HJ: Nature’s infinite wisdom has provided a medicine for every ailment, a cure for every imbalance. Our hormonal systems are some of the most important in the body as hormones are the master regulators of the body’s various processes. An imbalance in the thyroid will have a cascade of effects that will affect many different aspects of health that are seemingly unrelated.
Unlike pharmaceuticals, herbs are generally safe to experiment with in cases of mild to moderate thyroid issues. If you have a more serious problem, either test small amounts first to see how you react or ask your naturopathic doctor or herbalist before embarking on a program.
15 of The Best Herbs and Plants To Stabilize and Boost Thyroid Function
By John Summerly | Prevent Disease
Many natural health practitioners are often quick to tell you that “thyroid problems mean you need iodine” or iodine supplements, however this is not always the case and supplementing with natural iodine will only help those who are deficient. Understanding which herbs can stabilize and boost thyroid function is integral in any natural treatment plan for hyper- or hypothyroidism.
It is estimated that over 200 million people globally (about 35 million people in North America) suffer from at least one of the many forms of thyroid disease. In fact, thyroid problems are increasing so much in frequency that scientists are calling it an epidemic. The incidence of thyroid illness occurs about seven times more frequently in women than men, and it is thought that at least 50% of the cases are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Some homeopathic remedies are very useful in relieving symptoms associated with imbalance in thyroid gland function. However, herbs can directly act on the gland and the immune system itself. Here are 15 herbs that can make in stabilizing and boosting thyroid function.
Schisandra and its berries provide powerful antioxidant protection, particularly from free radicals and other toxins in the environment that may cause cellular damage. Much of the clinical research has focused on the effects of Schisandra on the production of various detoxifying enzymes as well as the antioxidant activity of the extract. More research is needed to fully understand the exact biochemical activity of this tremendous plant. Extensive experimental research in Russia has documented the many adaptogen properties of this herb, including the positive effects it has on the central nervous, sympathetic, endocrine, immune, respiratory, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems and prevention of atherosclerosis, high blood sugar and other outcomes under periods of chronic stress.
Rhodiola has been categorized as an adaptogen because of its ability to help us increase our resistance to a variety of chemical, biological and physical stressors. It is also known as “golden rod," with tremendous fat burning, energy enhancing and brain boosting power. Its purported benefits include acting as an antidepressant, an anticancer agent and having cardio-protective and central nervous system enhancement abilities. It adaptogenic qualities are particularly notable in its ability to enhance the body’s stress buffering systems and protect the stress responding endocrine glands, the adrenal, thyroid, ovary or testes. Even for individuals who don’t have chronic fatigue syndrome, rhodiola is becoming increasingly popular to counter the exhaustion that occurs from working the body too hard, either physically or mentally. With rhodiola, problems of fatigue- or exhaustion-related sleep, appetite, and headache may lift. Those struggling to recover from an intense work schedule may also benefit from the herb’s apparent energy-boosting powers.
Ashwagandha also known commonly as Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry,or winter cherry is a plant that flourishes in India and North America. The roots of the ashwagandha plant have been employed for millennia by Ayurvedic healers. Numerous modern studies have found that ashwagandha shows great promise for being effective in reducing inflammation, decreasing stress, increasing mental activity, invigorating the body, and as an antioxidant. It is even known to relieve arthritis better than medication. Ashwagandha leads to larger amounts of three different natural antioxidants: superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. It has been shown to decrease blood cortisol levels by up to 26% in chronically-stressed individuals and boosts immune function, endocrine function, mental functioning and enhances libido — all features of an anti-stress adaptogen.
Sometimes known as Chinese Foxglove, the plants have large flowers and are grown as ornamental garden plants in Europe and North America, and are used medicinally in Asia. It contains the vitamins A, B, C, and D as well as other compounds, such as catalpol, an iridoid glycoside, that has been shown to exert protective effects in reducing pro-inflammatory factors. Rehmannia is especially used for treating hormonal disorders, such as menopause, thyroid imbalance and adrenal insufficiency.
