Low thyroid natural treatment
December 25, 2015 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Low thyroid is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone, which regulates the way the body uses energy. The medical name is hypothyroidism. This condition usually develops slowly and affects 17% of women and 9% of men by age 60.

The gland and its function
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that control the speed of metabolism -- the system that helps the body use energy. Thyroid disorders can slow down or rev up your metabolism by disrupting the production of thyroid hormones. When hormone levels become too low or too high, you may experience a wide range of symptoms. An unexplained change in weight is one of the most common signs of a thyroid disorder. Weight gain may signal low levels of thyroid hormones, a condition called hypothyroidism. In contrast, if the thyroid produces more hormones than the body needs, you may lose weight unexpectedly. This is known as hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism is far more common.

Cause, why it happens, reasons
Hypothyroidism may occur at any age but is especially common in older individuals. Iodine deficiency is one cause of hypothyroidism but there are many others: As a result of treatment of hyperthyroidism, treatment of thyroid tumor, and side effects of some drugs. Low thyroid can result when the body's own natural defense (immune) system attacks the thyroid gland (autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto's thyroiditis). It may also develop following radiation treatment or surgical removal of the thyroid gland.
   Exposure to perchlorate, a widely used industrial chemical found in U.S. drinking water, may prevent some women's thyroid glands from functioning properly. A component of rocket fuel and pyrotechnics, perchlorate has been detected in milk, vegetables, fruit and grains, in addition to drinking water across the United States. Even small increases in perchlorate exposure may inhibit the thyroid's ability to absorb iodine from the bloodstream. Perhaps water filters may help remove the perchlorate.
   The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto's disease. This is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the thyroid gland. The result is damage to the thyroid, preventing it from producing enough hormones. Hashimoto's disease tends to run in families.

Underactive or low thyroid treatment
This condition is treated with medications to replace the thyroid hormone. Symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks or months after treatment begins, but most people need to continue taking thyroid hormones for life. The accepted treatment of low thyroid is with thyroid hormone replacement. Iodine mineral is given in those whose condition is due to low iodine intake which is much more common in other countries than in the United States.
   Different patients benefit from different types of thyroid replacement and different dosages. Sometimes it takes trial and error to find out the best form of medication to use.

Treatment of a low thyroid condition is by administering regular thyroid hormone replacement. This is best given once per day at a certain time of the day (first thing in the morning or last thing before bedtime) so that a routine is followed and the medication is not forgotten. There are various thyroid medications such as purified T4 hormone, called levothyroxine (brand names: Eltroxin, Levotec, Synthroid). Thyroid hormone can also be given as desiccated thyroid (brands include Forest Lab's Armour, Naturethroid and Westhroid by Western Research Labs/Time Caps, and Qualitest by Time Caps Labs.), which contains both T4 and T3 hormones. Tirosint gel caps are becoming more popular and some patients seem to be very content with this medication. The best way to know which ones work for you is by trial and error.
   Desiccated thyroid extract, also called Armour Thyroid, is made from pig thyroid glands by Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc.. This was the most common form of hypothyroid treatment before the individual thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) became available by prescription. The concern with pig thyroid extract is that its potency can vary from batch to batch. It contains both T4 and T3, but the ratio of T4 and T3 in animals is not the same as in humans so they may not work well for most humans.
   In normal adults, the daily production rate of the two biologically active thyroid hormones, tetraiodothyronine (which is better known as thyroxine and has four iodine atoms) and triiodothyronine (which has three), is approximately 100 g and 30 g, respectively. All of the thyroxine, but only about 20 percent of the triiodothyronine, is produced by the thyroid gland; the remainder of the triiodothyronine is produced through the extrathyroidal deiodination of thyroxine. A minimum of approximately 70 g (mcg) of iodine is therefore needed to produce these two hormones in the thyroid gland each day.

Subclinical hypothyroidism is defined as an increased serum TSH in the presence of normal serum FT4 and FT3. in people who have these obvious symptoms coupled with elevated TSH above 10 mIU/L and low free T4, the decision to start treatment with thyroxine is usually easy. However, whether to treat people with a mild form of hypothyroidism is the subject of an ongoing controversy, primarily because of the lack of definitive research, especially when it comes to neuropsychological effects, symptoms, and the effect of thyroxine.

Hormones (Athens). 2013 Oct. Subclinical hypothyroidism and vascular risk: Αn update. Subclinical hypothyroidism (SCH), defined as elevated serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the presence of normal circulating free thyroxine (FT4) and triiodothyronine (T3), is a relatively common condition. Replacement treatment with levothyroxine is justified only for individuals with TSH levels >10 mIU/l.

What natural product do you recommend for low thyroid? I'm an ICU and ER nurse. I often see patients who's lab tests indicate they have hypothyroidism. For people who have a mild case of low thyroid, is there any natural supplement they can take; or are prescribed medications such as Synthroid the best route?
   The traditional treatment for hypothyroidism is thyroid hormone replacement, which involves taking a prescription drug (T4, T3, or a combination product containing both T4 and T3). Sometimes Armour thyroid is used, but I am not aware of a natural supplement for low thyroid that has been tested effectively. Armour is a naturally derived thyroid replacement containing both T4 and T3, and it is available by prescription. Some people like Armour, others find that they do better taking a specific prescription medication.

