Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormones on its own. This can happen for many reasons. The main cause of hypothyroidism in the United States is an autoimmune disorder known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Natural remedies are popular topics, but do they really work and are they safe? This article will explain why most natural remedies are not the fixes they seem to be. Even though some remedies may help with some symptoms or improve quality of life while getting thyroid treatment, nothing can replace the need for thyroid hormone replacement or ongoing medical care.
Natural Remedies for Hypothyroidism
Even among people who know they have thyroid problems, there is not always a clear understanding of how the thyroid works and how hypothyroidism can impact health. The Internet can be a good source of information, but when it comes to natural treatments for hypothyroidism, it is full of false or misleading information.
One study found that almost half of those with thyroid disorders believed that alternative forms of medicine could be effectively used to treat hypothyroidism. The study also found that only one-third of patients were taking their thyroid medication correctly, and 10% believed that hypothyroidism could be passed on to their partner. Thyroid problems are caused by hormone imbalances that can be triggered by genetics, medication side effects, other autoimmune conditions, and many other sources—but thyroid disease is never contagious and can never be passed from one person to another.
While many natural remedies for thyroid disorders sound good, they are not backed by scientific evidence. There is no alternative replacement for thyroid hormones.
Some natural remedies may address specific symptoms or may improve general health, but nothing replaces a prescription medication for thyroid hormone replacement. If you want to look into natural ways to improve your thyroid health, talk to your doctor about what is safe and what might help your health.
Untreated thyroid conditions can have serious long-term consequences, like heart disease, nerve problems, and mood disorders. Improperly managed thyroid conditions, like taking too much thyroid medication over time, can lead to osteoporosis or heart rhythm problems.
Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential for health. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults is 55 mcg. Most adults in the United States get enough selenium from dietary sources, and deficiency is not common.
Selenium is more concentrated in the thyroid gland than anywhere else in the body. It is needed for making thyroid hormones and regulating metabolism. Studies that have looked at selenium supplementation in people with thyroid disorders have had inconsistent results, with some showing benefits in quality of life and others showing increased selenium levels but no change to thyroid function.
The tolerable upper limit for selenium, which is the amount that can be consumed without leading to toxicity, is 400 mcg. Many selenium supplements aimed at thyroid health have higher levels of selenium. Suppose a person takes a multivitamin and eats a diet high in selenium. In that case, it is possible to experience selenium toxicity, which can also cause some symptoms consistent with thyroid problems, like fatigue, neurological symptoms, gastrointestinal problems, and more. Severe selenium toxicity can be life-threatening.
If you are concerned that you do not eat enough selenium, speak to a medical provider about a selenium supplement.
Too much sugar or processed foods can lead to health problems. If you already have thyroid disease or other health conditions, reducing sugar intake and eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can support better health. However, a sugar-free diet is not a cure for hypothyroidism and will not necessarily decrease your need for thyroid medication.
A balanced diet might support some symptoms of hypothyroidism, like having trouble losing weight, having low energy, or constipation. Decreasing sugar and increasing fiber are important for all people, not just those with thyroid disorders.
Aromatherapy or massage using essential oils can have many benefits, including improved sleep quality and anxiety relief. There is no scientific evidence that essential oils help treat, prevent hypothyroidism or improve thyroid function. Essential oils should also only be used topically, paired with a carrier oil for massage, or inhaled for aromatherapy. They are not intended for oral consumption and could lead to esophageal or stomach irritation or other problems.
The B complex family of vitamins are important water-soluble nutrients. This means that the body cannot store large amounts of them. You need to get B vitamins from your diet on a regular basis. Some people, especially those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, may not be able to get enough vitamin B12 from food sources alone. B12 is mostly found in meats and other foods that come from animal sources.
B vitamins are important for overall health. Low levels of certain B vitamins can cause serious health problems over time, such as:
- Nervous system problems
- Neurological disorders
- Cardiovascular disease
- Mood disorders
- Energy metabolism
People with autoimmune hypothyroidism are at increased risk for other autoimmune conditions, including celiac disease, pernicious anemia, and gastritis. Each of these can also worsen how the body absorbs and uses B vitamins.
Overall, low levels of vitamin B12 and other B complex nutrients can contribute to fatigue, which is a primary symptom of hypothyroidism.
People who do not follow vegan or vegetarian diets typically consume enough B vitamins each day, especially since many foods like cereal and bread are fortified with some B vitamins. However, if you have digestive problems or gastrointestinal disorders that decrease your body’s ability to absorb B vitamins, your levels may be inadequate.
A medical provider can order basic blood tests to check for some vitamin B levels, as well as other biomarkers that are used to determine if your body is showing signs of inadequate B vitamins.
Because the FDA does not strictly regulate the safety of dietary supplements, you should talk to your doctor before taking B vitamins. Multivitamins often include some or all of the B vitamins. Biotin, a nutrient that is closely related to the B complex nutrients, can interfere with certain lab tests, including thyroid hormone tests.
A gluten-free diet is an internet-popular remedy for hypothyroidism, but nutrition research finds no evidence that gluten causes problems in people who have thyroid disease unless they have other health conditions. People who have autoimmune thyroid disorders also have a higher risk of developing Celiac disease, so for those patients with both conditions, a gluten-free diet is important.
For people who do not need to be gluten-free, food costs are considerably higher, and just because a food does not contain gluten does not mean that it is healthy. Many packaged gluten-free foods are high in sugar and low in fiber, leaving a diet based on them nutritionally lacking.
It is best to focus on a balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Do Supplements Treat Hypothyroidism?
No scientific evidence proves that dietary supplements can treat hypothyroidism as an alternative to medical hormone replacement. There are many products that are sold as supplements for thyroid health, but these are not vetted by the FDA or healthcare providers. Some of them may have iodine or other herbal ingredients that haven’t been proven to be good for thyroid health.
Dietary supplements can also interact with medications you take, decreasing their effectiveness or altering how your body responds to the dosage. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out how supplements might interact with the medicines you’re taking.
Physical Therapy and Hypothyroidism
Some patients want to try non-pharmaceutical interventions. Yoga and meditation are commonly discussed as having benefits for thyroid conditions. While these can support wellness and quality of life for some aspects of thyroid health, they do not replace the need for thyroid hormone replacement.
Other Treatment Options
The primary method of treating hypothyroidism is hormone replacement with levothyroxine. It is available as a generic medication or under the brand names Levoxyl, Synthroid, Tirosint, and Unithroid.
Around 10–15 percent of patients report not feeling well on levothyroxine treatment alone, and 15% do not get to normal T3 (triiodothyronine) levels from levothyroxine alone. Levothyroxine is a manmade version of T4 that the thyroid and tissues throughout the body convert to the active form, T3, as needed. For those patients, medical providers may also prescribe a pharmaceutical version of T3, although this is only done in the subset of patients who do not respond to T4 alone.
When to See a Medical Provider
If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism but do not feel well on your current dosage of levothyroxine, or if it has been several months since your last blood test, check in with a medical provider for an exam and some updated lab work. Your dosage may need to be adjusted, or you may have some additional health factors that need to be addressed.
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