How to treat low thyroid function naturally, and without medication is a question that I am often asked, and if it is even possible.
The simple answer is that in most people you can improve thyroid function through diet changes, stress reduction, nutritional and herbal supplementation.
That’s the simple answer and now we will go into some more detail so that you can address your low thyroid function.
This may help so that you can either avoid having to go onto thyroid medication, or if medication is necessary you can still support the thyroid function naturally – so that the thyroid medication is more effective and you can remain on a low dose.
You cannot start treating low thyroid function without knowing the cause of your low thyroid function. Fixing thyroid function is not as simple as taking thyroid medication (which is why people taking thyroid medication can still have low thyroid symptoms) or supplementing with thyroid nutrients such as Tyrosine and Iodine.
You have to treat the whole body and this includes digestive function, liver, stress, inflammation and of course diet. You also need to check your thyroid antibodies and have a full thyroid panel of tests as that can help you work out why your thyroid function is low, you can find out more about testing for low thyroid here .
Treatment strategies for low thyroid will be different depending on the cause of your low thyroid, it is not a “one size fits all” option.
The hypothalamus is the master gland in your brain that controls the hormones in your body, it is like your own personal thermostat to control how much thyroid hormone you need, how much adrenal hormones are produced, also sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone …. all the hormones are controlled by the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus releases a hormone called thyroid releasing hormone (TRH) which goes to the pituitary, the pituitary then releases thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which signals to the thyroid that the body is low in active thyroid hormones and it needs to make more.
TSH is what is measured when you go to the doctor, the TSH test does not measure how well your thyroid is functioning but rather how well your brain is sending messages to the thyroid.
The brain needs to be healthy to be able to effectively send it’s messages to the thyroid gland and there are two big things that can disrupt this function, stress and inflammation.
When you are under a lot of stress the brain sends a message to the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, this increase in cortisol leads to a decrease in release of TSH and a lowered thyroid function.
This is just one reason why you may have low thyroid symptoms but your TSH test comes back “just fine”.
Reducing stress is an important place to start when addressing thyroid function and you can’t treat the thyroid without treating the adrenals also.
This can be through meditation, yoga, gentle exercise and counselling as well as looking at herbs and nutrients to treat stress like B vitamins, Withania, Rhodiola, phosphatydlserine are some of my favourites but there many more options too.
The more stressed you are the bigger the thyroid issue so it is important to start here first. Stress does not just have to be external stress but can be also caused by obesity, gut function and injury.
Inflammation in the brain can also disrupt the hypothalamus and pituitary from functioning correctly.
Inflammation can come from many sources, some of the main ones are toxins in the environment, these days we are exposed to many more toxins than our body’s designed to handle which can lead to inflammation in our body, and especially the brain.
Our genetics can influence how well we handle inflammation which is why some people react to toxins in the environment while other people can seem to handle a lot more.
Toxins are hormone disruptors and not only affect thyroid but other systems of the body like adrenal function, fertility, brain function and liver
Another source of toxicity comes from too many of the harmful bacteria in the gut and not enough good bacteria, this is known as dysbiosis. This dysbiosis is influenced by diet, stress, medications and our genetics.
Inflammation interferes with the conversion of the inactive form of thyroid hormone called T4 into the active form called T3.
Nutrients and herbs that can help with inflammation are curcumin, boswellia, omega 3 fats, digestive enzymes, prebiotics and probiotics.
I have already mentioned digestion as being a source of inflammation and stress which can affect your health in so many ways including affecting your thyroid, so let’s look a bit more at how this happens.
If you have low stomach acid or low digestive enzymes this can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, inflammation as well as uncomfortable digestive symptoms like gas, bloating and reflux.
Inflammatory foods and especially gluten have been shown to affect thyroid function by creating a leaky gut and dysbiosis, this can lead to the immune system attacking your own body which is one of the causative factors behind Hashimoto’s low thyroid.
If you have an auto-immune condition you have to treat the immune system and gut function, just adding medications or nutrients will not fix the problem.
Poor digestion and poor diet will create inflammation in the liver and affect the function of the liver. The thyroid produces T4 which is made into T3 but it is the liver that converts it into the active form of free T3, and this is what is utilized by every cell in your body.
If you have someone in your family who has thyroid problems then this will increase your risk factor for developing a thyroid problem, this risk factor is increased considerably if you have a male relative with thyroid problems.
However just because you have a genetic predisposition to thyroid problems does not mean that it will affect you, but you will need to work harder to optimize digestion, reduce processed foods, reduce stress and inflammation so that you are reducing all of your risk factors.
If you have a polymorphism in the MTHFR gene this will also increase your risk of thyroid problems as it impacts on the methylation cycle, if this cycle is not functioning problem it can increase stress, inflammation and toxicity which as we have discussed are the main causes behind thyroid problems.
It seems like there is so much to do to address low thyroid function so it is important to summarize the essential steps that you need to do to take action
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Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen