Underactive Thyroid-- Causes and Top 10
Natural Remedies
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July 31, 2010, last updated October 17, 2015

By Louise Carr,  Contributing Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Registered
Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of our Editorial

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck which
helps keep your bodily functions on the move. The thyroid
produces thyroid hormone (thyroxine), a chemical that keeps
the metabolism working at the right pace. Without enough of
this hormone, your metabolism will stop sprinting and slow
right down. When this happens it is called hypothyroidism, or
underactive thyroid. What causes an underactive thyroid?
Are there any natural remedies for an underactive thyroid?
What foods should you avoid if you have hypothyroidism?

What Are the Symptoms of An Underactive Thyroid?

Basically, with an underactive thyroid, everything slows
down. Therefore, the most common symptoms of
hypothyroidism are sluggishness and tiredness,
appetite,  weight gain , constipation , edema (which can
cause a
puffy face and other symptoms) as well as dry skin
and lifeless hair.

People with hypothyroidism frequently feel cold or achy. You
may sometimes experience
shooting pains in your muscles.
You may experience heavy periods, a loss of sex drive or a
hoarse voice.

Other symptoms, and they may not all occur at the same
time, include a low mood or
depression and a swollen
tongue. Symptoms of hypothyroidism usually develop slowly,
as the levels of thyroxine fall. (Read other
reasons why you
may be always hungry.)

What Causes An Underactive Thyroid?

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an
autoimmune disease called
"autoimmune thyroiditis". With
autoimmune thyroiditis, your body mistakenly makes
antibodies that attach to your own thyroid gland and stop it
making enough thyroxine. It is believed that something
triggers the immune system to make antibodies against the
thyroid but the exact trigger is not known. If you have Down’
s Syndrome or Turner’s Syndrome you are more at risk of
autoimmune thyroiditis. An underactive thyroid can also be
caused by a selenium deficiency or an iodine deficiency.

What Are The Dangers of Hypothyroidism?

If untreated, an under-active thyroid can increase your risk
of developing heart disease as a low thyroxine level causes
blood lipids (for example, cholesterol) to rise. An under-
active thyroid is dangerous in pregnancy, increasing the risk
of pre-eclampsia, anemia, premature labor, low birth weight,
stillbirth, and bleeding after the birth, and it can cause a
hypothyroid coma in rare cases.

Top 10 Natural Remedies for Hypothyroidism

Medical treatment for an underactive thyroid is a hormone
called "levothyroxine", or "T 4", which adds the thyroxine
your thyroid isn’t producing. The body uses two forms of
thyroid hormone, T 4 and T 3, but the body easily and
automatically converts additional T 4 to T 3 in most
circumstances. Levothyroxine comes in tablet form and is
taken every day.

Natural remedies exist alongside this drug to treat
hypothyroidism. However, guidelines developed in 2009 by
the The Royal College of Physicians, The Association for
Clinical Biochemistry and The British Thyroid Association
among others stated that thyroxine is the only treatment that
should be given for treating an underactive thyroid gland due
to the dangers of mis-diagnosis or the wrong treatment, so
you should always consult a physician before commencing.


Selenium is a trace mineral we use to produce glutathione
peroxidise, which works as part of the body’s antioxidant
defense system to protect you from free radicals. Many
people who have hypothyroidism are also deficient in
selenium because selenium is needed to convert the T4
thyroid hormone to the active T3 form.

Selenium deficiency can reduce the effectiveness of thyroid
hormones. Selenium has also been shown to treat the
underlying cause of autoimmune thyroiditis in a 2007 study
by Mazokopakis EE, et. al published in Alternative Medicine
Review. Foods rich in selenium include meat, seafood and
dairy as well as wheat germ, nuts, brown rice and bran.


An iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism. If you are
deficient in iodine, taking additional iodine supplements will
help the thyroid work more efficiently.

However, very few people in the United States are deficient
in iodine since the addition of iodine to salt (iodized salt).

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
discovered that between the early 1970s and the early 1990s
some subsets of the population were at increased risk of
moderate iodine deficiency due to the removal of iodate
conditioners in store-bought breads and publicity regarding a
reduction in salt intake.

But it has since reported in its surveys of 2001-2002 and
2003-2004 that US dietary iodine intake has stabilized.

If you’re not deficient, taking extra iodine supplements won’t
cure hypothyroidism. In fact, use this treatment with care as
according to the British Thyroid Association too much iodine
can cause hypothyroidism or make it worse.


Many people use kelp extract, found in seaweed and existing
in tablet or powder form, to help treat an underactive
thyroid. Kelp is a regular part of the diet for people in many
parts of the world, such as Japan, Alaska, and Hawaii. It is a
good source of folic acid as well as iodine. As kelp contains a
lot of iodine it can sometimes cause hyperthyroidism, or
overactive thyroid, by making the thyroid over-produce
thyroxine, according to Mark P.J. Vanderpump and W.
Michael G. Tunbridge in ‘Thyroid Disease’, Fourth Edition,

However, a University of New Mexico study on kelp given to
patients without thyroid problems found no radical changes
in the patients’ thyroid hormone production. If you are not
iodine-deficient you should use kelp supplements with
caution and check with your physician.

