This article is all about optimizing thyroid function! You’ll learn about thyroid disorders, the effect of nutrition on thyroid function, and even the best herbs for thyroid health.
Considering that women are more likely to deal with thyroid conditions than men, optimizing thyroid function should be at the top of your list. After all, that tiny, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your throat controls a lot, and it deserves some attention.
Types of Thyroid Disorders
The thyroid gland is a vital hormone gland. It works in conjunction with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. The thyroid gland helps regulate bodily functions by constantly releasing a steady amount of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. Notably, it plays a significant role in metabolism, growth, and development.
Thyroid disorders occur when the thyroid gland is either underactive or overactive. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) is when the gland doesn’t make enough hormones. An overactive thyroid (also known as hyperthyroidism) occurs if the thyroid gland makes too many hormones.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are at opposite ends of the spectrum. However, both of these imbalances can lead to frustrating symptoms.
Hypothyroidism typically makes you feel fatigued. You may have trouble concentrating and may be prone to weight gain. Depression is not uncommon.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Cold intolerance
- Constipation (often severe)
- Thinning eyebrows
- Dry skin and weak nails
- Irregular periods
- Hair loss
- Brain fog
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Loss of libido
- Pain, numbness, and a tingling sensation in the hands and fingers
FYI: There is also a condition called subclinical hypothyroidism. This is a thyroid imbalance where TSH levels are mildly elevated but not enough to warrant a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. For many women, even a mild elevation in TSH levels will cause thyroid-related symptoms.
On the other hand, hyperthyroidism makes you feel more anxious and restless. You may have a racing heart and feel irritable. Often, symptoms include muscle weakness and weight loss.
Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Mood swings
- Excessive sweating
- Thinning skin
- Muscle weakness
- Brittle nails and hair
Interestingly, an overactive immune system can be at the root of both types of thyroid conditions.
When the immune system begins attacking the thyroid, it can cause either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Autoimmune diseases of the thyroid include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (hypothyroidism) and Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism).
Thyroid Hormones & Assessment
Of course, before we talk about optimizing thyroid function and the best herbs for thyroid health, let’s dig into the thyroid hormones.
Hormones are chemicals that coordinate different functions in your body. The thyroid gland releases two main hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
In addition, the hypothalamus releases thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH), which stimulates your pituitary gland to produce and release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Then, TSH stimulates the production of T4 and T3 in the thyroid gland.
To assess your thyroid health, a well-trained functional medicine nutritionist may order labs on several different biomarkers:
- Total & Free T4
- Total & Free T3
- Reverse T3
You do not want to miss a thyroid imbalance in its early stages. Running a comprehensive panel (as outlined above) ensures that no stone is left unturned, and will also help identify areas for early nutritional intervention.
Treatment for Thyroid Disorders
The conventional medical treatment for hypothyroidism incorporates prescription drugs like levothyroxine, a synthetic form of T4 hormone. Conversely, drugs called thioamides treat hyperthyroidism. These drugs stop your thyroid from producing excess hormones.
But did you know? You can also support your thyroid naturally. This is done by reducing stress, addressing food sensitivities, decreasing exposure to environmental toxins, and taking science-backed supplements and herbs targeted at the underlying cause of your specific case of thyroid dysfunction.
Nutrition for Thyroid Health
Please understand that your body cannot live without thyroid hormones. If you’re currently taking thyroid medication, do not discontinue your medication without first speaking with your physician.
Still, herbs, vitamins, and mineral supplements are incredibly helpful for improving thyroid function. Not to mention, diet, lifestyle, and correcting nutrient deficiencies may help restore your thyroid to its normal state.
Best Herbs for Thyroid
Herbs are plants or plant parts with aromatic or savory properties that are often used in cooking, although many herbs also have medicinal properties.
Specific herbs can treat the root causes of many chronic diseases. Most medicinal herbs and plants show anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-modulating properties.
Some herbs are better than others for thyroid function. Here is a list of the best herbs for thyroid health. These herbs can help you achieve overall hormonal balance and a better functioning thyroid.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb. An adaptogen is a substance that can increase the body’s resilience to various types of physical and emotional stressors.
