By Steven Horne, RH (AHG) & Kimberly Balas, ND
See also Grave's disease (hyperthyroid) and Hashimoto's disease

Understanding Thyroid Function

To understand how to deal effectively with low thyroid using natural substances, it is necessary to know a little bit about how the body produces thyroid hormones. The hypothalamus, a stalk of the brain, is the master regulator of most of the body's major endocrine hormones. When the hypothalamus detects the need for thyroid hormones, it produces the thyroid releasing hormone (TRH). The TRH travels to the pituitary gland where it stimulates the release of the thyroid stimulating hormone, TSH or thyrotrophin.

TSH travels through the blood stream and binds to receptor sites in the thyroid gland. It stimulates the thyroid to produce two hormones: thyroxin (T4) and tri-iodotyrosine (T3). Target TS II stimulates the pituitary to produce more TSH.

ThyroidIn response to TSH, T4 and T3 are released in a ratio of about a 4:1 (4 times more T4 than T3). T3 is the more active form. T4 is a storage form of the hormone. T4 is converted to T3 in peripheral tissues, particularly the liver. Cortisol, a stress hormone, tends to stimulate the conversion of T4 to T3, while insulin tends to suppress the production of T4 to T3.

The thyroid can also produce relatively inactive reverse T3 (RT3). During times of grief, trauma and illness, the body produces more RT3 and less T3, presumably to conserve energy and force us to slow down.

The primary job of these thyroid hormones is to regulate metabolism and to help burn fuel, especially fats. The thyroid acts sort of like a metabolic thermostat. When the thyroid output is low, the fats tend to be stored instead of burned, resulting in weight gain. Since the body burns fat primarily to keep warm, the body temperature tends to be low. The skin is usually dry, again due to a lack of proper fat metabolism, because fats are what keep the skin moist and supple. Reproductive hormones may also be thrown out of balance (since they are made of fat) and energy levels tend to be low because the metabolism is slow.

Thyroid Testing

Thyroid blood tests only tell part of the story. There are many blood test numbers other than TSH that reveal various thyroid issues. There can be low TSH numbers and you can still have a hypothyroid situation. For instance, increased insulin (hyperinsulinemia or metabolic syndrome) and a diet high in processed foods can inhibit optimal thyroid functions. The adrenal glands support all thyroid function so understanding their role is also crucial to solving thyroid issues.

When low thyroid is a problem, if you have ruled out Hashimoto's thyroidiris (an autoimmune problem) the first thing to try is increasing one's intake of dietary iodine. Adding foods rich in natural iodine to the diet will often improve thyroid function. While the primary use of iodine is in the thyroid gland, it may have other functions. For example, iodine is also concentrated around the nipples in female breast tissue and is critical to breast health. Iodine is also important for the immune system and helps the body fight infection.


Iodine is essential to the production of thyroid hormones. This nutrient, while found in abundance in sea foods, is not found in high concentrations in plants or animals raised inland. Furthermore, fluoride, chlorine and bromide are all found in the same group as iodine on the periodic table of elements. This means they can displace iodine in the body, so, the chlorination of water supplies and the use of fluorides may be a contributing factor. Drugs, corticosteroids, aspirin (salicylates) and anticoagulants can depress thyroid activity.

Iodine is a very rare nutrient in land plants but is common in fish and sea vegetables like kelp, dulse, bladderwrack, and Irish moss. Sea vegetables, like kelp, can be sprinkled on food or added to soups, stews, etc. They add a pleasant salty taste to foods. Two formulas are available which contain these sea vegetables and are designed to feed the thyroid gland and aid its function. They are TS II with Hops and Thyroid Activator. These formulas can be very helpful in cases of moderately low thyroid. Liquid Dulse is another great source of natural iodine.

Another powerful supplement that can help solve low thyroid problems is Thyroid Support. This formula contains
thyroid glandular substance as well as pituitary and hypothalamus substance. Thyroid Support helps rebuild the
thyroid gland, not just improve its function. If one is already on thyroid medication (and still has a thyroid gland that is at least partially functional), they may wish to try rebuilding their thyroid and reducing or weaning off of their thyroid medication.

Eating coconut oil stimulates the thyroid. Natural Sea Salt is a good way to get extra iodine in the diet to stimulate the thyroid. Cruciferous vegetables and soy have a thyroid inhibiting effect.

T4 to T3 Conversion

Even if the levels of thyroid hormones are normal, one can still have thyroid problems if the liver and other tissues are not converting T4 into T3 properly. Weak adrenals may contribute to this problem, so Adrenal Support or licorice root may have indirect benefits to the thyroid by supporting the adrenal glands. 7-Keto increases T4 to T3 conversion and is sometimes used to stimulate the burning of fat for weight reduction. So, 7-Keto can help when there are symptoms of low thyroid, but thyroid hormones are within normal levels on blood tests.

Eating a properly balanced diet (especially reducing simple carbohydrates) will also aid this conversion. Since most of the T4 to T3 conversion takes place in the liver, the liver is often involved in thyroid problems. Some liver supplements that can indirectly help the thyroid by aiding the liver include SF, the Tiao He Cleanse, and SAM-e taken with MSM. All of the following therapies and remedies may be helpful for the thyroid.

Below is a list of suggested products. Those in bold are key products for the health issue explained on this page.
For details and ordering simply copy a product's name in the search box above or click on the bold name.

Therapies: Avoid Caffeine and see the Low Glycemic Diet

Herbs: Black Walnut, Dulse, Kelp, Licorice Root and Saw Palmetto

Herbal Formulas: Mood Elevator, SF, Thyroid Activator and TS II, Tiao He Cleanse

Nutrients: 7-Keto, MSM, N-Acetyl Cysteine and SAM-e

Nutraceuticals: Adrenal Support, Target TS-II and Thyroid Support

Nutritional Supplements:

Foods: Sea salt

Homeopathic Support
Suggestions from Four Winds Nutrition