7 Natural Ways To Manage Your Hypothyroidism
As an integrative physician, I've worked with thousands of patients over the past decade. And one of the most common issues I see is hypothyroidism. It makes sense—thyroid issues have taken off in the last few years, and levothyroxine, a replacement thyroid hormone, is the second most prescribed drug in the United States.
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck. It produces several hormones that influence your metabolism, energy levels, sleep, hair growth, menstrual cycle, and more. If your thyroid gland struggles to produce enough thyroid hormone—often as a result of chronic stress, gut issues, or poor diet—you can end up with hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid.
Making dietary changes is your first line of defense in treating hypothyroidism. Many people with hypothyroidism experience crippling fatigue and brain fog, which prompts reaching for non-nutritional forms of energy like sugar and caffeine. I've dubbed these rascals the terrible twosome, as they can burn out your thyroid (and destabilize blood sugar).
Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Puffy face and neck
- Irregular periods
- Muscle and joint pain
- Feeling cold, especially in the hands and feet
If you have any of the above symptoms, you may want to get a thyroid panel to check your thyroid hormone levels.
The good news is that hypothyroidism usually develops slowly, and there's a lot you can do to improve your thyroid function naturally. Here are seven of my favorite tools to support your thyroid and reclaim your energy, vitality, and health.
1. Go gluten-free.
Diet is one of the biggest factors in managing hypothyroidism, and many patients see a big improvement in hypothyroidism symptoms after going gluten-free.
While true celiac disease affects only about 1% of the population, research in the last few years suggests that a lot of people are sensitive to gluten. Gluten-sensitive people are significantly more likely to develop thyroid issues, possibly because gluten damages your gut lining, interfering with your hormones and causing inflammation that reaches your thyroid. Gluten is also processed with bromide—which displaces iodine, a key mineral needed to balance your thyroid.
If you have thyroid issues, try going gluten-free and see how you feel. You may notice a significant decrease in your symptoms.
2. Limit your sugar intake.
Too much sugar is bad for you in general, but it's especially harmful if you have a thyroid imbalance. Excess sugar can trigger candida, an overgrowth of yeast that has been connected to the autoimmune thyroid condition Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
One of your thyroid gland's main jobs is to regulate your carbohydrate metabolism. If you aren't making enough thyroid hormones, your body struggles to balance your blood sugar, which can lead to fatigue, weight gain, and metabolic issues.
It's a good idea to cut back on sugar even if you don't have thyroid issues. It may be hard for the first week or two, but it's worth it.
3. Eat iodine-rich foods.
Iodine is an essential mineral for thyroid hormone production, and a lot of us don't get enough of it.
You can take an iodine supplement or eat iodized salt, but from what I've seen in my patients, iodine in food form makes a bigger impact on thyroid function.
Good sources of iodine include:
- Yogurt and cheese
There's such a thing as too much iodine, so you don't need to go crazy with these foods. Just try to incorporate them into your diet a couple of times a week. You may also want to get your iodine levels tested to see where you stand.
4. Take a good probiotic.
Your gut bacteria play a central role in regulating your thyroid hormones. Your gut is one of the biggest reservoirs for thyroid hormones, and good gut bacteria convert T3, a thyroid hormone, into T4, the main hormone that's often low in hypothyroidism.
A high-quality probiotic can balance your gut and make sure you have the right bacteria to protect and convert your thyroid hormones. Look for a probiotic with Lactobacillus bacteria, particularly L. acidophilus and L. rhamnosus. They're some of the most beneficial bacteria for thyroid function.
5. Try low-dose naltrexone.
Naltrexone is a prescription medication that's usually prescribed for managing addiction. At higher doses, it can help people get off alcohol and opiates.
At lower doses, however, naltrexone is great for autoimmune issues and is one of the most promising ways to treat thyroid disease. Low-dose naltrexone has virtually no side effects other than occasional headaches and trouble falling asleep, both of which are rare.
6. Relieve stress.
Stress—especially chronic stress—is often a trigger for thyroid dysfunction. Stress can also cause flare-ups in symptoms if you already have hypothyroidism.
It's so, so important to manage your stress. Do some kind of self-care every day: meditation, aromatherapy, massage, an Epsom salt bath with essential oils, a walk in nature, reading a good book, or anything else that brings you joy and keeps you grounded.
Make time to relax, even if you have to write it in your schedule and treat it like a meeting. And if you're having trouble making time every day, start with once or twice a week and gradually work your way up.
7. Try acupuncture.
Acupuncture is another way to balance your thyroid hormones. Recent research found that people with thyroid dysfunction saw significant improvements in their thyroid hormone markers after doing acupuncture regularly.
And as a bonus, acupuncture is a wonderful way to relax. It relieves muscle tension and anxiety, both of which are common in hypothyroidism.
A last word on supporting your thyroid.
If you have (or think you have) hypothyroidism, your first priority should be working with a health care professional. I recommend finding a good integrative physician or functional medicine doctor. Hypothyroidism is serious, and you shouldn't try to treat it alone.
However, the above tools are all excellent ways to support your thyroid naturally and keep it running the way it should. Give them a try; you may be surprised by how good you feel.