Natural Remedies for Hyperthyroidism: Go Beyond Medication

Conventional treatment options for an overactive thyroid often involve medication, radioactive iodine therapy, or surgery. Research shows that these treatment options result in reduced quality of life for hyperthyroid patients [1]. Fortunately, there are natural remedies for hyperthyroidism that may prevent such outcomes. 

The holistic approach to hyperthyroidism functional medicine doctors take emphasizes treating the individual instead of hyperthyroid symptoms alone. Research shows that diet and supplementation can effectively improve hyperthyroid symptoms and overall quality of life. Patients should fully explore treatments that optimize gut and immune health before following medical advice that will result in damage or removal of the thyroid gland.

In this article, we’ll explain the causes and symptoms of an overactive thyroid and share natural remedies for hyperthyroidism that may help preserve the thyroid gland. 

What Is Hyperthyroidism? 

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck. It’s one of the two major parts of your endocrine (hormone) system along with the adrenal glands.

The thyroid gland produces the inactive hormone thyroxine (T4) and the active hormone triiodothyronine (T3). The thyroid is instrumental in regulating numerous functions throughout the body, including:

  • Growth and development of the human body [2]
  • Metabolism and weight
  • Heart rate and cholesterol
  • Body temperature
  • Menstrual cycles 

A hyperthyroid releases excess hormones into your bloodstream. As a result, the pituitary gland (located in the brain) produces less thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). 

In addition to the symptoms below, blood tests can measure levels of thyroid hormones and TSH to help doctors diagnose an overactive thyroid.

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism presents in a number of ways. The most common symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Cardiovascular issues (palpitations, irregular heartbeat, or rapid heart rate)
  • More frequent bowel movements
  • Changes in menstrual patterns
  • Heightened anxiety and irritability
  • Muscle weakness and loss of bone density
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased appetite
  • Dull skin and thinning hair

Another possible sign of hyperthyroidism is an enlarged thyroid gland, also known as a goiter. A doctor may be able to physically detect an enlarged thyroid by feeling your neck for fluid-filled lumps called nodules. However, a goiter does not always indicate thyroid disease.

Causes of Hyperthyroidism

Risk factors for hyperthyroidism include being female, having a family history of thyroid disease, and having at least one other autoimmune disorder such as type 1 diabetes, 

Here are some of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism:

1. Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune thyroid disease that causes the thyroid gland to overproduce hormones. It accounts for 60% to 80% of confirmed hyperthyroid cases in the United States [3].

One characteristic of Graves’ disease is Graves’ ophthalmopathy, which is a bulging of the eyes. This can create irreversible damage to your ocular muscles, leading to blurred vision and even loss of sight in extreme cases [4].

2. Thyroiditis

Thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid gland. It can last for up to 18 months and has three phases:

  • Thyrotoxic phase — The thyroid becomes inflamed and overproduces hormones.
  • Hypothyroid phase — The thyroid slows down hormone production significantly, leading to hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
  • Euthyroid phase — The thyroid is no longer inflamed and hormone levels return to normal.

There are several types of thyroiditis associated with an overactive thyroid:

  • De Quervain’s thyroiditis (or subacute thyroiditis), which occurs after a viral infection such as mumps or measles [5].
  • Postpartum thyroiditis, which develops about a year after childbirth.
  • Silent thyroiditis has no obvious symptoms, but the thyroid still over- and under-produces hormones.

3. Plummer’s disease

Plummer’s disease, also known as a toxic nodular goiter, is when thyroid nodules develop and produce excess T4 hormones. 

Plummer’s disease shares symptoms with Graves’ disease. However, unlike Graves’ disease, which is typically diagnosed in patients between 20 and 50 years old, Plummer’s disease is more common in patients over 60. Also, Plummer’s disease does not affect the eyes like Graves’ disease.

Understanding the Gut-Thyroid Connection

The causes of hyperthyroidism above are among the most common, but an often-overlooked factor to consider is the gut-thyroid connection. There are links between bacterial overgrowths in the gut and thyroid autoimmunity [6, 7, 8, 9]. 

Several studies show the correlation between gut dysbiosis and an overactive thyroid:

  • Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) infections have been positively correlated with thyroid disorders including Graves’ disease and thyroiditis [10, 11, 12, 13].
  • Graves’ disease patients may experience changes in their gut composition, leading to a less diverse gut microbiome and an increased risk of Graves’ orbitopathy [14, 15].
  • One study shows patients with hyperthyroid have low levels of bifidobacterium and lactobacillus — essential for a functional immune system — and increased levels of Enterococcus spp, a bacteria associated with diverticulitis and meningitis [16].

Natural Remedies For Hyperthyroidism

Conventional treatments for hyperthyroidism include anti-thyroid drugs, beta-blockers, and radioactive iodine therapy. These may be effective at reducing hyperthyroid symptoms for most patients, but they do not address the root cause of the problem. Plus, these treatments may slow thyroid function too much, resulting in hypothyroidism and a whole new set of symptoms.

Functional medicine practitioners like the team at Austin Functional Medicine have a more holistic approach to diagnosing and treating hyperthyroidism. They seek to address the underlying conditions related to hyperthyroidism by recommending dietary changes and daily supplements.

These natural remedies for hyperthyroidism go beyond symptom management:

1. Change Your Diet

Dietary changes will not only benefit your thyroid but also heal your gut, which may be the source of your hyperthyroidism. Adopting a new diet is one of the easiest and most immediate steps you can take to reduce your symptoms, but for best results work, with a doctor or nutritionist who can create an eating plan most suitable for your needs.

