Hyperthyroidism symptoms can include unexplained weight loss, heart palpitations, diarrhea, anxiety, insomnia, and excessive sweating. This is a condition most commonly caused by antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone in what is called Grave’s disease. In this article we'll explore conventional treatments along with 12 natural treatments for hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism affects a little more than 2 out of every 100 women.
Often, thyroid disease in its early stages goes undetected — up to 60% of people with a thyroid condition are unaware that they even have it.
My hope is that by exploring the symptoms, causes, complications, and treatments for hyperthyroidism in detail, more women will be empowered to seek care and solve their thyroid issues for good.
What are hyperthyroid symptoms?
Generally, women who are hyperthyroid feel extremely tired while simultaneously anxious, irritable, and hot. How you feel when you have hyperthyroid symptoms include:
- Insomnia/sleep disturbance
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
- Loose stools
- Menstrual irregularities
- Heat intolerance or feeling flushed
- Racing heart or heart palpitations
- Increased appetite
- Goiter (enlarged thyroid)
- Bulging or swollen eyes
Hyperthyroid Vs. Hypothyroid: What’s the Difference?
While hyperthyroidism means that the thyroid is producing too much thyroxine, in hypothyroidism, the thyroid is producing too little thyroxine. Thyroxine or T4 is the inactive hormone produced by your thyroid.
Hyperthyroidism can alternate with hypothyroid symptoms, which can make it confusing for patients. And since these two words are so similar, it’s understandable that people often get them confused!
Both situations can wreak havoc on your body, just in almost exactly opposite ways (as you may expect). Hyperthyroid women tend to be hot, anxious, and losing weight for no reason. Hypothyroid women tend to be cold, anxious, and gaining weight when they simply look at food.
Both conditions can cause the thyroid to become enlarged, and can cause fluctuations in the menstrual cycle as well as hair loss and cardiovascular problems.
As mentioned symptoms can alternate. If you have hyperthyroidism and undergo treatment then you may switch into a hypothyroid state. If you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis then you can have alternating hyper and hypo symptoms. Keep reading because we’re going to cover how to differentiate between the two.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism can include:
- Dry skin
- Weak muscles
- Hoarse voice
- High cholesterol
- Heavy period
- Slowed heart rate
- Memory problems
- Feeling cold
- Weight gain
- Reduced libido
Bottom line, if you suspect you’re suffering from any kind of issues with your thyroid, it’s best to get to the doc and get checked out.
Thyroid problems are diagnosed by evaluation of symptoms and blood tests. But the symptoms can sometimes mimic other conditions, which in some cases means that they don’t get the appropriate testing or care they need.
Sadly, women can have their concerns about hyperthyroid symptoms dismissed by the medical community and a culture that normalizes stress. Feeling anxious and tired? Aren’t we all? Just have a glass of wine and get some rest…
Especially when women begin experiencing hyperthyroid symptoms after giving birth — a condition known as postpartum thyroiditis, their concerns are often met with skepticism. Of course, you’re going to be exhausted and worried! You’ve just had a baby! Women are given an understanding pat on the back and sent on their way.
Entering menopause? Yeah, those anxious thoughts, sleepless nights, and feeling overheated are just your new normal. Or are they?
Women have also been socialized to believe that they are exaggerating their pain levels and often delay seeking care for fear of being perceived as hypochondriacs. Thus, hyperthyroidism can go undiagnosed for some time.
What Tests Should I Get?
I wrote an entire article on the exact tests you should ask for and why from your doc if you suspect you’re having thyroid issues. In addition to the tests in that article, your doctor should also consider antibodies specific to Grave’s disease if you are experiencing hyperthyroid symptoms.
Often, when thyroid problems emerge, doctors reach for the standard TSH level to begin preliminary diagnosis. The thing is, this often doesn’t tell the whole story, and what’s considered a “normal” TSH level is frankly way too wide of a range. Plus, patients with subclinical hyperthyroidism may present with normal TSH levels, and we miss the chance to prevent them from descending into full-blown thyroid disease if we only assess TSH.
For my patients, I run a complete thyroid panel which includes:
- Total and Free T4
- Total and Free T3
- Reverse T3
*When Grave’s is suspected Thyrotropin Receptor antibodies (TRAb) helps us make the diagnosis.