One clinical trial looked at the stress-relieving effect of ashwagandha root extract in 60 stressed adults. The researchers found that 250 mg or 600 mg of ashwagandha worked to significantly reduce perceived stress and cortisol, a physiological marker for stress. Compared to the placebo group, the participants receiving ashwagandha also had a significant improvement in sleep quality. Given that stress is often a major trigger of thyroid disorders, ashwagandha is one of the best herbs for thyroid health.
In another study, 50 participants with subclinical hypothyroidism were given 600 mg of ashwagandha for eight weeks and saw a significant improvement in serum TSH, T4, and T3 levels compared to the placebo group.
Recommended Product: Check out my favorite ashwagandha supplement through my online supplement dispensary.
Turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin, a powerful compound known for its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Likewise, the role of curcumin in thyroid disorders is far reaching, from fighting inflammation to protecting against oxidative damage. Furthermore, research has found that consuming daily turmeric may help reduce the growth of a goiter, a phenomenon that occurs when the thyroid gland becomes enlarged. It is a symptom of both hypo- and hyperthyroidism.
You can use turmeric as a spice over food or take it in the form of a supplement. If you use the spice, make sure to pair it with black pepper to help enhance absorption.
Recommended Product: Check out my favorite curcumin supplement through my online supplement dispensary.
Black Cumin Seed Oil
Nigella sativa, known as black cumin seed oil, has a long history of medicinal use. It has been a remedy for inflammation, cardiovascular health, infections, and skin conditions for centuries. In fact, this herb is known to have antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. Better yet, it shows promise for positively influencing thyroid health.
One study split 40 participants with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis into two groups. Half the group received 2 grams of black cumin seed oil daily while the other half received a placebo supplement. After eight weeks, those who took the black cumin seed oil saw a significant improvement in their thyroid levels, most notably a reduction in TSH and an increase in T3 hormone. Participants also noticed an improved BMI and weight loss.
Black cumin seed oil may also play a role in addressing the root causes that contribute to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. For example, H. Pylori is a bacterial infection in the stomach that is a common finding in people with Hashimoto’s. Black cumin seed oil acts as a biofilm disruptor and is able to break open the protective coating that H. Pylori uses to shield itself. This allows for antibacterial components to reach the bacteria and destroy it. This herb can help eradicate these infections and potentially reverse the thyroid condition.
Other Herbs for Thyroid Health
Sea kelp and bladderwrack are dietary sources of natural iodine. Iodine is essential for thyroid function. However, you should exercise caution with these herbs. In excess, iodine can further harm the thyroid for those with an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s. Work with your functional medicine nutritionist directly if you’re concerned about a potential iodine deficiency.
Why Are Herbs Used in Functional Medicine?
Most conventional doctors will treat a thyroid disorder with a prescription drug. Sometimes, these medications are necessary. In contrast, especially in cases of autoimmune thyroid disorders, functional medicine nutritionists look at the underlying triggers of autoimmunity to help reverse the condition. Herbs are one of the many tools functional medicine nutritionists use to help address the root cause of thyroid imbalance.
Considerations When Using Herbal Remedies
When using herbs to support thyroid health, there are a few delivery options. For example, you can use tinctures or loose-leaf teas. In addition, high-quality supplements make getting these herbs super easy and convenient.
It’s important to note that even though herbs are “natural” products, there can be side effects depending on your medical status. Always consult with your medical provider before starting or discontinuing a herbal supplement. Your healthcare provider can best assess whether underlying medical conditions or drug interactions might mean a particular herb isn’t right for you.
Other Supplements for Thyroid Health
While herbs can play an important role in thyroid health, there are also a few other nutritional supplements to consider:
Your body naturally produces vitamin D through sun exposure. However, many people are deficient in vitamin D due to their indoor lifestyles. A vitamin D deficiency has been shown to contribute to an underactive thyroid.
This 2018 study found that Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and vitamin D deficiency are inextricably linked. Researchers found that vitamin D levels influence the presence of autoimmune thyroid antibodies. Likewise, they also discovered that thyroid hormone levels play a role in the maintenance of adequate vitamin D levels. In other words, hypothyroidism can also lead to a vitamin D deficiency.
Most of the research connecting vitamin D and thyroid health in the literature has been studied in autoimmune thyroiditis. However, a 2020 study found that even non-autoimmune hypothyroidism was associated with a vitamin D deficiency.
