How can i fix my thyroid without medication
There are many alternative approaches to manage or co-manage various thyroid disorders. Read on to learn more about testing and treating your thyroid.
In honor of thyroid awareness month, let us dive into some alternative treatments for thyroid disorders. Since there are many different types of thyroid disease, this article will focus on general approaches of how you can fix your thyroid without medication, which has shown to be effective. As always, it should not replace the advice of your medical professional. The most important thing is getting an accurate diagnosis. I have had countless patients who reported a “hypothyroid” or low-functioning thyroid, but they had no idea why. It is important to get to the root cause. There are a few main causes of low thyroid function.
- Perhaps the most common thyroid disorder is autoimmune hypothyroid or Hashimoto’s. These patients are usually put on synthetic thyroid hormone (aka Synthroid or levothyroxine) for the rest of their lives. While medication can be an important part of thyroid management, this approach does not address the underlying cause – the body’s immune system attacks healthy, normal tissue. Women are far more susceptible to autoimmune disorders, so this is most common in women. Decreasing immune dysregulation can help to manage Hashimoto’s effectively. There is also a hyperthyroid disease called Grave’s, which is far rarer and more serious. It can lead to an acute thyroid crisis and generally requires medical intervention. But even with Grave’s, there is research on using certain herbs and iodine to help manage the disease.
- I have recently increased how frequently I test my patients’ iodine levels. Iodine is crucial for proper thyroid function. While I love pink Himalayan salt, it does not contain iodine, and many Americans do not eat enough seafood to get an adequate iodine intake. If your iodine levels are low, your body cannot produce thyroid hormone. This can lead to goiter or swelling of the thyroid gland in your neck. In this case, supplementing with high-quality iodine is an easy fix. However, I never recommend iodine supplementation before running lab work as too much iodine can cause or aggravate Hashimoto’s.
- I also test my patients for Reverse T3. The body makes this molecule in response to stress (that wonderful Sword!). Stress to the body can be anemia, tense situations, poor sleep, strenuous exercise, etc. Reverse T3 (or RT3) sits in the receptors and blocks them from being activated by T3 (the active thyroid hormone). If everything else is normal, but your RT3 is elevated, you will not feel your best. Natural approaches like mindfulness, correcting anemia, stress management, and liver support can help normalize RT3 levels.
- The thyroid primarily produces T4 (the inactive thyroid hormone) and a small amount of T3 (the active form). The T4 acts like a reservoir, so when your body needs more thyroid activity, it can simply convert T4 to T3 instead of the long process of making new hormones. This conversion happens primarily in the liver, which is a chronically overburdened organ in modern life. The liver has to process everything we eat, make cholesterol and proteins, filter the blood, and store vitamins, among other functions. We are exposed to many toxic substances in everyday life that tax the liver. Sometimes the solution is as simple as optimizing liver function to get thyroid function back on track.
- Radiation or chemo to the head or neck can also cause low thyroid function. These patients may benefit from supportive co-management but they will likely need to stay on thyroid medication. I work with patients to make sure they are on the right form of medication and are not experiencing any adverse effects.
Supporting the adrenal glands is also crucial for thyroid function. The adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and regulate many of the body’s systems: sleep, hormones, thyroid, metabolism, etc. They get overworked from chronic stress (hello 2020!). I always work on adrenal function with my thyroid patients. Focusing on stress management, sleep hygiene, an anti-inflammatory diet, and utilizing herbs like adaptogens are good approaches to optimizing adrenal function. One of my favorite natural health gurus is Dr. Aviva Room, an herbalist, midwife, and MD! She wrote The Adrenal-Thyroid Revolution that dives into the connection between these two important organ systems.
General thyroid tips to consider
- Avoid raw cruciferous veggies if you have low thyroid function. The cruciferous family includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts. Eaten raw, they are considered goitrogens, which means they can block thyroid function. Make sure to cook or process these vegetables – steam, bake, pickle, roast, air fry, etc.
- Emphasize getting iodine from food sources over supplementing with it. You can use Celtic or other sea salts to get iodine from your salt. I mix half sea salt with half pink salt. Seafood, seaweed, sea vegetables, crab, ocean fish, shrimp, etc., are all good iodine sources.
- The body can perceive heavy exercise as “stress.” Many times, when we are frustrated with the inability to lose weight, we push through our fatigue. If you are hypothyroid, pushing your body harder may not get you the results you want. It is more important to focus on a healthy diet and get your thyroid functioning well before adding any strenuous exercise. Try a gentle exercise like walking, yoga, swimming, biking, and seeing how you feel.
- Autoimmunity can start developing 10-20 years before your main lab values start to show a problem (TSH and T4). Oftentimes, patients do not get real answers unless they insist on a full thyroid panel. A standard screen involves TSH and T4 but will not show RT3 or the potential thyroid antibodies – TPO, thyroglobulin, or TSI. I typically run nine lab tests to get a full picture of the thyroid instead of the minimal standard two labs. If you feel that something is not right, trust your gut and keep digging or find a practitioner who will work with you to find the answers you deserve.