Licorice has many uses and is considered a tonic plant in many traditional medicinal systems. It has been used to support a healthy digestion, lung and respiratory function and promote a healthy adrenal response to stress. Licorice contains triterpenoid saponins, notably glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid as well as a fair amount of flavonoids and flavones like liquiritin, and numerous chalcones and isoflavones. Many people who have suffered from hypothyroidism have found that small, safe dosages of licorice have been dramatically beneficial. People with hypothyroidism often produce lower levels of cortisol and licorice stimulates the production of cortisol by the thyroid gland, suggesting that it could be useful in the treatment of hypothyroidism.
Bacopa is a potent as thyroid stimulating drugs to fight hypothyroidism. Some experiments found that Bacopa monnieri‘s extract increases by 41% the concentration of Tyroxine, while T3 levels do not change. This suggests that Bacosides work directly on the Thyroid Gland, stimulating the synthesis and/or release of T4, without altering the conversion of T4 into T3. These studies confirm that the plant has a stimulant effect on the Thyroid Gland.
Bladderwrack is a seaweed also known by the common names black tang, rockweed, bladder fucus, sea oak, black tany, cut weed, dyers fucus, red fucus, and rock wrack. It was the original source of iodine, discovered in 1811, and was used extensively to treat goitre, a swelling of the thyroid gland related to iodine deficiency. Primary chemical constituents of this plant include mucilage, algin, mannitol, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, iodine, bromine, potassium, volatile oils, and many other minerals. Many patients who have taken synthetic or natural thyroid hormones have been able to eventually wean off these drugs with the help of this herb (under the supervision). In fact, Dr. Janet Lang, who is the founder of Restorative Endocrinology, talks about this herb as being “liquid magic" for people with hypothyroid conditions. When combined with the herb Ashwaganda this herb can stimulate the production of thyroid hormone in some people with hypothyroid conditions. Since the amount of iodine is low in this herb, most people with Hashimoto’s don’t have a problem taking this herb, although some will still choose to avoid it out of fear that it will exacerbate their condition. This herb shouldn’t be taken by those with hypothyroidism, and is contraindicated in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Bladderwrack, being a seaweed, is also prone to high levels of toxins such as heavy metals like arsenic found in ocean water so source is key.
8. BLACK WALNUT
Black walnut is a species of flowering tree in the walnut family. It has been promoted as a potential cancer cure, on the basis it kills a “parasite” responsible for some cancers. The fresh green hulls are used to produce the herbal medicine and are concentrated in the chemical juglone. Many cultures have used Black walnut hulls to support a healthy intestinal environment and eaten the nuts for their rich Omega 3 essential fatty acid content, vitamin C and flavor. Aside from seafoods, black walnut is considered as one of the richest sources of iodine. Research shows, iodine is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in optimizing the health and functioning of the thyroid glands. Furthermore, it was found out that insufficient amount of iodine usually lead to a number of conditions which include chronic fatigue, depression, mental impairment, and goiters.
This very popular herb is responsible for enhancing immune system function. It is an antioxidant plus it has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and pain-relieving properties.There are distinct functions to differentiate depending on the part of the plant being used. It is important to look for and use products that have been tested for activity and list either Alkylamides or Polysaccharide content on the label, as these constituents are relatively unstable and need to be prepared and delivered properly to maximize efficacy. The flowers when harvested in their early developmental phase contain Arabinogalactin Proteins and Polysachharides. These chemicals support ongoing immune function and are best-used long term for supporting the immune system. The roots harvested in the fall contain large amounts of Alkylamides and support a healthy inflammatory response in the sinuses and are best used at onset, not for long-term use. Most people with autoimmune thyroid conditions are TH-1 dominant and Echinacea has been found to exacerbate the condition in a minority of people. Others benefit and experience no ill effects. Echinacea is a wonderful herb that can benefit many people with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and will typically NOT aggravate an autoimmune condition.
Eleuthero has a broad-spectrum, normalizing action that brings an organism back to homeostasis. In Chinese herbology it is used by people with bone marrow suppression caused by chemotherapy or radiation, angina, hypercholesterolemia, and neurasthenia with headache, insomnia, and poor appetite. It exhibits excellent anti-inflammatory, immunogenic and antidepressant-like properties. It increases the ability of subjects to withstand stress such as heat, noise, motion, exercise, and increase in workload. Patients with both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can take this herb (including both Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves’ Disease). The herb doesn’t directly affect the thyroid gland, but instead helps the body to adapt to stressful situations, and also helps with the health of the immune system. For people with adrenal problems, which is common in people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, this is a very beneficial herb.