Since year-round sun exposure is not an option for many people, supplementation is often the next best solution. The RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU per day, but as a functional medicine nutritionist frequently working with Hashimoto’s clients, I often recommend a dose of 2000-5000 IU daily. Testing your vitamin D levels prior to supplementation is advised.
Recommended Product: Check out my favorite vitamin D supplement through my online supplement dispensary.
Selenium is a major nutrient for thyroid health. In fact, the thyroid gland has the highest amount of selenium per gram of tissue. This nutrient plays an important role in thyroid hormone production, so a deficiency can often lead to a thyroid imbalance. In addition to its role in thyroid hormone production, selenium is a known antioxidant, so it helps to minimize the impact of oxidative stress on the thyroid gland as well.
Research indicates that maintaining an adequate concentration of selenium is a prerequisite to preventing thyroid disease and preserving overall health. Studies have also found that supplementing with selenium reduces thyroid antibodies as well as the severity of hypothyroid symptoms. Additionally, supplementing with selenium may help fight postpartum thyroiditis, which occurs when new mothers experience thyroid symptoms.
Other research has found that a combination of myoinositol, a small glucose-like molecule involved in cellular signaling, and selenium helps to restore healthy thyroid function in individuals diagnosed with thyroid autoimmune disorders.
While the RDA for selenium is 55 mcg per day, I often find in my practice that clients feel optimal on a dose of 200 mcg daily.
Recommended Product: Check out my favorite selenium supplement through my online supplement dispensary.
Zinc is an essential mineral for the conversion of T4 to T3 and the production of TSH. A zinc deficiency may result in decreased thyroid hormone levels, or hypothyroidism.
Similar to vitamin D, a zinc deficiency could be a symptom or a cause of hypothyroidism. Since it is difficult to tease out which came first, consuming a diet rich in zinc (red meat and poultry) is recommended, or a supplement should be considered.
While the RDA for zinc is 8 mg per day, I have often seen success with dosages up to 30 mg per day for the purpose of optimizing thyroid health. Dosages greater than 30 mg may deplete other essential minerals such as copper and iron. Zinc supplementation is best taken with food for enhanced absorption.
Recommended Product: Check out my favorite zinc supplement through my online supplement dispensary.
Final Tips for a Healthy Thyroid
In addition to the above herbs and supplements, here are a few additional tips to support a healthy thyroid:
- Hit the brakes on stress. Stress is a major trigger for thyroid dysfunction and thyroid autoimmunity. While it may not be possible to eliminate all the stressors in your life, it’s important to take a few minutes each day or each week to decompress. Set time aside for yourself regularly and remember to lean on others for support.
- Whole foods are critical: Nutrition affects thyroid function. Your thyroid needs an array of nutrients to function properly, like vitamin D, selenium, zinc, and other vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Prioritize high-quality, organic, and grass-fed proteins such as beef, poultry, eggs, and tofu. A variety of vegetable fibers such as leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are also critical for thyroid health. Lastly, healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, and full-fat organic yogurt are crucial for hormone health as well.
- Avoid gluten, at least short-term: Gluten can be an issue for many individuals with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Gluten can worsen autoimmune thyroid issues, causing your immune system to mistakenly flag your thyroid gland for destruction. If you’re unsure, commit to a 100% gluten-free diet for 3-6 months and see how you feel.
Related Post: Going Gluten and Dairy-Free to Heal Hashimoto’s
Working With A Functional Medicine Nutritionist
Your thyroid performs a vital function for your health and overall well-being. When it’s not operating correctly, it can be the root of many symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain, irregular periods, and infertility. While medication is sometimes necessary to restore thyroid function, diet and lifestyle are crucial components of overall thyroid health.
To be sure, these herbs and supplements are just a few that help protect your thyroid so it can keep working for you for many years to come. The best herbs for thyroid health, and especially for your thyroid, are best determined with your health history in mind.
If you want to dial in and learn how to optimize your thyroid health through a functional medicine and nutrition approach, check out my one-on-one women’s health consultation program. This six-month program gets to the root of your hormonal health concerns through a detailed health history review and comprehensive functional lab testing.
Rest assured, you will receive an action plan that outlines the exact diet, supplement, and lifestyle recommendations you need to achieve optimal thyroid health.