Marie ParksMany people experience unexplained fatigue, a poor mood, weight gain, or feel cold more often than normal.1 And there are a number of possible reasons why these symptoms could surface.
However, the main culprit—an underactive thyroid—often goes undiagnosed. In fact, more than 27 million Americans suffer from a thyroid condition, and 13 million of them aren’t even aware of it.
While the symptoms of an underactive thyroid are not fun to deal with on their own, the dangers of suboptimal thyroid function can be deadly, as it increases the risk for coronary heart disease,2 advanced chronic kidney disease,3 and major depression.4,5
Why Your Thyroid Is So ImportantYour thyroid is involved in many roles, primarily regulating metabolism and burning fat for energy, which is why people who have an underactive thyroid tend to gain weight and feel tired for no reason.
What Causes Poor Thyroid Function?Before answering this, we need to first briefly outline how the thyroid functions. The pituitary gland secretes thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which tells the thyroid to release thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). In the body, T4 is converted into T3, which is the form directly involved in metabolism and is about four times more potent than T4.6
Another important thyroid hormone is reverse T3 (rT3), which is a nonfunctioning form of T3. Not only is rT3 inactive, but it also blocks thyroid receptors, inhibiting the action of regular T3.7
(Keep in mind that thyroid function is actually much more complex than we’ve outlined!)
So, to answer the question—there are three main causes of suboptimal thyroid function:
- There’s not enough T4 produced.
- There’s a decreased conversion of T4 to T3.
- There’s too much rT3 being produced.
How To Improve Thyroid FunctionWhile a trip to the doctor may result in a prescription for Synthroid and Levoxyl, these are just T4, and not everyone converts T4 into T3, so they’ll still have undesirable symptoms. There are medications that contain both T4 and T3 such as Nature-throid, Armour thyroid, and Westhroid. Also, Cytomel, which is synthetic T3 is another option for doctors.
Medications may be necessary for certain individuals to maintain sufficient thyroid function (with a doctor’s prescription).
However, research has shown the ability of three natural herbs that address the three main causes of suboptimal thyroid function. Here they are:
Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogenic herb, as it helps restore balance to the body.8,9 Containing bioactive compounds, ashwagandha has shown to increase levels of T3 and T4.10,11 Subjects with an underactive thyroid and bipolar disorder taking 500 mg ashwagandha for two months had an up to 24% increase in T4 levels!12
Another beneficial effect of ashwagandha is its ability to combat stress.13 Stress releases the hormone cortisol which increases the inhibitory rT3.14,15 Therefore, by counteracting stress, ashwagandha supports thyroid function and improves quality of life!
Guggul is a sap extract from the Indian myrrh tree and was traditionally used for treating slow metabolism.16 It contains molecules that have strong thyroid-stimulating properties.17 Guggul has also shown to help convert T4 into T3.18,19
3. Korean ginseng
Korean ginseng is also an adaptogen and contains ginsenosides that’ve been shown to reduce levels of inactive rT3. In a study that enrolled subjects with congestive heart failure with low levels of T4 and T3 and high levels of rT3, after supplementing with ginsenosides, the participants had a significant decrease in rT3 and significant increases in T4 and T3.20
Other benefits of Korean ginseng are its ability to help regulate skin temperature (a common symptom of an underactive thyroid is cold hands and feet) and improve energy and sexual function (both of which are associated with low thyroid function).21-24
The Bottom LineIf you’re always tired, moody, and gaining weight, it could be because of your thyroid. The natural herbs ashwagandha, guggul, and Korean ginseng can help provide support!
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- Available at: http://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/thyroid/how-your-thyroid-works. Accessed April 13, 2016.
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- J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Dec 2;158 Pt A:25-32.
- J Sex Med. 2010 Apr;7(4 Pt 1):1469-77.
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- Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2008;5(6):50-5.
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