It is best to try a diet for 2-3 weeks. If there’s no positive change in your symptoms, transition to another diet.

A couple of diets to consider as natural remedies for hyperthyroidism are a low-iodine diet and a gluten-free diet.

Low Iodine Diet

Iodine is a mineral your body uses to help make thyroid hormones. For many patients with an overactive thyroid, limiting iodine intake slows the production of hormones [17]. A low iodine diet can help you achieve this. 

Foods high in iodine include:

  • Seafood (fish, shellfish, seaweed)
  • Egg yolks
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Iodized salt and water

Low iodine foods include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Egg whites
  • Non-iodized salt
  • Uncured meats

Gluten-Free Diet

Patients with autoimmune thyroid disease are more likely to develop celiac disease, a gastrointestinal autoimmune disorder where the body is unable to process gluten. Studies have shown that celiac and autoimmune disorders share human leukocyte antigens (HLAs), which indicate a greater risk for developing such conditions [18, 19, 20]. 

A gluten-free diet has been proven to improve the quality of life in celiac patients [21]. However, more research is needed regarding the diet’s efficacy in reducing overactive thyroid symptoms, specifically [22].

Key characteristics of a gluten-free diet:

  • Bread, cereals, and other foods containing wheat, barley, and rye are not allowed.
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, lean protein, and most dairy products are fine to consume.
  • Grains and flours without gluten such as quinoa and potato flour are okay to eat.

Going gluten-free is only helpful if you are actually sensitive to gluten. The best way to assess your sensitivity to gluten is by committing to a 2-3 week gluten-free diet and then reintroducing gluten to test your reactions. If you do not experience a significant change in symptoms during the elimination and reintroduction period, there is no need to continue with a gluten-free diet.

2. Take Daily Supplements

When your thyroid function is off, your body is not always capable of sufficiently absorbing key nutrients [23, 24].

Daily supplements can help your body regulate thyroid activity, especially if you’re on a strict elimination diet that limits whole, nutrient-rich foods. One example is shellfish, which is rich in selenium, a key nutrient for hormone production (however, it’s also high in iodine).

Although they are natural remedies for hyperthyroidism, still consult your doctor before starting any supplements — especially if you take thyroid medication — so you can avoid possible drug interactions. 

Selenium

Selenium is a mineral required for the metabolism of thyroid hormones [25]. Low selenium levels signal a heightened risk of Graves’ disease. 

Selenium supplementation can effectively regulate hormone production in hyperthyroid patients, alleviate symptoms related to Graves ophthalmopathy, and reduce thyroid peroxidase antibodies that attack the thyroid gland [26, 27, 28]. 

Further, selenium combined with the antithyroid medication methimazole may yield more improvement in hormone levels and antibodies than methimazole alone [29].

Selenium supplements are safe for pregnant women to take to maintain thyroid health and prevent postpartum thyroiditis [30].

L-carnitine

L-carnitine is an amino acid your body naturally produces to turn fat into energy. It’s best known as a weight-loss supplement but L-carnitine can also help improve hyperthyroid.

The benefits of L-carnitine for hyperthyroidism include blocking thyroid hormones from entering other cells, increasing bone mineral density, and decreasing heart palpitations [31, 32].

L-carnitine is safe for pregnant women with Graves’ disease to take. However, a potential side effect for anyone who takes L-carnitine is loose stools. Reduce the dosage until it subsides. 

Lemon Balm and Bugleweed

Lemon balm and bugleweed are plants regarded as a natural treatment for mild hyperthyroidism. 

Modern studies are limited, but existing research shows lemon balm and bugleweed’s potential to block TSH, lower thyroid hormone levels, and reduce heart rate [33].

Probiotics

Due to the gut-thyroid connection, daily probiotics can help balance your gut and may improve mild symptoms of autoimmune thyroid disorders in the process. 

Unbalanced gut microbiota increases the likelihood of autoimmune and inflammatory disorders [34]. High-quality probiotics can reduce the number of bad bacteria in your gut and thus reduce inflammation.

While more research is required on probiotics for hyperthyroidism, one study points to a reduction in the need for thyroid medication and fatigue in hypothyroid patients [35]. 

3. Stress Less

Stress does not cause thyroid disorders, but it can exacerbate symptoms related to an existing hyperthyroid condition, like rapid heartbeat and anxiety [36]. 

You can cope with your stress in healthy ways through yoga, meditation, and low-impact exercises. Other ways to relieve stress include journaling, speaking with someone (be it a professional therapist or someone whom you trust), and partaking in a hobby that will take your mind off stressors.

4. Treat Gut Infections

While diet and probiotics can be very helpful for improving gut dysbiosis, sometimes more advanced treatments are needed to resolve a stubborn gut infection like H. Pylori. 

A functional medicine practitioner can help you by diagnosing and treating hidden gut infections.

You Don’t Have To Face Hyperthyroidism Alone

If you suspect you have an overactive thyroid, schedule an appointment with a functional medicine practitioner, who will create a holistic treatment plan with natural remedies for hyperthyroidism that focus on the root cause of your condition.

Most importantly, a functional medicine doctor will incorporate natural remedies that will prevent excess damage to (and possible removal of) your thyroid gland. The staff at Austin Functional Medicine is experienced in treating patients with Graves’ disease and other thyroid disorders. Dr. Ruscio and his team are currently accepting new patients in-person and via telemedicine. Schedule an appointment with AustinFM today and get your thyroid back on track.

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