Thyroid issues are very common, affecting about 1 in 8 Americans and close to 200 million people worldwide. Women are more likely to develop a thyroid issue than men, and thyroid problems can have a big impact on your health as a whole. (1)(2)
Many thyroid issues are serious and require the attention of a medical professional, but herbs can also be a part of an integrated approach to thyroid support.
Here's more about what the thyroid does, what can go wrong, and the most helpful herbs for thyroid support.
What is Your Thyroid? + Common Issues
Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that sits in the front of your neck. It plays several roles, but one of the most important is to produce two hormones known as thyroxine (T3) and triiodothyronine (T4).
These hormones are critical for regulating metabolism within your body and affect all the cells and organs in your body. This means an imbalance can cause serious problems and may affect fertility and other hormone-related processes.
There are several issues that can occur with the thyroid, including cancer, but two of the most common are:
- Hypothyroidism-- Thyroid hormone secretion is too low, leading to symptoms like weight gain, cold intolerance, lethargy and fatigue, muscle aches, and thinning of skin, hair, or nails. This includes Hashimoto's disease, which is when antibodies attack the thyroid, causing impaired production or release of thyroid hormones.
- Hyperthyroidism-- Thyroid hormone secretion is too high, causing symptoms like heat intolerance, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, hair loss, and palpitations. This includes Grave's disease, which involves antibodies that stimulate the thyroid, resulting in an overproduction or release of hormones.
If you have symptoms related to a thyroid disorder (especially weight fluctuations, unexplained fatigue, joint or muscle pain, and changes to hair or skin), it's important to get bloodwork done to test for a thyroid imbalance.
If a thyroid issue is determined, be sure you work with a qualified health professional and/or herbalist to determine whether any of the following herbs will be helpful in your specific protocol.
Top Herbs for Thyroid Support
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that helps your body and mind cope with stress. It appears to work in part by helping with cortisol regulation and is thought to have a balancing effect on the endocrine system as a whole.
More specifically, ashwagandha has shown an ability to improve thyroid hormone levels when taken over a period of 8 weeks. The study in question specifically examined its effects on hypothyroidism where researchers determined it had a "normalizing" effect on the thyroid. (3)
Many types of seaweed contain iodine, a nutrient that thyroid cells need to produce thyroid hormones.
Not getting enough iodine can contribute to hypothyroidism. If you don't consume much dairy or iodized salt, which are two of the top iodine sources in the modern diet, it's possible you may be low on this nutrient.
Nori seaweed, kombu kelp, and wakame seaweed are all particularly rich in iodine.
However, keep in mind that certain thyroid conditions may not respond well to additional iodine, so check with your healthcare expert first.
Ginger is most often thought of as a culinary spice or a digestive aid, but a recent study found that supplementing with ginger significantly improved symptoms of hypothyroidism, including weight gain, cold intolerance, and constipation.
It also decreased serum thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), fasting blood sugar, triglyceride, and total cholesterol levels. (4)
Researchers aren't sure why ginger worked so well, but it could be connected to ginger's ability to lower inflammation and improve circulation.
Lemon balm is an herb that belongs to the mint family. It has long been used to calm stress and an upset stomach but has also shown an ability to decrease production of T3 and T4 by inhibiting TSH receptor binding. (5)
This means that lemon balm may be one of the best herbs for thyroid support in cases of hyperthyroidism, including Grave's disease. (6)
In theory, this may also mean that lemon balm is contraindicated for people with hypothyroidism, although there are not any specific cases of it causing problems.
Lemon balm can be taken on its own, and you'll also find it in this Thyroid Calming extract.
Bacopa is an herb commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, particularly to support the mind and memory. In studies, it has shown an ability to increase T4 concentration, suggesting that it may stimulate the thyroid and be beneficial for hypothyroidism. (7)
These results have not been translated into human studies yet. Some herbalists who have experience with bacopa say that it is most effective when used alongside other herbs like ashwagandha.
Bugleweed (Lycopus spp.) is a member of the mint family and grows wild in meadows and swamps throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.
Studies have shown that it appears to have an ability to inhibit stimulation of thyroid hormone production by TSH and Graves' antibodies, suggesting that it may help in certain cases of hyperthyroidism. (8)
This isn't "proven" in human studies yet, but bugleweed is approved by the German Commission E for mild thyroid hyperfunction and has been found to improve symptoms of mild hyperthyroidism when used as an extract. (9)
Black cumin (Nigella sativa)-- not to be confused with cumin, which is a completely different spice-- is traditionally used in Algerian medicine to treat thyroid conditions.
Research so far has found that it may be able to specifically help with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. (10)
In the study (which was a very small one), black cumin helped reduce levels of antibodies associated with Hashimoto's and also reduced body weight and body mass index (BMI) in participants.
Ashwagandha is the most studied adaptogen as far as the thyroid is concerned, but other adaptogens can also be top herbs for thyroid support.
Adaptogens work by helping your body to adapt to stress. Most also have a normalizing effect on hormones and help support adrenal function-- all of which is beneficial for the thyroid as a whole.
A few specific adaptogens that may offer thyroid support include:
- Eleuthero root
- Licorice root
All of the herbs listed in this post are generally considered safe, but there may be specific contraindications for pregnancy, breastfeeding, and certain medical conditions.
Also, herbs that may help a specific aspect of thyroid function may be contraindicated in other thyroid disorders.
It's very important to consult with an expert herbalist or holistic practitioner when possible about your specific challenges and to seek medical attention as needed because thyroid issues can be very dangerous and damaging.
The Best Herbs for Thyroid Support Don't Work Alone
Herbs can be very helpful for supporting thyroid function, but they can't make up for a lifestyle that is putting pressure on your body and hormonal health.
Consider taking a look at your diet, how much stress you're under, your exercise routine (or lack thereof), and your sleep habits to see if you can make changes that will complement any herbs you add to your routine.
Finally, give any herbs you do try time to work. They aren't an instant fix, but they can be extremely effective when given time!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.