3 Ways To Manage Hashimoto's Naturally, According To An Integrative Doctor
As an integrative physician, I've worked with thousands of patients over the past decade. One of the most common health issues I see is Hashimoto's disease—an autoimmune disorder and the most common cause of hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid.
A lot of my patients have Hashimoto's, and many of them come in frustrated or scared. Often, they've tried conventional medication, but it isn't working for them as well as it used to. Their symptoms are coming back, and they don't know what to do.
If you're struggling with a thyroid issue, you probably empathize. While medication is an important part of thyroid balance, it often isn't enough. You may still feel exhausted, irritable, foggy, or just a little bit off.
The good news is that, with a more comprehensive approach, Hashimoto's is quite manageable. In this article, I'm going to share my go-to plan for addressing the most common causes of hypothyroidism. First, though, let's take a look at what Hashimoto's is and how to know if you have it.
What is Hashimoto's disease?
Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disease that affects your thyroid gland, a small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck.
When you're healthy, your thyroid releases hormones that keep your metabolism running smoothly. But with Hashimoto's, your immune system thinks your thyroid is a foreign invader. It makes antibodies that attack your thyroid, damaging it until it can't produce enough thyroid hormones. This inability to produce enough thyroid hormones leads to what's known as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), and it's one of the most common health issues in the United States.
Hashimoto's affects about 5% of the population1, making it the leading cause of thyroid issues in the U.S. It's also eight times more common in women2 than it is in men.
Symptoms of Hashimoto's include:
- Brain fog
- Cold hands and/or feet
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Joint and neck pain
If you have multiple symptoms on this list, I strongly encourage you to talk to a medical professional and get your thyroid hormone levels checked.
Typical Hashimoto's treatment (and why it can fall short).
If you have Hashimoto's, most doctors will just prescribe you medication (typically the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine) to balance your thyroid hormone levels, without looking at factors like diet and lifestyle.
For some people, thyroid medication is enough. But I see a lot of patients who still suffer thyroid problems, despite medication. Many doctors don't address the underlying causes of hypothyroidism. Chronic inflammation, chronic stress, and gut imbalances can all contribute to Hashimoto's and make symptoms worse. I've even seen cases where toxins like heavy metals, mercury, and pesticide derivatives drive Hashimoto's disease.
Medication is an essential part of any thyroid treatment, but in order to balance your thyroid hormones and truly restore your health, you may need a more comprehensive, holistic approach.
A holistic, East-West approach to treating Hashimoto's.
My go-to plan for treating Hashimoto's is an East-West approach. It takes advantage of Western medication, but it also addresses the root causes of Hashimoto's so that your body has a chance to heal. If you're struggling with Hashimoto's, try doing these three things, in addition to following your doctor's advice when it comes to medication:
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
Many of my patients are amazed by how much diet affects their well-being, especially when it comes to thyroid issues like Hashimoto's.
Hashimoto's causes inflammation3 throughout your body, which may partially explain why some people with Hashimoto's get joint pain, headaches, and fluctuations in mood.
An anti-inflammatory diet can be a huge help in managing Hashimoto's and reducing your symptoms. To make your diet more anti-inflammatory:
- Avoid gluten and sugar. Gluten causes inflammation and gut issues in a lot of people4, even if they don't have a full-on gluten allergy. Sugar is also inflammatory5. Try eliminating gluten, sugar, and refined carbs from your diet.
- Eat lots of polyphenols. Polyphenols are a class of antioxidants that fight inflammation and protect your cells from oxidative stress. They're common in colorful fruits and vegetables, so add lots of both to your diet (just make sure the fruits are low in sugar). Good sources of polyphenols include blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, red cabbage, carrots, kale, chard, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Good nutrition is a cornerstone of well-being, and a healthy diet will make a big difference in your thyroid function.
Get plenty of iodine and selenium.
Hypothyroidism often leaves you deficient in iodine and selenium—two essential nutrients for thyroid function6. Adding more of both to your diet can support your thyroid and help you normalize your thyroid hormone production.
Good sources of iodine include:
- Iodized salt
Good sources of selenium include:
- Brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
Alternatively, you can take iodine and selenium supplements. I recommend:
- Iodine: 50 micrograms (mcg) daily
- Selenium: 200 micrograms (mcg) daily
Balance your adrenals with adaptogens.
Hypothyroidism often throws other hormonal systems out of balance, including your adrenal gland. Taking supplements that support your adrenals can help battle the weight gain, fatigue, and brain fog that often comes with Hashimoto's.
Adaptogens are my favorite supplements for adrenal support. They improve your body's ability to handle stress and help normalize your cortisol response.
- Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogenic herb. It's a staple in ayurvedic tradition, where it's been used for centuries to manage pain, fatigue, and stress. More recently, research on ashwagandha has shown that it relieves stress and anxiety7, which makes it valuable for adrenal support. Try taking 200 to 400 mg of ashwagandha daily, with food.
- Rhodiola is another potent stress-relieving herb. It's been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than a thousand years, and modern research shows8 that it relieves stress and is rich in antioxidants. A good rhodiola dose is 200 to 400 mg a day.
Bottom line on supporting your thyroid naturally.
If you have Hashimoto's (or think you have it), the first thing to do is to work with a doctor to get your thyroid hormone levels checked. Your doctor will likely prescribe thyroid hormones to help you get back in balance.
But for long-term management and health, Hashimoto's requires a more holistic approach. Use the above diet and lifestyle changes to support healthy thyroid function and get back to feeling your best. Always keep your doctor in the loop about the changes you're making, though, as they may change your need for medication.
Dr. Taz Bhatia is a board-certified physician, specializing in integrative and emergency medicine, pediatrics and prevention, with expertise in women’s health, weight-loss, hormone balance and nutrition. She attended Emory University, the University of Georgia and the Medical College of Georgia, and was a recipient of the Emily Gardner Award for Best Pediatric Resident in 2000. She is the author of the Superwoman RX and The 21-Day Belly Fix. Personal health challenges in her twenties combined with a broken health care system motivated Bhatia to pursue an alternative definition of health and healthy living. As a young resident, she was sick and without answers, and began searching for help to heal her health issues. Studying various systems of medicine including Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Ayurveda, she found a wealth of information not yet taught in conventional medical schools. It led her to opening her now nationally-recognized practice, CentreSpring MD (formerly Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine). Today, Bhatia and her team work relentlessly to find a patient’s core health problems, their centre, in order to spring them forth in health, pulling from multiple systems of medicine, including integrative, functional, Chinese and holistic medicine.