Thyroid disease – Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) – Part 4 of 5 – Herbal treatment

What is the role of herbal medicine in the treatment of hypothyroid disease?  I spent all afternoon looking into the question.

In searching the traditional medical literature I could find no studies that substantiate herbal therapy.  It is unlikely such research will be performed (and published) due to cost concerns and the lack of an immediate need for herbal therapy.  I do not want to advise using this or that when I find nothing more than anecdotal evidence of efficacy. 

That is not to say God has not granted us an herbal remedy somewhere within the plant kingdom.   Chinese medicine has a long history of treating chronic illnesses with combinations of various plants.  Personally I cannot make sense of the yin and yang and qi, but this does not negate the entire field of Chinese medicine.  In his online article Treatments for Thyroid Diseases with Chinese Herbal Medicine, Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D.  (at: discusses herbal remedies for hyper- and hypothyroidism in some detail, and lists 50 references and a dozen books.  Of note is that some of the treatments include thyroid replacement therapies with thyroxine or animal preparations, and hence are not purely herbal therapies.  Since I have no experience in this field I can offer no advice. 

If my own daughter suffered from hypothyroidism, I would first evaluate her disease with a series of blood tests to understand the extent of the problem (as discussed in Parts 1-3 of this series).  Additionally, I would stock up on levothyroxine while it is yet available, and investigate the nutraceutical sources of bovine and/or porcine thyroid products (see Part 2).  Thirdly, I would learn how to harvest thyroid tissue from butchered pigs and/or cattle as a last resort.  If all these resources are exhausted, I doubt that a ready supply of herbal therapies would be available either. 

For more answers to your thyroid questions, see HYPOTHYROIDISM – Answers for the End of the World.

Copyright © 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

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About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
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13 Responses to Thyroid disease – Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) – Part 4 of 5 – Herbal treatment

  1. michael c says:

    I have not seen anything on hyperthyroidism in your series. Of course, I did not see your “5 of 5” post either.

    My question is about managing a hyperthyroid at TEOTWAWKI. In 2007, I suffered a thyroid storm and I have a hyperthyroid today (changed medical plans and thyroid doctor before any further treatment).

    My present “endo” doctor wants to cut or kill the thyroid. I have a problem with the operation because I think that it will leave a scar on my throat and leave my throat looking like a piece was removed – I am against this course of action. I may not be a candidate for the radioactive iodine either since I have only one working eye (torn and detached retina in the other) and my endo doctor says that the iodine can affect my eye sight (no reply yet from my eye doctor if this is true – he has not had any hyper’s as patients).

    I am currently on 10 mg of Tapazole, my liver is fine (tested by interbak medicine doctor), bones fine (far as I know, don’t drink milk). Heart is a little irregular (cardio doctor says within limits).

    Being hyper, I would like to keep my thyroid because having it removed would leave me worse off (dependent on hormone the rest of my life). I hear that Lemon Balm (in the mint family) should not be used as a substitute for lemon as it decreases thyroid production (bad for hypo types). I can grow it where I live.

    So, the question is – is there any data on how much Lemon Balm cuts thyroid production? How much to use?

    • Some good questions, Michael, and a few answers. For medico-legal reasons, none of this constitutes medical advice.

      1. A thyroidectomy scar is really very minor in the long run. The surgeon would cut along along a skin line and with the passing of time the scar becomes barely noticeable.
      2. If your eye doctor has never seen a hyperthyroid patient, I would get a second opinion from one who has.
      3. Your point regarding dependence on thyroid medication is a good one. Some surgeons do not remove the entire thyroid, although that is the standard of care. A partial thyroidectomy may yield adequate thyroid hormone production (or too much, or too little). In any event, Grave’s disease often “burns out” eventually, and patients can become hypothyroid even if their thyroid gland is not removed or irradiated. Any hyperthyroid patient also needs to understand hypothyroid disease, as this is likely in their future.
      4. Thyroid storm is very serious and can be fatal. Tapazole may not be available after TEOTWAWKI, whereas thyroid replacement for hypothyroidism will be.
      5. If you think TEOTWAWKI is around the corner, I would advise some sort of definite treatment now, most likely subtotal thyroidectomy. Who would do it later if you needed it?
      6. I cannot find a source regarding Lemon Balm and thyroid treatment. Sorry.

      I hope you find this helpful. Additional comments from our professionals are welcome.

      • michael c says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        On #1 – Do you mean the whole scar or just the cut line? I worry about the loss of the thyroid “mass” on my neck – it’s skrawny enough. I also worry about the ajoining parts like larynx, vocal chords, aorta and jugular.