Sometimes, a radioactive thyroid scan is recommended to determine how much iodine your thyroid takes up and assess its function. It can also be used to diagnose thyroid cancer.
The Most Common Cause Of Hyperthyroidism: Graves Disease
The most common cause of thyroid problems is autoimmunity. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves disease, an autoimmune disease where the thyrotropin receptor antibody (TRAb) causes an overproduction of thyroid hormones.
Other, less common causes of hyperthyroidism include:
- Plummer’s disease (toxic goiter)
- Thyroid or pituitary tumors
- Thyroiditis (inflamed thyroid)
- Excess iodine intake
For reasons that we’re still trying to understand, over 25% of patients who have one autoimmune disease have more than one. Along with the comorbidity of other autoimmune diseases, the following are risk factors for Graves disease:.
Risk Factors for Graves Disease
- Being female — women are up to 8 times more likely to develop Graves than men
- Having other family members with Graves
- Being under the age of 40
- Surviving a stressful situation, abuse, or trauma
- Smoking cigarettes
Graves disease is the only form of hyperthyroidism that causes swelling or bulging of the eyes. It can also result in Grave’s dermopathy — a reddening and thickening of the skin on the tops of the feet or the shins.
Hyperthyroidism And Weight
Our thyroid function and our weight are inextricably linked. Hormones produced by the thyroid regulate metabolism.
This can be a tricky dance, as women who are hyperthyroid typically experience weight loss, and those who are hypothyroid have weight gain.
However, hyperthyroidism also can come with increased appetite. If you eat more high caloric foods than you burn (even with the overactive metabolism) you could gain weight.
And, many women experience weight gain when they begin treating their hyperthyroidism. With their metabolism slowed down, they find it extremely difficult to lose weight and this can be frustrating for sure.
Can Hyperthyroidism Be Cured?
Traditional treatment for hyperthyroidism can include medication and surgery.
If the thyroid is completely removed, technically hyperthyroidism is reversed, however, now the patient has hypothyroidism and has to be on levothyroxine (synthetic thyroid hormone) for life. This option is only considered in very extreme circumstances.
While you can not cure an autoimmune condition, you can put it into remission and eliminate symptoms with surgical, pharmaceutical, and natural therapies.
Non-Surgical Options For Treatment
There are a few options other than surgery for those with hyperthyroidism to consider.
Anti Thyroid Medications – Methimazole and Propylthiouracil
With about a 50% chance of remission, anti-thyroid drugs methimazole and propylthiouracil are often prescribed to treat hyperthyroidism.
These medications can work quickly to restore proper thyroid function, but can also cause significant liver damage in some people. This usually presents in the first 2 to 12 weeks after beginning the medication.
If you are currently taking this medication and experience nausea, fatigue, dark urine, or jaundice — it’s important to discuss these symptoms with your doctor.
Methimazole for Grave’s Disease
This is the first choice medication and is used almost exclusively because it only needs to be taken once daily (convenient), has a longer lasting effect, and lower risk of side effects. This drug is a known teratogen, meaning it can cause harm to a developing baby, so this is not recommended during pregnancy.
Propylthiouracil for Grave’s Disease
Propylthiouracil, also known as PTU, is used in patients who have reacted negatively to methimazole or are currently pregnant. Pregnancy can be a common time to see Grave’s disease develop.
Radioactive iodine is the most common treatment for hyperthyroidism. This treatment is where patients are given a pill containing actual radioactive iodine. When you take this pill the radioactive iodine is processed by your thyroid, and the thyroid dies.
Patients who opt for this treatment have to be extremely careful about interacting with other people for a few days after treatment. They can actually still have enough radioactivity in their bodies to be picked up on scanners at the airport for another three months!
As with surgical removal, patients who choose this option usually become hypothyroid and have to remain on thyroid medication for the rest of their lives.
This method is considered to be less expensive, invasive, and have lower complication rates than surgery.
Beta Blockers work by blocking the stimulatory effect of excitatory neurotransmitters, so they don’t affect thyroid levels directly.
However, they are often prescribed to help with the rapid heart rate and racing heartbeat issues that many patients with hyperthyroidism experience. They can bring tremendous symptom relief for people with Grave’s disease or hyperthyroidism, but do not treat the condition directly.
Natural Treatment for Hyperthyroidism
We’re going to discuss several natural therapies for the treatment of hyperthyroidism and to help manage the symptoms. However, I want to be clear that you shouldn’t try to treat hyperthyroidism alone and need to find a clinician to support you.
