6 Herbs to Support Thyroid Health
Updated: Mar 23
I listened to a great talk this week about herbal therapies for thyroid health by naturopathic doctor Mary Bove, ND. I love learning about ways to take care of the thyroid and integrating botanical medicine into my practice and wanted to share some of the things I learned with you. So, if you're looking for ideas about how to take care of your thyroid keep reading!
I've written about a common cause of hypothyroidism called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune hypothyroidism but there's also an autoimmune cause of hyperthyroidism called Grave's disease. Herbs can be useful for either disease, you just use different ones to either increase thyroid activity or tone it down.
What is Hashimoto's Thyroiditis and Grave's Disease?
Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a type of hypothyroidism that is caused by an autoimmune reaction where your immune cells target various receptors and enzymes that are involved in thyroid hormone production, conversion and activity around the body. Your immune system makes antibodies that interfere with thyroid hormone activity and conversion of inactive T4 to active T3. There are many symptoms and you may not feel all of them, but common symptoms of hypothyroidism are fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, constipation, depression, hair loss, brittle nails and dry skin.
Grave's disease is a type of autoimmune hyperthyroidism that also involves antibodies that target thyroid hormone receptors. The antibodies stimulate the thyroid receptors resulting in overstimulation and a feeling of being amped up. An overactive thyroid produces symptoms like anxiety, heart palpitations, weight loss, diarrhea, sweating, and tremor.
Because the immune system is involved in both of these diseases, it's important to try to minimize or block the activity of the antibodies. Herbs aren't the only approach to treating autoimmunity, but they can be one aspect of treatment that can minimize antibody activity and relieve symptoms while you work on diet and lifestyle changes to regulate the immune system.
Herbs for Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis
The thyroid is involved in regulating many of our organ systems. It regulates metabolism, weight, cholesterol, energy, brain function, digestion, and hormones. These herbs can help increase thyroid activity or address symptoms such as high cholesterol, low energy, and weight gain.
Coleus (Coleus forskohlii) - This plant is in the mint family and can improve thyroid hormone production and secretion into the blood stream as well as increase the active thyroid hormone T3. Caution with peptic ulcer and if you're taking blood thinners.
Guggul (Commiphora mukul) - Hypothyroidism can cause an elevation of lipids including cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. This herb can reduce LDL cholesterol, which is more likely to form plaque in the arteries by directly stimulating the thyroid gland and increasing T3 production.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) - This is a great herb for sleep, immune support, stress management and brain fog. A recent study found that using this herb for 8 weeks helped to normalize thyroid labs when compared to placebo. The thyroid and adrenals work closely together so it's beneficial to address high cortisol because it can decrease thyroid activity. Antibodies can also be made against the adrenal glands in Hashimoto's. Adaptogens are a great way to do this and if you'd like to know more about adaptogens check out Using Adaptogens for Stress Management.
Herbs for Hyperthyroidism and Grave's Disease
In Grave's disease the goal is to block antibody stimulation of thyroid hormone receptors. This overstimulation takes a toll on the cardiovascular system so it's also important to reduce blood pressure and elevated heart rate. These herbs, all members of the mint family, reduce overstimulation by binding to the antibodies that stimulate thyroid hormone receptors, reduce conversion of inactive T4 to active T3 and reduce thyroid hormone production from iodine.
Lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis) - This plant is very easy to grow and has a wonderful, fresh lemon scent. It's a nervine that can calm anxiety, relaxes the digestive system and supports the heart.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) - This is a gentle herb for cardiovascular support. It relaxes the blood vessels to bring down blood pressure, reduces a fast heart rate, and calms anxiety. The menstrual cycle can become dysregulated in thyroid diseases and this herb also addresses menstrual irregularities. Because it has this effect it should not be used in pregnancy or if you have heavy menstrual flow.
Bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus) - A nervine that can reduce symptoms of insomnia, agitation, weight loss and palpitations.
There are many ways to approach integrated treatment for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Botanical medicine is one way to treat either condition and get at the root cause of the autoimmunity and for symptom relief.
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Bove, M. (2018, December 4). 10 Botanicals to Support a Healthy Thyroid. Lecture presented at Gaia Herbs Professional Solutions Web Seminar.
Marciano, M. (2015, February 25). Coleus forskolii. Retrieved from https://thenaturopathicherbalist.com/2014/07/20/coleus-forskolii/
Marciano, M. (2014, July 23). Lycopus virginicus. Retrieved from https://thenaturopathicherbalist.com/2014/07/23/lycopus-virginicus/
Sharma, A. K., Basu, I., & Singh, S. (2018). Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine,24(3), 243-248. doi:10.1089/acm.2017.0183
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