Natural Treatments for Hypothyroidism
Since I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis in 2010, I have spent many hours researching the thyroid gland. My amazement with the countless and tireless duties this little gland performs to ensure our health and wellness was matched by my sadness in knowing that mine was under attack by my own immune system. This ignited a strong passion in me to learn as much as I could on how to heal and support the thyroid gland using natural treatments for hypothyroidism.
What Does the Thyroid Gland Do?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of your neck. This gland produces thyroid hormone that is vital to numerous critical functions within our bodies. Approximately 80% of thyroid hormone produced by your thyroid is thyroxine (T4) and 20% is triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid hormone enters nearly every single cell in our bodies to help regulate our heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, menstrual cycle, metabolism, body temperature, mood, cognitive function and so much more! In other words, a problem with the thyroid gland can create a problem in almost every other function in our bodies.
A dysfunctional thyroid gland can be either under-functioning, termed hypothyroidism when the thyroid isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone, or over-functioning, termed hyperthyroidism when the thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system sees the thyroid gland as a foreign invader and attacks the gland with antibodies. This attack on the thyroid gland slowly damages it and causes a reduced production of thyroid hormone, leading to hypothyroidism. Other causes of hypothyroidism include nutrient deficiencies, adrenal gland dysfunction, postpartum hypothyroidism, genetic predisposition, or by medications or surgery.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Not having enough thyroid hormone in your system produces a slowing down effect on your body, causing the following common symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Sensitivity or intolerance to cold
- Poor focus and concentration – “brain fog”
- Depression or emotional lability
- Muscle cramps and stiffness
- Hair loss
- Menstrual irregularities
Unfortunately because of the autoimmune nature of Hashimoto’s, the symptoms are not as easy to label as non-autoimmune hypothyroidism. For example, I experienced fatigue, brain fog, cold sensitivity and hair loss, but I also had anxiety, weight loss and heart palpitations. This mix of symptoms is created because when the immune system damages the thyroid cells, thyroid hormones that are normally stored within the cell get released into circulation, causing a period of hyperthyroidism, otherwise known as thyrotoxicosis. Once the extra hormones are cleared out, symptoms of hypothyroidism return. This makes it very difficult to diagnose Hashimoto’s, especially because it often does not show up on the blood work your doctor would test for you in the early stages of this condition.
Natural Treatments for Hypothyroidism
The common approach to treating hypothyroidism is with a prescription medication called synthroid, or levothyroxine. Some people find relief from this approach, however many people still experience hypothyroid symptoms while on this medication. To better support your thyroid, I recommend trying natural treatments for hypothyroidism before turning to medication, or to enhance the efficacy of medication.
- Exercise: it can be difficult to find the energy to exercise for those with hypothyroidism, but gentle daily exercise can stimulate the thyroid gland and increase your cells’ sensitivity to thyroid hormone.
- Nutrients: Since your thyroid gland releases a majority of the inactive hormone T4, it must be converted into the active form T3 in your peripheral tissues in order to be used by your cells by an enzyme called deiodinase. This enzyme requires certain nutrients in order to do its job well. Your thyroid gland also requires certain nutrients in order to produce T4. These include:
- Selenium: you can get your necessary intake of selenium in 2-3 brazil nuts daily.
- Zinc: you can get your necessary intake of zinc in a handful of pumpkin seeds daily, or try some fresh raw oysters!
- Iodine: iodine is needed for the formation of thyroid hormone. You can get a natural dose of iodine from sea vegetables – try 5g of dried kelp daily for iodine and various other essential vitamins and minerals.
- B-vitamins: you can get a healthy dose of B-vitamins from green leafy vegetables, whole grains, egg yolks and legumes.
- Tyrosine: tyrosine in an amino acid necessary for the formation of thyroid hormone. It can be found in beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes.
- Gut Health: the majority of your T4 thyroid hormone is activated in your gut. If your liver is overloaded with various environmental or dietary toxins, or if you have an imbalance in your gut flora, this can really affect your body’s ability to use active thyroid hormone. Doing a liver cleanse once per year in the Spring can free up your liver to activate your thyroid hormone instead of working so hard to detoxify your body. Adding some naturally fermented food, like sauerkraut or kimchi, to your diet daily can help to re-balance your healthy gut flora.
- Stress Reduction: When we are under stress, our adrenal glands release a stress hormone called cortisol to help us “fight” or take “flight” to get out of a stressful situation. This was helpful when all we had to worry about was escaping from a saber-toothed tiger, but in modern society, we are constantly under stress with deadlines, work, family responsibilities, you name it! Cortisol interferes with the conversion of T4 into T3, which prevents our cells from getting a good healthy dose of active thyroid hormone. Finding the right stress modification exercises for you is very important for thyroid health, including meditation, deep breathing exercises, body awareness practices, yoga, tai qi and nature time!
If you suspect you have hypothyroidism and need some support to get you back to feeling your best, you can book an appointment with me at the Local Health Clinic for a personalized plan for natural treatments for hypothyroidism.
Yours in health,