Herbs And Nutrients For Your Thyroid

Herbs and nutrients can offer invaluable help for your thyroid. Many have been studied and found to enhance thyroid function.

First of all, you must have enough iodine in your diet or as a supplement in order for your thyroid gland to manufacture active thyroid. As of 2009, it was estimated that 2 billion individuals globally still had insufficient iodine intake, predominately in South Asia and Africa. At the same time, 50 percent of Europeans remained mildly iodine deficient. [1]

North American Issues

While it is true that lack of iodine can be one cause of hypothyroidism, this cause is not common in North America. Moreover, too much iodine intake has shown to also be a problem for the thyroid gland, causing hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroiditis.

Iodine is most plentiful in seaweed, seafood, dairy products, grain products, eggs and less so in fruits and vegetables. [2] To find out if you are getting iodine in a healthy range for your individualized needs, have a healthcare provider paint a small (half-dollar size) area on your inner forearm skin with 2 percent iodine tincture. If it disappears in less than 12 hours, you’re considered iodine deficient; 12-24 hours means you’re mildly deficient. Alternatively, you could get a 24-hour urinary iodine level measured after a 50 mg iodine/iodine tablet oral load. If it is low, supplementation could be recommended at 150-200 mcg daily. [3]

Nutrient supplements important for healthy thyroid function are:

  • Selenium: 200 mcg daily; selenium deficiency can exacerbate the effects of iodine deficiency and less so for vitamin A or iron deficiency; [4] iron, zinc and copper deficiency can adversely affect thyroid hormone metabolism, too. [5]
  • Zinc: An essential element for the basic biochemical reactions of the thyroid gland and hormones. In 2009, it was shown that low serum thyroid hormone levels improved after six months of zinc supplementation. [6]
  • Vitamin D-3: Required by the thyroid gland. In a 2011 issue of Thyroid, low levels of vitamin D were associated with worsened thyroid function in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. [7] Make sure you are getting sufficient vitamin D3 or 20 minutes of sunlight daily (enough sunlight for your skin to make adequate amounts).

Herbs That Enhance Thyroid Function

  • Sea Kelp (Ascophyllum nodosum): Provides natural iodine. Also protects thyroid cells from inflammation. [8] Decreases the risk of autoimmune thyroid disease. [9]
  • Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus): Provides a natural iodine source. Also, it has anti-estrogen properties, thereby reducing the risk of thyroid gland inflammation by estrogen in both men and women. [10] [11]
  • Hops (Humulus lupulus): Contains xanthohumol, which enhances iodine uptake by the thyroid [12] and represses the activation of the pro-inflammatory molecule NF-kappaB, [13] [14] thereby decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-6.
  • Coleus (Coleus forskohlii): Stimulates iodine uptake; boosts thyroglobulin, T4 & T3 production: enhances T3 and T4 secretion. [15]
  • Brahmi (Bacopa monniera): Provides direct thyroid stimulation by increasing serum T4 by 41 percent but not T3 in lab experiments. [16]
  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Raises serum levels of thyroid hormones by acting directly on the thyroid gland. [17] [18] (Even raised thyroid hormone excessively in a woman who took too high a dose of ashwagandha [19].)
  • Guggul (Commiphora mukul): Directly stimulates T3 production by influencing liver enzymes. [20]
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Sage (Salvia officinalis): Contain carnosic acid (thought to increase thyroid hormone-specific receptors on the nuclei of target tissue cells [21] [22]).

In my next thyroid article I’ll discuss natural (prescription) desiccated thyroid hormone replacement for low thyroid hormone function. And I’ll offer some important tips on how you can find a physician who will treat your low thyroid hormone condition and correctly understand how the shortcomings of lab tests.

To feeling good for life,
Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options

Read: Thyroid Disease, Part I
Read: Thyroid Disease, Part II
Read: Thyroid Disease, Part III
Read: Thyroid Disease, Part IV
Next article: The right way to tackle thyroid issues


[1] Zimmermann MB. Iodine deficiency. Endocr Rev. 2009 Jun;30(4):376-408.

[2] NIH office of Dietary Supplements Fact Sheet at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/

[3] NIH office of Dietary Supplements Fact Sheet at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/

[4] Triggiani V, Tafaro E, Giagulli VA, Sabbà C, Resta F, Licchelli B, Guastamacchia E. Role of iodine, selenium and other micronutrients in thyroid function and disorders. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2009 Sep;9(3):277-94.

