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The Risks Of Herbal Medicine In Treating Thyroid Conditions

Many holistic doctors are critical of medication. To be honest, I’m guilty of this too at times, as while I know that both prescription and over-the-counter medications are sometimes necessary, many drugs are both overused and abused. This applies to thyroid medication as well, such as Methimazole, Tapazole, Synthroid, and other thyroid medications. I do think that many people can benefit from taking these drugs on a temporary basis, and some people need to take them on a long-term basis.

In any case, the goal of this post isn’t to discuss medications, but instead is to discuss herbal medicine. While I’m frequently talking about how thyroid medication doesn’t do anything for the cause of the condition, and how there are risks with conventional treatment methods, it is rare for me to talk about the “risks” of using herbs. And I’m not just talking about self-treating one’s condition, as I’m just talking about the general use of hebal remedies, as while there are definitely risks of taking herbs when self-treating one’s condition, there can also be risks even when under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.

Remember That Not All Herbs Are The Same

I have discussed in the past how not all nutritional supplements are the same. There are of course different qualities of nutritional supplements, and the same concept applies to herbs. For example, with certain herbs it is more beneficial to use the root part of the plant, when compared to the leaf. Of course the consumer usually doesn’t know this, and in some cases the doctor isn’t aware of this either. Many holistic doctors don’t know much about herbs, and to be frank, I fit into this category when I first began seeing patients many years ago. But in addition to taking an extensive herbology program by a well know herbalist named Kerry Bone, I’ve attended numerous seminars and have done a lot of studying on my own. But there was a time when I didn’t know much about herbs, and I’m still learning about them to this day.

When talking about the “risks” of herbs, usually there won’t be any adverse reactions when someone takes an herb consisting of the leaf instead of the root. It very well may impact it’s effectiveness, but it usually won’t cause the person any harm. Of course by not being effective this in turn can cause problems, not to mention waste the person’s money. My goal here isn’t to promote any company which provides quality herbal products, but one needs to understand that there are a lot of companies out there which do sell low quality herbs. So without question I recommend using companies that have quality herbs, and quality herbs aren’t cheap.

The Difference Between Liquid Herbs and Tablets

Although I do recommend herbal complexes to my patients that are in tablet form, one major disadvantage of tablets is that there is increased processing. Most of the time the liquid herbs are more effective than tablets, although it is definitely more convenient to recommend the tablets, and in many cases it is also easier for the patient to take tablets. For example, the company MediHerb has a product called Thyroid Complex, which is a tablet consisting of Ashwagandha, Bladderwrack, and Bacopa. While this is a great product and I do recommend it to my patients, taking the liquid herbs can be more effective. But besides it being more expensive to purchase the liquid herbs, it is more convenient to take the tablets. This is especially true if you need to take them away from your home, as you can simply put the tablets in a pill holder, whereas it’s more challenging to carry the liquid herbs with you, although this definitely is possible.

When I was initially diagnosed with Graves’ Disease I took a combination of tablets and liquid herbs.  I took Bugleweed and Motherwort in liquid form, and for awhile I took Echinacea in liquid form before switching to a tablet.  I also took a number of different herbs in tablet form, such as Eleuthero, Licorice, and another tablet which consisted of numerous herbs for immune system support.

Keep in mind that not everyone with Graves’ Disease needs to take all of the same herbs I took. And course just because an herb is in liquid form doesn’t automatically mean it’s of good quality. Once again, there are different qualities regardless of whether the herb is in a tablet or liquid form. This may seem like common sense, but some people assume that an herb in a liquid form is always of a high quality, which of course isn’t always the case.

Herbal Interactions With Prescription Drugs

Are there dangers when taking certain herbs, along with prescription and over-the-counter drugs? There definitely can be, which is why you need to be careful. For example, St. Johns Wort is contraindicated when taking certain medications. For other herbs, there are “cautions”, but not necessarily contraindications. Truth to be told, many herbs are safe to take and have no known contraindications when taken with any type of medication. On the other hand, other herbs do have some contraindications.

Can’t you just do a search online and/or refer to a book to see what type of interactions there are when taking specific herbs? I would be cautious about relying on information on the internet, although there are some books on herbal remedies which do provide some good information. As you know, I’m an advocate of speaking with a holistic doctor who has experience dealing with herbs on a frequent basis.

How about the interactions of herbs with thyroid medication? For those people with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis taking synthetic thyroid hormone, or for those with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease taking antithyroid medication and/or beta blockers, are there risks when taking certain herbs? In most cases, taking these prescription drugs with herbal remedies won’t be a problem, although once again, it’s always wise to consult with a natural healthcare professional who has a good deal of experience dealing with herbs. Of course some people have sensitivities to certain herbs, and so this also needs to be considered. For example, if someone is allergic to the herb Feverfew, they will most likely have a reaction regardless of whether they are taking thyroid medication.

Plus one also needs to be careful regarding the dosage of the herb they are taking.  As an example, if someone with a hyperthyroid condition is taking Methimazole or PTU, and if they also decide to take Bugleweed, if they take too high of a dosage of this herb then this can actually lead to the development of a hypothyroid condition.  On the other hand, someone with hypothyroidism who is taking synthetic or natural thyroid hormone and then takes some herbs which stimulate the production of thyroid hormone very well might become hyperthyroid.  So you need to be very careful.

There are also certain contraindications one needs to be aware of. One obvious example is that someone with a hypothyroid condition shouldn’t take an herb such as Bugleweed, which is specifically for people with hyperthyroid conditions.  Bugleweed is also contraindicated during pregnancy and lactation.  Also, since many people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions have compromised adrenal glands, it’s important to know that someone with high blood pressure needs to be careful about taking the herb licorice, which is commonly recommended for people with low cortisol levels.

In summary, there are some risks when taking certain herbs. Many of the herbs are safe, even for those with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions. Upon consulting with people, many are taking herbs on their own without experiencing any problems. So it admittedly is rare to have an adverse reaction. However, it does happen from time to time, and of course one shouldn’t just randomly take herbs based on what they read on this or any other website.