Many people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis take thyroid hormone medication, and every now and then I’ll get asked if there is a natural substitute for thyroid hormone. I deal with both hyperthyroid and hypothyroid conditions, and with hyperthyroid conditions there are some pretty good natural alternatives for the medication. For example, bugleweed is an herb which has antithyroid activity, and many people choose to take this instead of antithyroid medication. And motherwort can be used instead of beta blockers in some people with hyperthyroidism. But are there nutritional supplements or herbs which can effectively manage the hypothyroid symptoms while someone is trying to restore their health back to normal?
Most people with hypothyroid conditions are aware that there are natural alternatives to synthetic thyroid hormone, such as Armour and Nature-Throid. But while many people do better on natural thyroid hormone, this is still a form of hormone replacement therapy. In other words, natural thyroid hormone isn’t doing anything for the actual cause of the condition. Then again, neither is the bugleweed or motherwort many people with hyperthyroid conditions take, as I recommend these to manage the hyperthyroid symptoms while trying to address the cause of the condition. Even so, some people prefer to take supplements and herbs, and would like to avoid taking hormones whenever possible.
Are There Supplements And Herbs To Take Instead of Thyroid Hormone Medication?
If someone has depressed thyroid hormone levels then unfortunately there are no nutritional supplements or herbs which will replace thyroid hormone. And this is the case with any hormone deficiency. However, there are nutrients and herbs which can help to increase the output of thyroid hormone, and in some cases these can be taken while the cause of the condition is being addressed. So what I’d like to do is talk about some of these nutrients and herbs which might be beneficial in some cases of hypothyroidism.
Iodine. Yes, I’m starting with the controversial iodine. I’m definitely not suggesting that iodine can be taken instead of thyroid hormone medication, and I realize that many people with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis don’t do well when taking iodine. However, iodine is necessary for the formation of thyroid hormone, as thyroxine (T4) consists of four iodine atoms, while triiodothyronine (T3) consists of three iodine atoms. Although an iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism, most cases of hypothyroidism are caused by Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. With that being said, if someone has a non-autoimmune hypothyroid condition and tests positive for a moderate to severe iodine deficiency, then it probably would be a good idea to correct this deficiency. If someone with Hashimoto’s tests positive for an iodine deficiency then eventually this should be corrected, although other factors may need to be addressed first in order to make sure the person doesn’t have a negative reaction to iodine.
Tyrosine. This is an amino acid, and like iodine, this is also necessary for the formation of thyroid hormone. As a result, many thyroid support formulas will include tyrosine. However, very rarely is a tyrosine deficiency the primary cause of hypothyroidism. And so while supplementing with tyrosine usually won’t cause any problems, it also is unlikely to make much of a difference with regards to thyroid hormone output.
Selenium. This mineral is important for the conversion of T4 to T3. As a result, if someone has normal levels of T4 but low levels of T3, they very well might have a selenium deficiency. However, there are other factors which can also interfere with the conversion of T4 to T3, such as high cortisol levels. Some studies have shown that selenium can help to reduce thyroid antibodies, and while this isn’t always the case, when it does help to lower these antibodies this will minimize the amount of thyroid gland damage, which in turn can help with the output of thyroid hormone.
Iron. Iron is another mineral which is essential for normal thyroid hormone metabolism, and a deficiency of this mineral impairs thyroid hormone synthesis by reducing the activity of heme-dependent thyroid peroxidase (1). Iron deficiency anemia is very common, and while this might not be the cause of most cases of hypothyroidism, if someone has an iron deficiency I think it’s safe to say that it’s not helping with the thyroid condition. And so I recommend for most of my patients to not only get a complete blood count, but also an iron panel which includes serum iron, ferritin, iron saturation, and TIBC.
Zinc. Studies show a significant correlation between serum zinc levels and thyroid volume, along with thyroid antibodies and free T3 levels (2) (3). Once again, taking zinc alone probably won’t make much of a difference in someone with hypothyroidism, although if someone is deficient in zinc it could be a contributing factor.
Ashwagandha. There are a few studies which show that ashwagandha can stimulate thyroid hormone production (4) (5). In fact, one of these was a case study which showed that taking ashwagandha caused thyrotoxicosis in a 32-year old woman. However, I’ve given ashwagandha to numerous patients with hyperthyroid conditions without a problem, as it doesn’t seem to directly affect the thyroid gland, but instead affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis. It also affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which can in turn modulate cortisol levels. Ashwagandha is commonly given to lower elevated levels of cortisol, but in most cases it can also be safely taken with those who have depressed cortisol levels. Anyway, some people with low or depressed thyroid hormone levels might benefit from taking ashwagandha.
Coleus. Coleus (Coleus forskohlii) is a member of the Lamiaceae or Mint family. While it can help with numerous conditions such as cardiovascular disorders, abdominal pain, and constipation, it also is commonly used for hypothyroidism, as it can potentially stimulate thyroid hormone production.
Thytrophin PMG. Some think of this as a glandular, although it’s actually referred to as a protomorphogen. I have been using this in my practice for many years. This product doesn’t contain any thyroid hormone. In fact, many people with Graves’ Disease are able to take this, as its main purpose is to help neutralize the effects of the thyroid antibodies. Thytrophin PMG isn’t meant to be a replacement for thyroid hormone medication, although every now and then I’ll receive an email from someone who is taking this instead of synthetic or natural thyroid hormone.
Thyroid glandulars. There are numerous types of thyroid glandulars, some of which don’t have thyroid hormone, and other products which do include thyroid hormone. Obviously if someone is looking to completely avoid taking any type of thyroid hormone then they probably will also want to avoid taking thyroid glandulars which have thyroid hormone. On the other hand, since these usually have a smaller amount of thyroid hormone, along with some of the nutrients and herbs I listed above, many are willing to take a thyroid glandular instead of levothyroxine, Armour, or Nature-Throid.
So these are some of the supplements and herbs which might benefit people who are looking to avoid taking thyroid hormone medication. Unfortunately there is no natural substitute that can be taken in place of thyroid hormone, and having sufficient levels of thyroid hormone is very important. While some people might do fine taking some of the nutrients and/or herbs I discussed in place of thyroid hormone, most people with overt hypothyroidism will need to be on some type of thyroid hormone medication, although they might be fine taking a thyroid glandular which has a small amount of thyroid hormone, along with other nutrients and herbs to support the thyroid gland.