9 Natural Remedies for Hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease

How To Care for an Overactive Thyroid and Graves’ Disease

Conventional treatments for hyperthyroidism — which is much more common for women than for men— can come with significant side effects or permanent damage to your thyroid gland. The good news is that there are a lot of other options. Natural remedies for hyperthyroidism and general thyroid function improvement include:

  • Dietary changes, such as a gluten-free diet
  • Specific supplements, such as selenium, probiotics, and vitamin D
  • Herbs, such as bugleweed and lemon balm

Let’s explore what hyperthyroidism is, the risks of conventional treatment, and the many natural remedies for hyperthyroidism.

Woman is considering natural remedies for hyperthyroidism.

What Is Hyperthyroidism?

Your thyroid gland is located at the front of your neck, and it produces thyroid hormones. These hormones regulate many essential endocrine functions in your body, including energy production, digestive function, and more.

Hyperthyroidism — also called an overactive thyroid — is when your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. The most common reason for hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland called Graves’ disease. Though it’s far less common than other thyroid disorders, an estimated one in 200 Americans has Graves’ disease [1]. The majority of thyroid patients, including hyperthyroid patients, are women [2 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease

Hyper Thyroid Symptoms

Symptoms of excess thyroid hormone include [4]:

  • Increased heart rate or heart palpitations
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Increased bowel movements or diarrhea
  • Menstrual changes
  • Muscle weakness or tremors
  • Enlargement of your thyroid gland (goiter)
  • Increased sweating, or clammy skin
  • Erectile dysfunction or decreased libido
  • Graves’ ophthalmopathy (eye complications such as eye-bulging, tearing, dryness, irritation, puffy eyelids, inflammation, light sensitivity, blurred vision, or pain)
  • Thick, red skin usually on the shins or tops of the feet (Graves’ dermopathy)

Your doctor usually diagnoses hyperthyroidism with:

  • A blood test for levels of thyroid hormones
  • Or, a radioactive iodine uptake test

If your blood test shows low TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and high free T4 thyroid hormone, this means you are hyperthyroid [5]. If you also have elevated thyroid antibodies, including thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSI), thyroid peroxidase (TPO), or thyroglobulin (TG) antibodies, you may be diagnosed with Graves’ disease [6 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 7].

The radioactive iodine test can help rule out other possibilities, such as thyroid nodules, toxic multinodular goiter, or thyroid cancer [8]. This test does have some potential side effects, so be sure to discuss it with your doctor before taking it.

Causes of Hyperthyroid Disease

There are three main causes of hyperthyroidism:

  1. Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland that leads to hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.
  2. Thyroiditis, or swelling of the thyroid. Thyroiditis can be caused by viral infections [9], radiation [10 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], certain medications [11 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], or recent childbirth (postpartum thyroiditis) [12].
  3. Thyroid nodules may affect the production of thyroid hormone and induce hyperthyroidism [13 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Because thyroid autoimmunity is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, focusing on reducing autoimmunity is an important strategy for hyperthyroidism. No matter the cause, it’s very important to get hyperthyroidism under control. Left alone, excessive thyroid activity can lead to heart damage and a life-threatening “thyroid storm” [14 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Natural Treatment Options for Hyperthyroidism and Thyroid Wellness

Treatment of hyperthyroidism must accomplish two goals:

  1. Stop the damaging effects of excess thyroid hormone
  2. Resolve the root causes so that the symptoms stop and don’t recur

Conventional treatment for hyperthyroidism tries to address both of these but doesn’t address the frequently underlying autoimmunity. Anti-thyroid medications — such as methimazole or drugs like beta-blockers that reduce the potential heart damage of excess thyroid hormone — are the first level of treatment for hyperthyroidism. They can help reduce symptoms of hyperthyroidism, but only stop or reduce symptoms.

Secondary conventional treatments, such as radioactive iodine therapy or thyroid surgery, permanently damage or remove the thyroid gland to permanently stop the production of thyroid hormones. This stops hyperthyroid symptoms and the excess circulating thyroid hormones. However, destruction of the thyroid gland leaves patients hypothyroid and needing T4 (thyroxine) replacement therapy for life and still doesn’t address the underlying autoimmunity.

The good news is there are natural remedies for hyperthyroidism that rival conventional treatments in their effectiveness and also have fewer risks, consequences, and side effects. They are also likely to address the underlying autoimmunity and other root causes of hyperthyroidism. Let’s discuss.

Diet for Hyperthyroidism and the Gut-Thyroid Connection

Research suggests your gut health strongly influences your thyroid and your risk for autoimmunity [15 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. One of the biggest steps you can take to improve your gut and immune health is to eat a healthy diet.

Intestinal permeability [16] — also called leaky gut — is suspected to contribute to the development of autoimmune disease [17, 18 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 19 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 20 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 21 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 22 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 23 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. We know that imbalanced gut bacteria can increase intestinal permeability [24 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 25, 26], as can eating certain foods, such as gluten [27].

Most research on thyroid health and diet has studied how different foods impact an underactive thyroid (also known as hypothyroidism). However, some of these studies may be relevant for autoimmune hyperthyroidism, because they show an anti-inflammatory diet can reduce thyroid antibodies.

For example, a gluten-free diet was shown in one study to reduce thyroid antibodies in a group of women with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis [28 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. A gene associated with Graves’ disease (CTLA-4) [29 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source] is also associated with celiac disease [30 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 31 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], indicating that gluten sensitivity may be a factor for some Graves’ patients.  