As a naturopathic physician I am licensed to treat hyperthyroidism and prescribe the medications above, but I still recommend patients also have an experienced endocrinologist as part of their health care team.
1. Address nutrient deficiencies
When your thyroid is over-producing hormones, your entire body can become depleted of nutrients. Testing for nutrient deficiencies can help you understand your needs. Be extremely mindful of your diet — eat nutrient-dense foods. Include lots of vegetables and pasture-raised proteins in your diet. A high-quality multivitamin to fill in the gaps is a good idea too, but note that if your doctor advises you to avoid iodine then you’ll want to find an iodine-free supplement.
2. Selenium for Hyperthyroidism
There have been studies showing selenium to be an effective treatment for Grave’s disease and the associated thyroid eye disease.
However, other studies have stated it is not an effective standalone treatment. It’s important to note that selenium is generally used in combination with other therapies, so while it may not be effective alone, it may be beneficial as an adjunct therapy.
L-carnitine is an amino acid that is found in fish, meat, and dairy.
It has been shown to prevent thyroid hormone from entering certain cells which can help with symptoms of racing heart, palpitations, tremor, and fatigue.
At this time, we do not have enough research to state that this is an effective treatment for Grave’s disease, but it may help alleviate some symptoms.
4. Add in Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s support the immune system, assist the body in reducing inflammation, and support brain health. Adding in a high-quality supplement that’s been filtered to remove contaminants is key.
Wild-caught salmon, sardines and freshly ground flaxseed are also great sources of Omega-3.
5. Bugleweed for Hyperthyroidism?
This has been traditionally used to treat hyperthyroidism with many individuals reporting benefit. However, there hasn’t been sufficient research conducted to understand if this is an effective treatment for hyperthyroidism.
If you’re considering it, work with a licensed practitioner who is trained in herbal medicine.
6. Glucomannan and Hyperthyroidism
Glucomannan is a dietary fiber that comes from the root of the konjac plant. It is generally taken in capsule or powder form.
In one study it was found that individuals using it did experience lowered thyroid hormones and that it was effective. However, there are not enough studies to understand how effective it is as a standalone treatment.
7. Address Autoimmunity
As I explain in this article on autoimmunity, autoimmune diseases develop when our gut is compromised, we have a genetic predisposition and we experience an event that triggers autoimmunity. Supporting gut healing, detecting and healing any hidden infections, and reducing stress can help get your immune system back under control.
Autoimmune diseases are reversible and remission is completely possible—working with a licensed health care provider can help you achieve this.
The immune system can be brought back into a more favorable state. But keep in mind that once tissue destruction has occurred then it is unlikely that this outcome of the autoimmunity can be reversed, as is the case with joint disfiguration with rheumatoid arthritis.
And remember, the majority of your immune system is housed in your gut.
8. Improve your gut microbiome
Our overall health is intimately connected to our gut!
Autoimmunity has been linked to the microbiome. Supporting your microbiome includes eating a varied diet rich with fiber and prebiotics. For some people, using a probiotic can offer benefits.
Women's Probiotic is the most common probiotic we use in my practice. It’s the only probiotic of its kind that actually produces antioxidants in the digestive tract and survives the pH of the stomach acid.
9. Address adrenal health
Adrenal function and thyroid function are intimately related. When your thyroid is overactive, causing feelings of anxiety and sleeplessness, reducing stress and taking care of your adrenals can make a huge difference.
Aim to create a bedtime routine that helps you unwind at the end of the day and prepare you body for sleep. Some people enjoy reading a book, taking a bath, meditation, or doing some gentle stretching.
If you can’t seem to sleep, consider using a supplement to support the body in lower stress hormones like Adrenal Calm formula (the ultimate chill pill). Adrenal Calm is formulated to help your body keep your catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine) in check and promote a sense of calm.
Some people also benefit from formulas that contain melatonin, like my Sweet Dreams blend.
10. Lemon Balm (Melissa Off)
This herb has long been used in the treatment of hyperthyroidism and is often used in combination with Bugleweed, nutritional therapy, and a low iodine diet. It is most commonly taken in capsule or liquid tincture form.
