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
Hoarse voice; slowed speech
Puffy face; drooping eyelids
Loss of eyebrows from the side
Intolerance to cold
Dry, scaly, thick, coarse hair
Raised, thickened skin over the shins
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Confusion; depression; dementia
Menstrual cramps or other menstrual disorders
In children, growth retardation, delayed teething, and mental
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
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
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
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
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
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
Homeopathy may be useful as a supportive therapy.
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
Acupuncture may be helpful in correcting hormonal
Therapeutic massage can relieve stress and improve
After you start on thyroid hormone replacement therapy, your provider will
want you to have frequent checkups to monitor its
Bartram T. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Dorset, England: Grace
Berkow R. Merck Manual. 16th ed. Whitehorse Station, NJ: The Merck
Publishing Group; 1992.
Murray MT, Pizzorno JE. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.
2nded. Rocklin, Calif: Prima Publishing;
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,
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