A simple, anti-inflammatory, whole-food diet that is gluten-free, nutrient-dense, and high in healthy antioxidants, like the paleo diet, is a great place to start improving your gut and thyroid health and to improve autoimmunity. The paleo diet has been shown to reduce inflammation by reducing exposure to foods that may trigger an immune response [32 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 33 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

My patient Amy saw significant improvement in her hyperthyroid symptoms from adopting a gluten-free diet.

Natural Remedies for Hyperthyroidism: Supplements

A supplement that acts as a natural remedies for hyperthyroidism.

Supplements have a lot of promise as natural remedies for hyperthyroidism and play one of a few different roles. These include:

  • Reducing thyroid antibodies
  • Blocking the action of excess thyroid hormones
  • Reducing levels of thyroid hormones
  • Reducing hyperthyroid symptoms
  • Preventing relapse

Let’s review what we know about supplements for hyperthyroidism.

Selenium

Selenium, a mineral that is used as a dietary supplement, has a number of specific, documented benefits for Graves’ disease.

Patients with Graves’ disease are more likely to have lower selenium levels [34 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], and a meta-analysis showed that patients with high antibody levels are more likely to have a relapse [35 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Selenium has been shown to reduce antibodies and the symptoms associated with Graves’ disease [36 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], and higher selenium blood levels have been shown to reduce the relapse rate of Graves’ [37 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Selenium reduces the eye complications associated with Graves’ [38 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 39 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 40 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], plus those that are associated with radioactive iodine treatment [41 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 42 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].  

Finally, two studies indicated that selenium supplementation improved treatment outcomes for patients using conventional hyperthyroid treatments, such as methimazole and radioactive iodine treatment [43 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 44 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 45 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Overall, this is very good evidence that selenium supplementation is worth a trial in your hyperthyroidism treatment plan.

L-Carnitine

L-Carnitine is an amino acid supplement that has been shown to reduce or prevent hyperthyroid symptoms. It’s fast-acting, has a very low risk of side effects, and is even safe for pregnant women with Graves’ disease [46 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. A clinical trial found that L-carnitine had a positive effect on [47 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Nervousness
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Heart rate
  • Bone mineral density

However, in this study, L-carnitine did not affect the levels of TSH, free T4, or free T3 thyroid hormone.

L-carnitine can also be used to treat a “thyroid storm”, the most severe, life-threatening form of hyperthyroidism [48 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 49 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Lemon Balm & Bugleweed

Some herbs act as natural remedies for hyperthyroidism.

Two herbs, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and bugleweed (Lycopus europaeus), have been shown in limited studies to reduce hyperthyroid symptoms and to block or reduce thyroid hormones.

In one study, bugleweed was shown to be as effective as beta-blockers for protecting the heart from damage from hyperthyroidism [50 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. In another study, it was shown to reduce an elevated heart rate from Graves’ disease in humans and rats [51 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 52 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Additional studies have indicated that bugleweed and lemon balm may block or decrease thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and reduce T3 and T4 hormone levels, which would reduce the symptoms of hyperthyroidism [53 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

The evidence here is more preliminary and lower quality than with selenium or L-carnitine, but bugleweed and lemon balm are certainly worth considering as a short-term trial if you are hyperthyroid. Hopefully, future research will confirm these effects in larger samples.

Short-Term Iodine

The iodine molecule is the backbone of thyroid hormones, but curiously, research suggests that excess iodine may trigger hypothyroidism [54 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 55 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], which makes iodine potentially useful for treating hyperthyroidism. A small study showed that 150 mg per day of potassium iodide reversed hyperthyroidism in some patients [56 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. However, the study noted that the effect wasn’t permanent. Therefore, iodine may help you get your symptom under control while you use other natural remedies for hyperthyroidism.

Probiotics

It might not seem like probiotics would have much to do with thyroid disease, but a growing body of research shows that thyroid patients very often have gut imbalances. People with thyroid disease more often have SIBO [57 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 58 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], leaky gut [59 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], low stomach acid [60, 61 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 62 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], and celiac disease [63 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], as well as gut infections like H. pylori [64] or parasites [65 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. One particular study noted a strong association between H. pylori infection and Graves’ disease [66 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

How Probiotics Work 01

Probiotics help rebalance the gut microbiome and the immune system, reduce gut inflammation, repair the gut lining, and may improve hyperthyroid symptoms, including anxiety [67]. Even better, probiotics have a very low incidence of negative side effects compared to conventional treatment.

Between their safety profile and their demonstrated effects on thyroid health, a trial of triple probiotic therapy is worth exploring.

Vitamin D

Most thyroid-related vitamin D research has studied hypothyroid patients. This research suggests that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with higher levels of thyroid antibodies [68 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source] and that supplementation with vitamin D may decrease them [69 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. But one study showed that hyperthyroid patients who had lower vitamin D levels were more likely to relapse [70].

Considered together, these data suggest vitamin D supplementation may help reduce thyroid antibodies and relapse after treatment for hyperthyroidism.

Stress Reduction

Stress reduction is good supportive care, no matter what your health condition is. This is especially true for hyperthyroidism, where common symptoms include an increased heart rate, palpitations, and anxiety. There is no direct evidence that stress reduction practices can improve Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism, but practices such as meditation, yoga, or cognitive behavioral therapy may support your healing process while you work on other treatments.

The Bottom Line

You don’t need to destroy your thyroid gland to get control of your hyperthyroidism. Simple diet changes, supplements, and stress reduction, sometimes alongside medication, can bring your body back into balance. If you need support managing your thyroid problems, consider becoming a patient at the Austin Center for Functional Medicine

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