Low thyroid medical natural therapies, do they work?
There is little research regarding the natural or herbal treatment of this condition. Losing weight could improve function of the gland in some individuals. Adequate intake of vitamin D is suggested.

Tyrosine amino acid
Even though tyrosine converts into L-dopa and then on to thyroid hormones, there is little research to show that taking tyrosine supplements improves thyroid function. This amino acid is not an effective supplement to treat this condition.

Very little research is available regarding the treatment of hypothyroidism with herbal remedies.

Ashwagandha herb can raise levels of thyroid hormone in the body but it is not easy to know how to titrate the dosage.

Selenium mineral, does it help?
I read on a website that selenium supplementation is of benefit, is this true?
   Not according to a study, unless a person is deficient in this mineral.

Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 . Randomized controlled trial of the effect of selenium supplementation on thyroid function in the elderly in the United Kingdom. Nutritional Sciences Division, University of Surrey, Guildford, United Kingdom.
Thyroid function depends on the essential trace mineral selenium, which is at the active center of the iodothyronine deiodinase enzymes that catalyze the conversion of the prohormone thyroxine (T(4)) to the active form of thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine (T(3)). Because selenium intake in the United Kingdom has fallen during the past 25 y, we wanted to determine whether current selenium status might be limiting conversion of T(4) to T(3) in the elderly, in whom marginal hypothyroidism is relatively common. We investigated the effect of selenium supplementation in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 501 elderly UK volunteers. Similar numbers of men and women from each of 3 age groups, 60-64 y, 65-69 y, and 70-74 y, were randomly allocated to receive 100, 200, or 300 microg Se/d as high-selenium yeast or placebo yeast for 6 mo. We found no evidence of any effect of selenium supplementation on thyroid function, despite significant increases in plasma selenium.

Zinc mineral may be of benefit in children who are zinc deficient. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1999.

Dr. Martin Surks and colleagues at the Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York studied hundreds of people who had lived to be 100, and found evidence that people with low thyroid activity were more likely to be in that group. Fifteen to 20 percent of people over the age of 60 have TSH levels that suggest an underactive thyroid gland. This may be normal for older people and may in fact be a sign of longevity. The majority of old people whose TSH is minimally elevated and who were considered to have hypothyroidism are actually in their age-specific limits. Dr. Martin Surks thinks millions of older people in the United States are being aggressively treated for hypothyroidism which may not be necessary.

Should mild hypothyroidism be treated?
   Weighing in on the controversy of whether to treat a person with mild hypothyroidism -- or an underactive thyroid -- with thyroid hormone, Norwegian researchers found strongly in favor of no treatment, according to a placebo-controlled, double-blind intervention study published in the January, 2006 issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism published by The Endocrine Society. People with no obvious symptoms but with thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels of 3.5 - 10.0 mIU/L and normal free thyroxine (T4) and free triiodothyronine (T3) levels in the blood -- the standard definition of subclinical hypothyroidism -- had no significant differences in cognitive function and hypothyroid symptoms when compared to a healthy control group. Treatment with the thyroid hormone thyroxine had no significant effect on these parameters as well.

Low thyroid symptom
A low thyroid level can cause symptoms of fatigue, weakness, lethargy, weight gain, depression, memory problems, constipation, dry skin, intolerance to cold, brittle nails, or a yellowish tint to the skin. Another common side effect of low thyroid is coarse, dry or thinning hair. Some individuals have hoarse voice, slow speech, droopy eyelids, a puffy and swollen face, and slow pulse.

The mind and body are sluggish. Digestion is poor, cardiovascular function and mental activity slow down, and muscles weaken. Low basal metabolism causes low body temperature, often leaving the hypothyroid individual feeling chilly, with cold hands and feet.

A blood test measures the level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), a kind of master hormone that regulates the work of the thyroid gland. If TSH is high, it typically means that your thyroid function is too low (hypothyroid). If TSH is low, then it generally means the thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroid.) Your doctor may also check levels of other thyroid hormones in your blood. In some cases, imaging studies are used and biopsies are taken to evaluate a thyroid abnormality.

Is hypothyroidism, for which I have been on the Armour thyroid for about a year, and it has helped me very much, but I'm wondering if this condition is connected to others such as a mucous cyst, a gum infection or a toenail fungal infection.
   I doubt these conditions are related to hypothyroidism.

I have studied this issue a great deal and think the natural conversion of T4 to the active T3 in the body is not always the case. Factors including pesticides (now ubiquitous in the diets of people in developed societies), stress, allergies, and selenium deficiencies (or in cases of excessive selenium in water supplies, toxicity) -- all may block the endogenous T4 to T3 conversion. T4 alone may indeed convert nicely in some people, but there are a plethora of studies that suggest, either directly or indirectly, that this conversion is not something that can be assumed.
   Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts.

Can excessive wine (alcohol) consumption cause hypothyroidism?
   I doubt alcohol would cause low thyroid.