Coconut Oil

It’s been reported that four tablespoons of coconut oil a day
can help treat hypothyroidism. More research is needed for
this natural remedy, however.

According to Todd B. Nippoldt, MD with the Mayo Clinic, “the
misconception that coconut oil can cure underactive thyroid
(hypothyroidism) arose after publication of a book several
years ago touting the beneficial effects of coconut oil for
people with thyroid disease.

However, there is no scientific evidence that coconut oil
stimulates thyroid function. In fact, some research suggests
that coconut oil may have a "negative impact on the thyroid.”
(Read more about
coconut oil's health claims.)

Natural Thyroid Supplements

While the standard synthetic treatment for underactive
thyroid is levothyroxine, there are natural alternatives. Sold
by prescription only under the name Armour Thyroid, this
medication is made of pig thyroid and contains both T4 and

It may be as effective as the regular drug but has not yet
been proven to be more effective. One 2003 study from the
Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Western Australian Center
for Pathology and Medical Research failed to find a
combination of synthetic T 3 and T 4 more effective than
synthetic T 4 as a treatment for hypothyroidism, in regard to
well-being, quality of life, or mental function.

However, a 2005 study from the University of Amsterdam
found patients given T 3 plus T 4 were significantly more
likely to prefer the new treatment to their previous care than
those who continued on T 4 alone.

Avoid Soy?

When soy is given to people with an underactive thyroid, it
appears to reduce the absorption of thyroid medication, thus
cutting its benefits.

This surprising result was demonstrated in a 1997 study
from the Hurley Medical Center, Flint, Michigan regarding
abnormal thyroid function tests in infants with congenital
hypothyroidism, and in a 2001 study from The University of
Alabama at Birmingham entitled ‘Use of soy protein
supplement and resultant need for increased dose of

However, some studies have found soy has no impact on
thyroid hormone levels. Todd B. Nippoldt, MD with the Mayo
Clinic states there is no evidence that people with
hypothyroidism should avoid soy completely but it’s best to
wait four hours when taking thyroid medication before you
consume soy.

Other Supplements to Avoid

Todd B. Nippoldt, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic says this also
applies to other products that may affect the body’s ability to
absorb thyroid medication. Calcium supplements can
interfere with your body's absorption of levothyroxine, as
can too much dietary fiber, walnuts, iron supplements or
multivitamins containing iron, antacids that contain aluminum
or magnesium and some anti-ulcer and cholesterol-lowering
drugs. You should take your thyroid medication on an empty
stomach to avoid possible complications.

Herbal Medicine And Homeopathy

Some herbal remedies commonly cited as underactive thyroid
stimulators include Equisetum arvense, Avena sativa, Centella
asiatica, Coleus forskohlii and Fucus vesiculosus, which is
made from sea kelp which is high in iodine. Other
homeopathic remedies include Iodium 6c. or Anacardium and
Pulsatilla, both at 6c.


Patients have found acupuncture, the Chinese medical
treatment that treats conditions and diseases with needles at
specific points on the body, increases the metabolism and the
production of thyroid hormones. Acupuncture for
hypothyroidism focuses on the kidney meridian in order to
‘speed up’ the body’s functions.

A 1993 study from the Shanghai Medical University in China
looked at 32 patients with hypothyroidism compared with a
control group, who were treated over a period of one year
with a Chinese herbal preparation to stimulate the kidney
meridian. The study found clinical symptoms of
hypothyroidism were markedly improved, suggesting that
hypothyroidism was linked to a deficiency of kidney energy.

Changes to Your Diet

Consider altering your diet to treat an underactive thyroid.
Try reducing your intake of carbohydrates, fat and sugar, eat
lean meat and fish as your primary proteins and drink low-fat
milk. A thyroid-healthy diet should also include plenty of  lima
beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

A 1990 study from the University G. d'Annunzio, Chieti, Italy
found supplementing the diet with zinc improved the thyroid
function in 50 percent of patients, reducing the incidence of
clinical hypothyroidism.

Don't Not Overdo Taking Iodine. Iodine is one of those
nutrients which can easily tip from "insufficient" to "way too
much" if you're not careful. In the US, goiter caused by
iodine deficiency was almost eliminated by the introduction of
"ionized salt", which is salt supplemented with iodine.

But if, in addition to using ionized salt, you also eat foods
rich in iodine such as seaweed (or shellfish, yogurt, dairy and
soy or multivitamins which have iodine), you can end up
consuming several thousand times the Tolerable Upper Limit
of 449 micrograms of  iodine daily recommended by the
American Thyroid Association.

And that's a problem. Taking in too much iodine can actually
disrupt the normal function of your thyroid.  Unfortunately,
that's the way it is with the thyroid. It's a sensitive organ ---
too much iodine is just as bad as too little.


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Eating lima beans can help to keep your
thyroid healthy.