Lemon Balm is thought to lower TSH levels and anecdotally, people have reported improved symptoms in using it. However, research has not be conducted to fully understand the effects of using this herb to treat hyperthyroidism.
11. Diet For Hyperthyroidism
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for diet, it’s generally agreed that most extremely restrictive diets like keto or vegan aren’t ideal for thyroid health while you’re in a healing phase.
Eat lots of whole foods, especially cruciferous vegetables. You know they’re my favorite for supporting hormone health and they also can help an overactive thyroid by competing with iodine for uptake in the thyroid. But real talk—you’d have to eat a lot of raw cruciferous vegetables so this isn’t a stand alone approach by any means or a replacement for other medical approaches.
Increased consumption of cruciferous veggies is also linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. So let’s all load up on:
- Brussels sprouts
- Bok Choy
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
Women with hyperthyroidism are also more likely to exhibit iron deficiency.
So it makes sense to add in foods that are high in iron to the diet. Aim for eating more:
- Grass-fed beef
- Organic and pasture-raised chicken and turkey
It’s important to note that iron from plant sources may not be absorbed as well. Getting screened for your iron status can help determine your needs.
And check out my article on anemia for an in-depth look at how low iron levels can affect your body.
12. Low Iodine Diet
Before undergoing radioactive iodine treatment, your doctor may recommend a low iodine diet. This is also often recommended for patients who refuse medication, surgery or radioactive iodine therapy.
Until you’re stable, it’s also extremely important to avoid any foods with iodine, like:
- Iodized table salt
- Egg yolks
The American Thyroid Association, has a sample meal plan for patients on a low iodine diet.
Other foods to avoid include:
These foods can be aggravating for some people.
- Caffeine — if you’re already feeling jittery, caffeine can make things worse
- Gluten — even if you don’t have celiac disease, gluten can lead to inflammation in the thyroid
In addition, people with autoimmune thyroid disease have reported benefits from using an Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet for a limited period of time. A recent pilot study showed promise in using this dietary approach with participants experiencing a decrease in inflammation (measured by CRP) and improvement in symptoms. Larger studies are needed to understand the benefits and best practices when using this therapy in autoimmune patients.
Remember, it’s a good idea to meet with a nutrition professional when undertaking dietary changes and to understand what is the best approach for you.
Keep in mind that low iodine can lead to hypothyroidism so balance is key and this is why working with a medical professional can be so beneficial.
Complications Of Hyperthyroidism
It is incredible important to seek treatment from a licensed health care provider if you suspect you have Grave's or hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism And Osteoporosis
Because the thyroid affects bone calcium metabolism, women with thyroid issues are at a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
If you are hyperthyroid, take extra precautions to get sufficient vitamin D, vitamin A, and minerals like magnesium and calcium.
And don’t forget to workout using weight-bearing exercises.
Try things like:
- Weight lifting
Hyperthyroidism And Heart Disease
Hyperthyroidism affects the heart much in the same way it negatively affects bone health.
I’ve mentioned that hyperthyroidism can result in an increased heart rate and palpitations. But the real picture is this — the increased cardiac output can be 50-300% higher than in other people without thyroid disease.
This significantly impacts the heart and can ultimately result in heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and dilated cardiomyopathy.
When left untreated, hyperthyroidism in rare instances can result in what’s known as a thyroid storm.
It is exactly as the name implies — a cluster of extreme symptoms, including high blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. A thyroid storm can be fatal if treatment is not immediately administered. Some patients, particularly the elderly, die from cardiopulmonary failure.
I tell you these things not scare you, but to make you aware that thyroid disease is a very serious condition. And to help give you the confidence to make sure your concerns are taken seriously by your doctor as well. It’s much easier to resolve subclinical thyroid issues before they become full-blown.
You Can Heal Your Thyroid
If you’re experiencing anxiety, racing heartbeat, insomnia, and feeling hot all the time, please get to the doctor and get checked out.
If we’re able to discover thyroid disease in its early stages, it’s much easier to heal.
However, I’ve seen patients recover from even full-blown hyperthyroidism with the treatments I’ve outlined.
Remain hopeful too — a positive outlook and belief in the possibility of healing truly do amazing things for health.
Have questions about your hyperthyroid symptoms, female health or hormones? Head over to this link and sign up for my mailing list. I’ll send you a free hormone balancing starter kit, and then follow it up with weekly education and knowledge that you’ll actually look forward to reading.
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