Author: Jacqueline Newson, BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy

Four of the most effective herbs for reducing thyroid symptoms

Four of the most effective herbs for reducing thyroid symptoms

Considering the thyroid is only 5cm across it is an amazingly powerful gland!

With the help of four great herbal remedies it is possible to support thyroid related conditions to bring about greater health and wellbeing.

Table of Contents

  1. Understanding thyroid function
  2. Thyroid hormone activity
  3. Hormone disorders
  4. What causes poor thyroid function
  5. Our top 4 herbal remedies


Understanding thyroid function

The thyroid is a gland and is part of the body’s endocrine system.

It is controlled by master glands in the brain called the hypothalamus and pituitary and is regulated by thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). (5)

This small butterfly shape gland is located at the base of the throat; it produces inactive thyroxine (T4) which is converted into the active form of triiodothyronine (T3) within the tissues and liver.

These hormones govern the body’s metabolism - their job is to control growth, reproductive function, body temperature and most importantly the rate at which your body functions. (1)

It is the impact of thyroid hormones on the mitochondria (the energy generating organelles within each cell), that controls your metabolism.

Generally, the higher the levels of thyroid hormone, the greater the amount of energy is produced in the mitochondria.

Most people are aware that the thyroid influences appetite and weight, but you may be surprised to learn that it also affects your cholesterol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, mental function, reflexes and libido.

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Thyroid hormone activity

The thyroid works like a tiny factory operating on the instructions of TSH.

It takes in iodine and tyrosine and produces large quantities of thyroxine (T4), which is later transformed into the active form of T3 within the cells. (2)

T3 is more readily taken into the cells, making it approximately 10 times more active than T4. Both T3 and T4 increase the metabolism making all of the cells in the body work harder, so the cells need more energy too. This results in:

  • Increased body temperature
  • Faster pulse and stronger heartbeat
  • Food is digested faster because energy stored in the liver and muscles is broken down
  • Activation of the nervous system leading to improved concentration and faster reflexes

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Hormone disorders

A healthy, properly functioning thyroid will maintain the correct levels of hormones needed to keep the body’s metabolism ticking over satisfactorily.

However, if thyroid function is thrown out of kilter it can lead to conditions such as:

Hyperthyroidism - this is an overactive thyroid and happens when the thyroid gland produces too many hormones. (4)

In this condition the body uses energy much faster than it should.


  • Irritability/nervousness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Infrequent, scant menstrual periods
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive sweating
  • Diarrhoea
  • High blood pressure
  • Palpitation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Enlarged thyroid gland
  • Vision problems or eye irritation
  • Heat sensitivity

Hypothyroidism - this is an underactive thyroid and occurs if the thyroid doesn’t manufacture enough hormones. (3)

In this condition the body uses energy much slower than it should.


  • Fatigue
  • Frequent, heavy menstrual periods
  • Brain fog
  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Impaired memory and concentration
  • Depression
  • Dry, coarse skin and hair
  • Hoarse voice
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Intolerance to loud noises
  • Muscle pain

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What causes poor thyroid function

The delicate balance of thyroid hormones can be disrupted for a number of reasons.

Common factors that may influence thyroid function include:

  • Stress
  • Poor nutrition
  • Leaky gut
  • Environmental toxins
  • Poor digestion and elimination
  • Food intolerances
  • Imbalance in gut flora
  • Lack of exercise
  • Insomnia

It is vital that any contributing factors are addressed and removed to regain normal thyroid function.

A consultation with a qualified natural health practitioner can help to guide you through dietary and lifestyle changes..

In many serious thyroid disorders medication is necessary, and it is always advisable to seek advice from your GP if you suspect you have thyroid problems.

However, a number of common symptoms can be reduced or totally eradicated with good nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Including appropriate herbal remedies can also offer additional support when trying to achieve hormone balance.

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Our top 4 herbal remedies

Naturopaths and nutritional therapists who work according to functional medicine principles believe that if you have poor thyroid function it is likely your adrenal function is low too as these glands work very closely together.

Where stress is suspected in poor thyroid function, it is important to support the adrenal glands which are part of the endocrine system, just like the thyroid.

Chronic adrenal stress is characterised by raised cortisol levels and disrupts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

Excessive cortisol inhibits the conversion of T4 to T3 and hinders TSH production.

There are a range of adaptogenic herbs that help to modify pituitary and hypothalamic stress and support adrenal function.

As well as this, some adaptogen herbs directly stimulate thyroid function, while others have an indirect effect on the thyroid.

To keep it simple we’ve chosen the top four herbs that we think offer the most benefits for balancing thyroid function.

It is recommended that you include these in a thyroid balancing protocol to maximise any dietary and lifestyle changes.


1. Ashwaganda - Withania somnifera

Ashwaganda has been used traditionally in herbal medicine for hundreds of years to help increase energy.

It is considered to be an adaptogen which means it helps the body to adapt to stress more effectively.

Results from animal studies suggest that Ashwaganda may also be a useful therapeutic tool for low thyroid function as it has been shown to increase serum levels of T4.

Ashwaganda is thought to stimulate thyroid activity indirectly, because of its antioxidant properties.

Antioxidants help to clear up free radicals that cause cellular damage and consequently may affect thyroid function.

Some studies have shown Ashwaganda to have an immunostimulatory effect, so it is not recommended in cases of hyperthyroidism or pregnancy. (8)

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2. Bacopa Monnieri (Herpestis monniera)

Bacopa Monnieri is a small creeping plant that has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine as a revitalising herb.

It is prized for its purported memory and intellect boosting properties. (11)

Nowadays Bacopa is frequently included in supplemental thyroid remedies for its ability to improve thyroid function and metabolism.

Animal studies have shown that Bacopa extract has a stimulatory effect on the thyroid helping to increase production of the thyroid hormone T4 quite significantly. (12)

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3. Coleus ( Coleus forskohlii or Plectranthus barbatus)

Coleus is extracted from the root of a tropical herb used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine.

It is believed to stimulate an increase in thyroid hormone production.

The active ingredient within Coleus is forskolin, which is involved in the body’s feedback mechanisms, particularly the hypothalamus-pituitary axis that controls thyroid function.

According to research forskolin activates a substance called adenylate cyclase which is found in many tissues including the thyroid gland.

This mechanism triggers the hypothalamus and pituitary glands to release TRH and TSH, which stimulates the production of T3 and T4 from the thyroid gland. (10)

Research has also identified that Coleus is effective at suppressing asthmatic symptoms and increasing bone density as well as helping to reduce fatigue and fat mass in obese individuals. (9)

The recommended dosage of standardised Coleus extract is 250mg of a supplement containing 10% forskolin, twice a day, giving a total dose of 500mg daily.

Not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

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4. St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

St John’s Wort is a flowering weed common to Europe, America and Asia.

Although it does not have a direct effect on thyroid function, it can be recommended for those with a sluggish thyroid because of its effects on typical symptoms.

Low mood and depression are commonly seen in people with low thyroid function and this is thought to be due in part to low levels of serotonin in the brain.

St John’s Wort is an herb that has been used to treat mental health conditions for centuries and is currently widely prescribed for depression in Europe. (13)

It is thought to work because of the phytochemicals it contains which help to gently raise serotonin levels in the brain.

A comprehensive review of several studies indicate that St John’s Wort is more effective than placebo in the treatment of mild to moderate depression and is safe and well tolerated. (14)

Further studies suggest that St John’s Wort is as effective as standard antidepressants but with fewer side effects. (15)

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