Also Listed As:  Thyroid, Underactive
Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Treatment Options
Drug Therapies
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Following Up
Supporting Research

Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid gland, at the front of your neck, fails to produce enough of a hormone called the thyroid hormone or when your body fails to use thyroid hormone efficiently. There are several different types of hypothyroidism. Perhaps 11 million Americans have hypothyroidism, although only half know it. The disease affects both sexes and all ages. However, middle-aged women are most vulnerable. If you have just developed the disease, you will most likely have muscle aches and often feel cold. Left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause serious health complications.

Signs and Symptoms
  • Slow pulse
  • Lethargy
  • Hoarse voice; slowed speech
  • Puffy face; drooping eyelids
  • Loss of eyebrows from the side
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Dry, scaly, thick, coarse hair
  • Raised, thickened skin over the shins
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Confusion; depression; dementia
  • Headaches
  • Menstrual cramps or other menstrual disorders
  • In children, growth retardation, delayed teething, and mental deficiency

What Causes It?

The various forms of hypothyroidism have different causes. In Hashimoto's thyroiditis, antibodies in the blood mistakenly attack the thyroid gland and start to destroy it. Post-therapeutic hypothyroidism occurs when treatment for hyperthyroidism leaves the thyroid unable to produce enough thyroid hormone. And hypothyroidism with goiter results when your diet lacks iodine. The addition of iodine to salt in the U.S. has made this rare.

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Your health care provider will test your reflexes. He or she will also examine the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet for evidence of carotene, an orange substance deposited as a result of the disease. Your provider will draw blood and may also want you to take a radioactive iodine uptake test. For this, you drink a liquid containing radioactive iodine. X rays will show whether large amounts of the iodine settle in your thyroid gland.

Treatment Options
Drug Therapies

Your health care provider will prescribe drugs that you will take daily. Providers have two alternatives for drug treatment: synthetic thyroid hormone and dried animal thyroid hormone. The provider will want to adjust your dose over a period of several weeks, after regular blood tests to check the amount of thyroid hormone in your blood.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Thyroid function can be helped through nutrition and herbs.

  • Avoid foods that suppress thyroid function, including broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnips, soybeans, peanuts, linseed, pine nuts, millet, cassava, and mustard greens.
  • Avoid refined foods, dairy products, wheat, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Essential fatty acids (1,000 to 1,500 mg three times per day) are necessary for hormone production.
  • Vitamin C (1,000 mg three to four times per day), vitamin A (10,000 to 25,000 IU per day), B complex [(50 to 100 mg/day), augmented with vitamins B2 (riboflavin, 15 mg), B3 (niacin, 25 to 50 mg), and B6 (pyridoxine, 25 to 50 mg)], selenium (200 mcg per day), iodine (300 mcg per day), vitamin E (400 IU per day), and zinc (30 mg per day) are necessary for thyroid hormone production.
  • L-tyrosine (500 mg two or three times a day) also supports normal thyroid function. May make high blood pressure worse.
  • Calcium (1,000 mg per day) and magnesium (200 to 600 mg per day) help many metabolic processes function normally.


Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day.

This combination supports thyroid function: Combine equal parts of the following herbs for a tea (3 to 4 cups per day) or tincture (20 to 30 drops three times per day)—horsetail (Equisetum arvense), oatstraw (Avena sativa), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), and gotu kola (Centella asiatica).

Kelp (Laminaria hyperborea), bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), and Irish moss (Chondrus crispus) may be taken as foods or in capsule form.

Coleus foreskohlii (1 to 2 ml three times a day) stimulates thyroid function with an increase in thyroid hormone production. Also, herbs such as guggul (Commiphora mikul) (25 mg of guggulsterones three times a day) and hawthorne (Crataegus monogyna) (500 mg twice a day) are taken to counteract high cholesterol, which often accompanies hypothyroidism.


Homeopathy may be useful as a supportive therapy.

Physical Medicine

Contrast hydrotherapy (hot and cold applications) to the neck and throat may stimulate thyroid function. Alternate three minutes hot with one minute cold. Repeat three times for one set. Do two to three sets per day.


Acupuncture may be helpful in correcting hormonal imbalances.


Therapeutic massage can relieve stress and improve circulation.

Following Up

After you start on thyroid hormone replacement therapy, your provider will want you to have frequent checkups to monitor its effectiveness.

Supporting Research

Bartram T. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Dorset, England: Grace Publishers; 1995:304.

Berkow R. Merck Manual. 16th ed. Whitehorse Station, NJ: The Merck Publishing Group; 1992.

Murray MT, Pizzorno JE. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. 2nd ed. Rocklin, Calif: Prima Publishing; 1998:386-390.

Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Shiva Barton, ND, Wellspace, Cambridge, MA; Peter Hinderberger, MD, PhD, Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center, Baltimore, MD; Tom Wolfe, P.AHG, Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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