Hyperthyroidism during Pregnancy or Lactation: Which Supplements Are Safe To Take?

Published June 6 2012

Although many women with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease who are pregnant or breastfeeding take antithyroid medication to manage the symptoms, some women are interested in taking a natural approach.  And while a natural treatment protocol involves more than just taking supplements, taking certain nutritional supplements and herbs can be an important component for anyone looking to restore their health back to normal.  However, during pregnancy and lactation one needs to be more cautious when taking certain supplements, and especially when taking herbs.

Before I discuss some of the supplements and herbs which should and shouldn’t be taken during pregnancy and lactation, it’s important to remember that lifestyle factors are equally important when following a natural treatment protocol.  As a result, one needs to eat well, ideally eating mostly whole foods and drinking purified water, while minimizing your consumption of refined foods and sugars.  Managing your stress is extremely important, as is getting sufficient sleep.  You also want to keep in mind the impact that environmental toxins can have on your body as well.  So there are numerous factors which can affect the health of you and your baby while pregnant or lactating.

Managing The Symptoms Of Hyperthyroidism During Pregnancy and Lactating

When a woman with hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease is pregnant or breastfeeding, it is extremely important to manage the hyperthyroid symptoms.  Actually, regardless of the situation it’s very important to manage these symptoms.  But one can argue that it’s even more important when a woman is pregnant, because not managing the symptoms won’t only affect her health, but will also affect the health of her baby.  The same is true to some extent to a woman who is breastfeeding, although unmanaged hyperthyroidism is much riskier for the developing fetus.

When it comes to managing the hyperthyroid symptoms naturally during pregnancy and lactation, this can present a challenge.  Certain herbs which can normally be taken when one has hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease should be avoided when a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding.  For example, Bugleweed is one of the main herbs I recommend to many of my patients to manage the symptoms of hyperthyroidism.  However, Bugleweed is contraindicated during both pregnancy and lactation.  Motherwort is another herb I commonly recommend, and while this herb is usually okay to take in small dosages when breastfeeding, it is probably a good idea not to take it when one is pregnant.  The same thing goes for Lemon Balm.  So while there are a few more herbal options when one is breastfeeding (although one really shouldn’t take these herbs unless under the guidance of a competent natural healthcare professional), someone who is pregnant can’t take these herbs to manage the symptoms.

Does this mean that taking antithyroid medication is the only way to manage the hyperthyroid symptoms in pregnant women?  Well, I will admit that this usually is the most effective method of managing the hyperthyroid symptoms.  There are of course risks of taking the medication while pregnant, especially during the first trimester.  On the other hand, there is also a big risk in not managing the symptoms.  I’m obviously not a huge fan of taking prescription drugs, but I also realize there is a time and place to take them.  If a woman is looking to avoid the prescription drugs during pregnancy, one of the supplements I will recommend is something called “Cruciferous Complete”, which is a whole food supplement by the company Standard Process that contains some of the cruciferous foods, which are goitrogenic.  This means they can inhibit thyroid activity.  I will give a higher dosage than is recommended, which can help with the hyperthyroid symptoms.  However, it will take some time for this to happen.

One can of course also consume plenty of raw cruciferous vegetables, which also will help to inhibit thyroid activity.  One can also do both, as they can take the “Cruciferous Complete” supplement, and also eat a lot of raw goitrogenic foods.  I usually don’t take this approach with my non-pregnant patients who have hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease, as this isn’t curing the hyperthyroid condition, but is only helping to manage the symptoms.

Which Supplements and Herbs Are Safe To Take During Pregnancy & Lactation?

There are herbs which are contraindicated during pregnancy and lactation, and then there are those herbs which aren’t contraindicated, but are “iffy”, meaning one isn’t sure whether they do any harm.  Then there are the “safe” herbs, which are the ones I stick with during pregnancy and lactation.  Here is a list of some of the herbs that are usually safe while pregnant or breastfeeding.  Once again, I would advise anyone to first consult with a qualified healthcare professional before taking any of these herbs on their own:

  • Echinacea
  • Ashwaganda
  • Licorice
  • Gymnema
  • Chaste Tree

Even though these herbs have been taking safely by many women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, I’m still pretty cautious when it comes to recommending herbs to my pregnant and lactating patients, and will try to stick with whole food supplements if at all possible.  But there are times when I will recommend the herbs.

With regards to the vitamins and minerals I recommend, this of course varies depending on the patient.  The following are some of the more common vitamins and minerals pregnant and lactating women are deficient in:

  • B complex vitamins (not just folic acid)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Chromium
  • Selenium
  • Iodine (a controversial one, and one you need to be careful with)

Not every woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding is deficient in the above vitamins and minerals.  And of course they can have other mineral or vitamin deficiencies as well.  This is why it’s important to test to see which deficiencies one has, and this also will give the healthcare provider a good idea as to what dosage is necessary to correct this deficiency.  For example, even though the “normal” reference range of vitamin D is between 30 and 100 ng/mL, the Vitamin D Council suggests that these levels should actually be at least 50 ng/mL.  So if someone has a level of 35, then this person will require a lower dosage of vitamin D3 when compared to someone who has a level of 20.  And since vitamin D is fat soluble one doesn’t want to take too high of a dosage, especially when pregnant.

Is Taking A Prenatal Vitamin Sufficient?

Many women who are pregnant take a prenatal vitamin, and many continue taking this while breastfeeding.  I think it’s great for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding to take a good quality prenatal vitamin.  However, if someone has moderate to severe vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies, then taking a prenatal vitamin probably won’t be enough to correct these.  Ideally it would be great to get any deficiencies corrected before one is pregnant.  But for those who are already pregnant or breastfeeding, it still might be necessary to take some additional vitamins and/or minerals to correct any deficiencies.

In summary, any woman with a hyperthyroid condition who is pregnant or lactating needs to be cautious about any supplements or herbs they take.  Most of the herbs typically used for symptom management (Bugleweed, Motherwort, and Lemon Balm) should be avoided.  And one even needs to be cautious when taking the “safe” herbs.  As for taking certain vitamins and minerals, just about every woman can benefit from taking a prenatal vitamin, but most will also need to take additional vitamins and/or minerals to address any deficiencies.