The thyroid gland is one of the largest organs in the endocrine system, the system responsible for producing hormones that promote regular bodily functions. Thyroid hormones help regulate your blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and body temperature. As one of the most important endocrine glands, it is also prone to a number of problems, which often affects non-endocrine functions as well.

Two of the most common thyroid disorders are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. As the names suggest, they occur when the thyroid produces too little or too much of its hormones. To function properly, the thyroid needs a steady does of iodine, a mineral found in seafood, beans, eggs, and rice. The nearby pituitary gland stimulates it to produce these hormones, so problems between the two glands are often linked. Common symptoms of thyroid disease are chronic fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, dry skin, memory loss, constipation, cramps, and depression.

Synthetic hormones are commonly prescribed to help control hypothyroidism, administered daily. However, this often results in an oversupply of the hormone, transforming the problem into hyperthyroidism. Other people simply do not respond to the treatment because their bodies don’t produce enough of the enzyme needed to convert the hormone into a usable form.

In such cases, doctors often resort to natural thyroid treatment. Some have even made it a practice to use natural treatments right away as they find synthetic hormones too hit-or-miss to be practical. The most common natural product is a T3 and T4 hormone combination obtained from cows. There’s some debate as to the safety of this process, however, as studies suggest they may contain harmful viruses.

Herbal products can also be used as natural thyroid treatment. Several plant extracts have been found to help regulate thyroid function and have been used in over-the-counter products, although not all are FDA-approved. Kelp, a rich source of iodine, is one of the most common. It is often mixed with a wild oat plant extract known as avena sativa, a popular tonic and restorative, to reduce some of the symptoms (although it’s not known to address the problem itself).

There’s still little research supporting the efficacy of natural thyroid treatments, so the jury is still out on whether they work or not. This is why many doctors are reluctant to recommend them. If you’re not sure about a particular treatment, bring it up with your doctor and ask if it’s safe to use, or better yet, have them recommend a product themselves.

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