Low thyroid function, or hypothyroidism, can cause a wide array of symptoms. Some of the big ones are low energy, depression, weight gain and hair loss, although these are just a smattering. Addressing hypothyroidism sometimes requires the use of thyroid medication, but there is some great herbal support for hypothyroid too, which could be used alone or in conjunction with medications.
The symptom list of hypothyroidism is long –
- Weight gain despite adhering to a low-calorie diet
- Morning headaches that wear off as the day progresses
- Hypersensitivity to cold weather
- Poor circulation and numbness in hands and feet
- Muscle cramps while at rest
- Increased susceptibility to colds and other viral or bacterial infections and difficulty recovering from them
- Slow wound healing
- Excessive amount of sleep required to function
- Chronic digestive symptoms, such as lack of stomach acid
- Itchy, dry brittle skin
- Hair falls out easily
- Low body temperature
- Edema, especially facial swelling
- Loss of outermost portion of eyebrows
It seems that hypothyroidism is getting more and more common these days. I see more auto-immune thyroid issues too, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. I believe a lot of auto-immune thyroid issues are related to gluten intake – research certainly points to a link between gluten and auto-immune thyroid, but the prevalence is not fully known since many cases of gluten intolerance are not diagnosed by traditional methods of testing.
Two of my favorite thyroid support herbs for low thyroid are fucus vesiculosis and coleus forskohlii.
Fucus, also known as Bladderwrack is a form of kelp that has medicinal effects of stimulating thyroid function, partially due to its high content of iodine. It is good for hypothyroid that is caused by iodine deficiency, and is not appropriate for use in hyperthyroidism or Grave’s disease.
Coleus contains forskolin, which supports the activation of cAMP, an important biochemical in metabolic processes. cAMP is involved in feedback process between the thyroid and the brain – cAMP will increase production of Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone (TRH) and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), which stimulates more production of thyroid hormones. Coleus is good for cases of hypothyroidism that are not caused by iodine deficiency.
I also use the herbs ashwaghanda and schizandra to support thyroid health. We typically think of those as adrenal adaptogens, and they are. Supporting the adrenals has a trickle-down effect of helping the thyroid due to communication in those two hormone pathways.
Many people with low thyroid function can benefit from herbal support. In some cases, that may be enough to correct thyroid function and effect a noticeable improvement in symptoms. In other cases, medications may still be needed – preferably bio-identical of course! – but herbs can still help correct the imbalances. Those on medications who start taking herbs need to have their TSH, free T3 and free T4 levels checked frequently as taking the herbs might reduce the dose of meds needed.
Next week I’ll post my favorite nutrients for thyroid health, so stay tuned for that!