        [I’ve seen at least several dozen patients who’ve had their thyroid removed, and never have seen an indent or odd appearance. Certainly nearby structures need to be protected, but injury is quite uncommon. Rarely the parathyroids are difficult to find and are removed by accident. – Doc Cindy]

        On #2 – I’ll wait for his report. I should get a first opinion, first. Not many eye doctors have hyperthyroid patients. Most people who are “diagnosed” with a hyperthyroid get it “canceled” within months. (How many “one-eyed hyperthyroid patients” have you seen in your whole life?) On the other hand, my doctor has 65% hypo-thyroids with eye problems stemming from lack of thyroid hormone.

        [I don’t know where you live, but in a good-size town, I would expect most ophthalmologists have seen at least a few hyperthyroid patients. – Doc Cindy]

        On #3 – “Grave’s disease often burns out eventually”, is there a general time line for that? (I’m over 51 now so, I may be holding out better than the average person)

        [In the patients I’ve seen, this takes years. Most common scenario I’ve seen is where a patient has been treated, say with tapazole, and after a year to several years of treatment, no longer needs the drug. Then several years later, hypothyroidism develops. – Doc Cindy]

        On #5 – I’m sure it’s here now, we just have not seen the main course. I still have a few months to figure my options.

        On #6 – That’s ok, it sounds like you did not find any bad information (countra-indications) on Lemon Balm either.

  2. Mike M. says:

    Let me start by expressing my gratitude for all of your hard work. You have been an amazing help! I was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Hypo. I have read a few articles that say Iodine therapy could help 1 in 3 people completely stop taking levothyroxine. I then read conflicting articles that say NOT to take supplemental iodine because it could make the conditions worse. Could you please dispel the myths for us. Could painting the inside of your arm with iodine on a daily basis give you sufficient iodine for this type of therapy?? Thanks so much!

    [I’ll have to research the literature on this. Taking supplemental iodine is not standard therapy. Look for a future post on the topic. – Doc Cindy]

  3. Peggy R. says:

    What to do for those without a thyroid in event of no medicine. Let me know.

  4. Katy says:

    Thank you, Doctor, for your series on hypothyroidism. I have taken Levothyroxine for 17 years for Hashimoto’s. In the past year, blood work revealed that the Levothyroxine (T4) was not successfully converting into the useable T3, leaving me more symptomatic than ever. Some doctors, at this point, will prescribe T3 alone (Cytomel), but my doctor preferred to switch me to desiccated thyroid, which contains T4 and T3. Because my insurance will not cover desiccated thyroid, I’ve continued to fill my Levothyroxine script every month for the 5 months left on my doc’s refill order, to save as a stockpile. Insurance does cover it, but even if it did not, Levothyroxine is quite cheap. I would not hesitate to ask my doc for a 12 month script, and just fill the whole thing at once on my own dime. In addition, I found a reputable source (through a thyroid message board) for the Mexican equivalent of Cytomel, called Cynomel. It is available from Mexico without a prescription. I ordered 500 capsules and received them without difficulty through the mail within 2 weeks of ordering. If I was unable to continue to get desiccated thyroid, I could combine my Levothyroxine with the Cynomel to achieve the synthetic version of the natural desiccated, in the exact same proportions as I currently receive in desiccated form. Thyroid message boards also often refer to the fact that American doctors are sometimes willing to write an RX for Canadian thyroid, which goes by the brand name Erfa, and is understood to be equivalent to Armour thyroid before the recent badly-received reformulation. A review of Canadian online pharmacies will show that they sell orders of 500 pills or more at a time. The American doc writes an RX, including the amount “500,” and it is faxed to the pharmacy with the rest of the ordering info. Once my doctor feels satisfied that I am getting good results with desiccated thyroid (currently ordered through a compounding pharmacy he trusts), I am going to ask him to write a script for me to order from Canada. Again, insurance covers none of this, but the Canadian desiccated thyroid is MUCH cheaper than what I am currently taking, and there are essentially no limits on the quantity one may order with a doctor’s RX.

    Hope this info might be of some use to thyroid patients reading here! There are ways to create a stockpile for some months, if not years, and having one would certainly eliminate that particular stress in a catastrophic scenario!

    • Thanks for the info, Katy. Obtaining medications from another country continues to be a sticky question, though here on America’s “North Coast” I’ve certainly had several patients who’ ve obtained prescriptions from Canada. This remains a serious problem that health reform has not addressed. Again, if doctors seriously thought the world was coming to an end (for most of us), we’d be encouraging all of our patients to stockpile medication. Of course, in certain circumstances doctors do write long-term prescriptions, such as for missionaries and others leaving the country for extended periods.

      In researching Cynomel online I find several references to use of this medication along with anabolic steroids which I DO NOT RECOMMEND. Thyroid medication has long been abused by those interested in weight loss, but serious side effects such as heart rhythm disturbances can result.

      The goal of this web site is to help people take care of themselves when no doctor is available, not to sidestep or outwit today’s medical establishment. Educate yourself now to take care of yourself in the event of some terrible disaster, and do what it takes to be prepared. Then pray that society does not collapse in our lifetime.