11. COLEUS FORSKOHLII
In Ayurvedic medicine Coleus species have been used to treat heart disease, convulsions, spasmodic pain and painful urination. The herbal teas contain rosmarinic acid and also flavonoid glucuronides and diterpenoids. The chemical constituents of Coleus Forskohlii have been show to gave excellent antioxidant activity and acetylcholinesterase inhibition. A recent PubMed search yielded 17,256 studies on this plant compound. There are over 35 known biological activities for Forskolin alone. One of the most interesting, researched and prospectively helpful is its it’s ability to promote healthy cells through the enzyme Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate (cAMP). This enzyme is a cellular messenger, you can think of it as the intelligence of the cell for when a cell is carrying out its function properly, high amounts of cAMP are found and when a cell is not functioning properly, low amounts are found. Low cAMP levels are found in hypersensitized mast cells and other unhealthy cells that will not burn their stored fat.
12. HAWTHORN LEAF AND BERRY
Used to promote the health of the circulatory system, treat angina, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmia and has been found to strengthen the heart. Hawthorn is widely regarded in Europe as a safe and effective treatment for the early stages of heart disease and is endorsed by Commission E- the branch of the German government that studies and approves herbal treatments. It is used to promote the health of the circulatory and endocrine system and has been found useful in treating angina, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia and endocrine disorders. Animal and laboratory studies have found that hawthorn contains active compounds with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are substances that scavenge free radicals; damaging compounds in the body that alter cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Free radicals occur naturally in the body, but environmental toxins (including ultraviolet light, radiation, cigarette smoking, and air pollution) can also increase their number.
13. LEMON BALM
Lemon balm is a member of the mint family, is considered a calming herb. Lemon balm is an incredible herb that is considered beneficial by acting directly on the thyroid gland. It may block some of the activity of thyroid hormone in the body. Therefore, it has been used in the past to treat Grave’s disease. Research shows that this herb is useful in normalizing the activities of overactive thyroid glands by reducing the production of thyroid hormones and easing the symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism.
For many people who don’t want to take antithyroid drugs, Bugleweed is an option. It is essentially is an “antithyroid herb". Key components include phenolic acids (including derivatives of caffeic, chlorogenic, and ellagic acids). The organic acids in bugleweed may work to lower levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), or it may block the TSH receptors and prevent the hormone from entering the thyroid gland to stimulate production of other hormones. In Graves’ Disease, the thyroid gland produces excessive hormones, resulting in accelerated metabolism with such symptoms as rapid pulse, weight loss, sensitivity to heat, excessive sweating, fatigue, and physical changes, including the development of an enlarged thyroid (goiter) and bulging eyes. Bugleweed appears to influence the metabolism of iodine, which the thyroid uses to make its hormones. Only a very small amount is needed to decrease thyroid function. It is contraindicated for people who have hypothyroidism, and also shouldn’t be taken by those women with hyperthyroidism who are pregnant or lactating.
15. COMMIPHORA MUKUL
Commiphora Mukul produces a resinous sap known as gum guggul. The extract of this gum, called gugulipid, guggulipid or guglipid, has been used in UNANI & Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional UNANI medicine, for nearly 3,000 years in India. Commiphora extract enhances the conversion of T4 to the more potent T3 form. It appears to boost thyroid function without influencing the release of the pituitary hormone TSH, indicating the herbs work directly on the thyroid gland and other body tissues to exert their effects. his action is important. Ninety-five percent of all hypothyroidism cases are not due to pituitary problems. The problem is with the thyroid itself and an impaired T4-to-T3- conversion in tissues outside the gland. 100mg of Commiphora is sufficient for a therapeutic effect.
John Summerly is nutritionist, herbologist, and homeopathic practitioner. He is a leader in the natural health community and consults athletes, executives and most of all parents of children on the benefits of complementary therapies for health and prevention.