[5] Arthur JR, Beckett GJ. Thyroid function. Br Med Bull. 1999;55(3):658-68.

[6] Kandhro GA, Kazi TG, Afridi HI, Kazi N, Baig JA, Arain MB, Sirajuddin, Shah AQ, Sarfraz RA, Jamali MK, Syed N. Effect of zinc supplementation on the zinc level in serum and urine and their relation to thyroid hormone profile in male and female goitrous patients. Clin Nutr. 2009 Apr;28(2):162-8.

[7] Tamer G, Arik S, Tamer I, Coksert D. Relative vitamin D insufficiency in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Thyroid. 2011 Aug;21(8):891-6.

[8] Saker KE, Fike JH, Veit H, Ward DL. Brown seaweed- (Tasco) treated conserved forage enhances antioxidant status and immune function in heat-stressed wether lambs. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2004 Apr;88(3-4):122-30.

[9] Duthoit C, Estienne V, Giraud A, Durand-Gorde JM, Rasmussen AK, Feldt-Rasmussen U, Carayon P, Ruf J. Hydrogen peroxide-induced production of a 40 kDa immunoreactive thyroglobulin fragment in human thyroid cells: the onset of thyroid autoimmunity? Biochem J. 2001 Dec 15;360(Pt 3):557-62.

[10] Skibola CF, Curry JD, VandeVoort C, Conley A, Smith MT. Brown kelp modulates endocrine hormones in female sprague-dawley rats and in human luteinized granulosa cells. J Nutr. 2005 Feb;135(2):296-300.

[11] Skibola CF. The effect of Fucus vesiculosus, an edible brown seaweed, upon menstrual cycle length and hormonal status in three pre-menopausal women: a case report. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004 Aug 4;4:10.

[12] Radovic B, Schmutzler C, Kohrle J. Xanthohumol stimulates iodine uptake in rat thyroid-derived FRTL-5 cells. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2005 Sep;49(9):832-6.

[13] Albini A, Dell’Eva R, Vene R, Ferrari N, Buhler DR, Noonan DM, Fassina G. Mechanisms of the antiangiogenic activity by the hop flavonoid xanthohumol: NF-kappaB and Akt as targets. FASEB J. 2006 Mar;20(3):527-9.

[14] Colgate EC, Miranda CL, Stevens JF, Bray TM, Ho E. Xanthohumol, a prenylflavonoid derived from hops induces apoptosis and inhibits NF-kappaB activation in prostate epithelial cells. Cancer Lett. 2006 Mar 22.

[15] Laurberg P. Forskolin stimulation of thyroid secretion of T4 and T3. FEBS Lett. 1984 May 21;170(2):273-6.

[16] Kar A, Panda S, Bharti S. Relative efficacy of three medicinal plant extracts in the alteration of thyroid hormone concentrations in male mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002 Jul;81(2):281-5.

[17] Panda S, Kar A. Changes in thyroid hormone concentrations after administration of ashwagandha root extract to adult male mice. J Pharm Pharmacol. 1998 Sep;50(9):1065-8.

[18] Panda S, Kar A. Withania somnifera and Bauhinia purpurea in the regulation of circulating thyroid hormone concentrations in female mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999 Nov 1;67(2):233-9.

[19] van der Hooft CS, Hoekstra A, Winter A, de Smet PA, Stricker BH. Thyrotoxicosis following the use of ashwagandha. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2005 Nov 19;149(47):2637-8.

[20] Panda S, Kar A. Gugulu (Commiphora mukul) induces triiodothyronine production: possible involvement of lipid peroxidation. Life Sci. 1999;65(12):PL137-41.

[21] Steiner M, Priel I, Giat J, Levy J, Sharoni Y, Danilenko M. Carnosic acid inhibits proliferation and augments differentiation of human leukemic cells induced by 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 and retinoic acid. Nutr Cancer. 2001;41(1-2):135-44.

[22] Danilenko M, Wang X, Studzinski GP. Carnosic acid and promotion of monocytic differentiation of HL60-G cells initiated by other agents. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2001 Aug 15;93(16):1224-33.

Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.