, wind and bloating, or digestive problems. Low energy, tendency to have cold hands and feet. May have right-sided thyroid swelling/goitre. Energy slumps between 3 pm-6 pm. Lacks motivation, discouraged and depressed, low libido.
Nat mur: Depression, sadness, repressed and introverted tendencies. Can dwell on past resentments. Headaches. Craves salt. Low libido, fibroids in women, worse in company. Fatigue, especially after exertion or after bathing. Worse symptoms in the morning. Often feels thirsty, often suffers from dry, hard constipation. Prone to cold sores.
Sepia: (One of my favourite homoeopathic 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. Excessive tiredness, feeling heavy, may have tension headaches, feel depressed and unmotivated. Heavy periods, fibroids, experience a heaviness or dragging sensation in the pelvic region, suffers from constipation.
Thyroidinum: Pale skin, suffers from thyroid swelling (goitre). Poor memory, fatigue, weakness and hunger. Hypothyroidism that comes on after illness. Very sensitive to the cold, with cold hands and feet. Can have oedema, swelling of the ankles and aching legs. Palpitations and a persistent headache.
It is important with homoeopathy to find the remedy that fits you best. In my experience, the 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.
Supplement with natural progesterone
Low progesterone levels are shown to affect the levels of thyroid hormone. This is why we often see women going through menopause develop hypothyroidism. Natural remedies for menopause symptoms can help to restore hormonal balance, which can help minimise symptoms. Despite being perceived as a ‘female’ hormone, progesterone supplementation has been shown to increase thyroid hormone levels, and can, in some instances benefit men as well as women.9
Dr Jess says: For women around their menopausal time or after pregnancy, low progesterone levels can correlate with hypothyroidism. By supplementing with high-quality natural progesterone cream, many women see an improvement in thyroid function.
other perspectives on hypothyroidism
All our many and varied hormones work together to support the body. This means that hypothyroidism could potentially be a wider symptom of other problems. It’s important to look at ways to manage stress (the hormone cortisol is involved in thyroid hormone production) and sex hormone balance, as progesterone plays a role in thyroid hormone production.
Visit our hormone & sexual health toolkit and brain function & mental health zones for ways to support overall hormone balance if you are experiencing symptoms. The thyroid gland is particularly susceptible to damage by toxins, something rarely considered in conventional medicine.
If you want to work with a functional medicine practitioner, please click here to find one near you.
q&a with dr jess
Why are natural thyroid glandulars not suitable for vegetarians?
Natural glandulars are made from the thyroids of pigs and cows. It sounds unpleasant, but using good quality natural glandulars from grass-fed animals can be beneficial, because they also contain T1 and T2, they can offer a more all-round support than levothyroxine.Some people find they give much better results in resolving symptoms. Speak to an endocrinologist or functional medicine doctor for more information if you are not finding relief on levothyroxine.
Can removing toxins from my home really help my hypothyroid symptoms?
Yes! It sounds a bit crazy, but when you consider the number of chemicals in normal household products and even in furniture, it is not surprising that our bodies react to them. These chemicals are called Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) and because many of them can be absorbed through our skin, we are exposed to thousands of these chemicals at home, in the office, in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. These chemicals are detectable in nearly 100% of the population in blood, urine, placenta and in fat tissue.
The most commonly detected toxins are from pesticides, personal care products (makeup, hair products, soaps and body washes and cleaning products), BPA, phthalates and furniture. This problem is widely recognised in the scientific community, but generally ignored by the medical profession, as you can read on the Endocrine Society website. You can make a big difference to your exposure, by considering the chemicals you use on your skin and in your home.
Will I need to take hypothyroidism supports or levothyroxine for life, if I am diagnosed?
Hypothyroidism is generally considered irreversible, however, there are cases of spontaneous remission (where symptoms have disappeared and tests have normalised). In practice, Jess has seen patients where test results have normalised over time with correction of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, supportive herbs and/or addressing inflammation and stress. It may also be possible to improve your thyroid function so you only need a low dose of thyroxine.
However, if you have been on a high dose of levothyroxine for a long period of time, or had thyroid surgery, it may be that you will always need levothyroxine or other thyroid medications. Never stop or reduce your medication without being under the care of a medical provider. Consider working with a functional medicine doctor to address root causes.
Will hypothyroidism impact other areas of my overall health and wellbeing?
Yes, if it is not controlled or fully corrected. Hypothyroidism can lead to many ongoing symptoms. It’s also important to realise that hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease and a hormonal issue, so both the immune toolkit and hormone & sexual health toolkit are useful to work on.
Do people with hypothyroidism struggle to lose weight?
Yes, and being overweight can worsen inflammation, hormone balance and thyroid function, so it becomes a vicious cycle. If your thyroid function is well controlled with medication, it can become easier to lose weight again, but if you are still struggling it is worth looking at your thyroid in more detail, including antibody testing, T3 and reverse T3 as described in our main hypothyroidism article. Consider starting our refresh programme, to aid weight loss and reduce blood sugar levels and inflammation or seeing a functional medical practitioner.
Is this advice just for people who suffer from thyroid problems?
Anyone can benefit from taking some of the steps, such as removing toxins from the home, controlling their diet to ensure a complete nutritional balance and reducing their stress levels. If you suspect that you may have hypothyroidism, but have not yet been formally diagnosed, consider taking these steps to see if your symptoms improve. If there is no change, we advise you to see your doctor and arrange blood screening to check your thyroid hormone levels.
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