  5. Pete says:

    “When the system collapses there simply won’t be enough time to begin raising a stable of cows, pigs etc….in order to harvest the necessary element we require to ingest. Furthermore, as a collapse ensues, civil unrest and the hoarding of all livestock will permeate for some time limitng the ability of the average person to gain access to these animals in order to kill them simply for their thyroid.” Robert, as I noted in one of my columns for Dr. Koelker, medical preppers run into problems like yours all the time. Thanks to existing laws and regulations, which are geared toward preservation of intellectual property (patents, manufacturing rights, etc.) and market position, rather than assuring widespread availability of necessary medicines, sufferers of specific illnesses are backed into a corner concerning planning for the future interruptions in availability.
    I strongly urge you to make this state of affairs known to your elected representatives and also consider writing the companies which make the drugs you use. If they get enough such letters and sense an undeveloped market, they’ll start lobbying for changes in the laws. You can also petition for legal permission to stockpile your meds from off-shore sources. I don’t know how this would be done, but consult with someone from the customs service or perhaps an attorney.They deal with these sorts of questions. These aren’t the most optimal solutions, but one has to start somewhere.

  6. Rick says:

    Robert and all – I live in the US and suffer from this as well. What I’ve done is two-fold – 1. Spoken to my doctor about increasing my dosage quantity to 90 days in case of a systems failure – which he granted and,
    2. Ordered an additional prescription for 90 days from a pharmacy in Canada. I did provide my doctor’s name and #, but nothing else. Cost: $18/100 tabs.

    This in essence has given me at least 6 months worth of treatment, but really more as I have stockpiled more than 6 months worth already and plan to take it (in a Post-TEOTWAWKI) every other day. This will essentially increase the stock I have on hand. Further, I plan to continue to stockpile these meds until I feel like I have sufficient quantities – which may be never in our case, but I have to believe that either society will return to a better time or the Lord will return. It’s that simple. You’re never going to have enough of ANYTHING to fully survive for the long term, so get straight with God.

    • Doc Cindy says:

      Another option is this:

      Discuss the situation openly with your doctor. Doctors are permitted to write “Take as directed” on prescriptions. Also, on certain drugs which are taken in variable doses, doctors commonly write “prn” or “as needed” anyway.

      When insurance is concerned, however, they want to know the exact dose, which is related to payment. Your insurer has a contract that only covers your health care for a set period of time (which does not include the next decade nor TEOTWAWKI).

      On drugs you are purchasing with your own money, you and your doctor have more leeway. Regarding Synthroid, you might want to request that your doctor prescribe twice the strength that you actually need, say 0.2 or 0.3 mg instead of 0.1 or 0.15 mg. The pill can be split and taken half at a time, to achieve the desired dose. Your physician can write “Take as directed” on the prescription, discussing the specific directions with you personally. Your doctor does not need to lie about this, which I do not advocate. In this way you could stockpile a year of therapy per year of medicine prescribed.

      Hypothyroidism is not an all-or-none issue. Even those with no functioning thyroid gland will do better with some replacement therapy than none, even if their TSH isn’t perfectly normalized. Without available lab tests, doctors could not monitor thyroid hormone levels anyway.

  7. Robert says:

    Thanks for the series Cynthia. It was a commendable effort at least. As I have already come to accept, many like myself simply don’t have the time (left) to adequately research the necessary alternatives (that is to say that there are any) and are therefore doomed without a serious stockpile of Synthroid.

    When the system collapses there simply won’t be enough time to begin raising a stable of cows, pigs etc….in order to harvest the necessary element we require to ingest. Furthermore, as a collapse ensues, civil unrest and the hoarding of all livestock will permeate for some time limitng the ability of the avergae person to gain access to these animals in order to kill them simply for their thyroid. It is a wonderful thought that it would be that easy, but alas, it will not be.

    I suppose my last question to you will be this. I am in Canada so you may not know the laws here, but, in the United States, are you able to simply purchase large quantities of Synthroid at your discretion? Or, do you require a doctors note? Just wondering if you can at least provide the steps to take for us to approach this stockpiling in an appropriate way.

    Thanks Cynthia.

    • Tina says:


      I can help here, a bit. I work at a health food store with a natural pharmacy next door. One of our workers had a thyroid problem, and there was a shortage in Synthroid. She went to our natural doc next door, and he fixed her up with something very helpful and appropriate. I don’t know what it was, but you can probably check w/ a natural compounding pharmacy (like ours) and find out what’s available. It’s out there.

      [From Doc Cindy – the only thing likely to work is nutraceutical-grade dessicated animal thyroid product, either bovine or porcine, which is available over the counter, though hormonal activity may be difficult to predict. I discuss this in my Self-Study course on Hypothyroidism (see

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