Thyroid Awareness Month: Treating Thyroid Nodules with Natural Extracts
January is Thyroid Awareness Month and aims to bring awareness to thyroid disorders by supporting and educating both the public and medical community by promoting the prevention, treatment, and cure of thyroid-related diseases and thyroid cancer. According to the American Thyroid Association, 1 in 10 people suffer from a thyroid disorder. They also found that at least 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime (1).
The thyroid gland is a small organ located in the front of the neck. It is shaped like a butterfly, narrow in the middle with two wider ‘wings’ on either side that extend around the side of the throat. The thyroid makes hormones that help control vital bodily functions. The thyroid is in charge of releasing and controlling thyroid hormones that control metabolism – a process where the food we eat is transformed into energy (2).
The thyroid gland controls our metabolism with several hormones – T3 (triiodothyronine), T4 (thyroxine), and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). T3 and T4 are created by the thyroid and tell the body’s cells how much energy to use. If everything is working properly, the thyroid will maintain the correct amount of hormones, thus keeping our metabolism working correctly. This whole process is supervised by the pituitary gland, which monitors and controls the amount of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream. When the pituitary gland senses too many or too few hormones in your body, it will adjust the amounts with its own hormone, TSH (2).
Two of the most common thyroid conditions are hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid produces too much of its own hormone. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, affecting about 70 percent of people with an overactive thyroid (3). Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid cannot produce enough of its own hormone. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which affects about 14 million Americans (3).
Another common thyroid disorder is a growth that occurs on the thyroid called thyroid nodules. According to Healthline, around 1 percent of men and 5 percent of women “living in iodine-sufficient countries have thyroid nodules that are large enough to feel.” However, about 50 percent of people “will have nodules that are too tiny to feel.” Most thyroid nodules are benign, but a small percentage of cases they are cancerous (3).
Treatments for thyroid disorders vary and depend on the type of disorder. Hyperthyroidism treatment options can include anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, beta blocker drugs, and surgery. The main treatment option for hypothyroidism is thyroid replacement medication (4). Thyroid nodules do not often require treatment because they do not cause symptoms. However, ones that grow large enough can cause swelling in the neck, leading to difficulties breathing, swallowing, pain, and goiter (noncancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland) (3). Some treatment strategies, beyond surgery, include, radiofrequency ablation, alcohol injection, high intensity-focused ultrasound, or laser ablation (5).
Because benign thyroid nodules are one of the most common endocrine disorders (5), Stancioiu et al. (2019) chose to study a non-invasive therapy option, and to the best of their knowledge, is “the first results of a non-invasive therapy for benign thyroid nodules (5).” They assessed the efficacy and safety of a supplement containing a combination of spirulina, curcumin and Boswellia in patients with benign thyroid nodules, whose thyroids were functioning normally (5).
A total of 34 patients, 29 women and 5 men, completed the 3 month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, and were initially given either placebo (P) or active ingredients (AI) – a combination of spirulina, curcumin and Boswellia extracts (400-50-50 mg/capsule). Spirulina is a biomass of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). The three species are Arthrospira platensis, A. fusiformis, and A. maxima., the most common being Arthrospira platensis. It grows naturally in freshwater and saltwater on all continents and in most climates.Curcumin is a natural extract from the roots of Curcuma longa, the principal curcuminoid of turmeric, and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for various ailments. “It is a potent anti-inflammatory substance with pleiotropic actions, including antioxidant and metabolic modulation (5).” Boswellia is a genus of trees and shrubs native to tropical regions of Africa and Asia.According to Stancioiu et al. (2019), it is also a “potent anti-inflammatory molecule, which blocks the NFkB pathway and modulates the activity of regulatory and effector T cells (5).”
During the study, there were three visits for each patient (5):
1. Visit 1 (V1) - Initial visit at enrollment
---- During this visit, half of the patients, selected at random, received P and half received AI
2. Visit 2 (V2) - Intermediary visit (6 weeks post-administration of either placebo or active ingredients)
---- During this visit, the 17 patients previously on P received AI, 12 (randomly selected) of the 17 patients previously on AI received P, and the remaining 5 patients continued to receive AI
3. Visit 3 (V3) - Final visit (after another 6 weeks of either placebo or active ingredients)
---- During this visit, 17 patients received the sequence P-AI, 12 received AI-P, and 5 had AI-AI
During each visit, patients were tested for plasma TSH, fT4 and copper (Cu) levels and a thyroid ultrasound was performed by an endocrinologist to evaluate the size of the thyroid nodules. The nodule images and dimensions were printed and compared.
Results showed that of 34 patients who completed the study, the majority of patients had decreases in thyroid nodule size. They found that “29 patients (85.29%) had decreases in the areas of thyroid nodules of 5% or more” and “22 patients (64.7%) had decreases of 10% or more of the thyroid nodule area,” suggesting that the combination of spirulina-curcumin-Boswellia is effective in reducing the size of benign thyroid nodules (5).
The full study can be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6691239/
(1) January is Thyroid Awareness Month. (January 16, 2016). American Thyroid Association. https://www.thyroid.org/january-thyroid-awareness/
(2) Thyroid Disease: Overview. (2021). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8541-thyroid-disease
(3) 6 Common Thyroid Disorders & Problems. (August 30, 2018). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/common-thyroid-disorders
(4) Thyroid Disease: Management and Treatment. (2021). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8541-thyroid-disease/management-and-treatment
(5) Stancioiu, F., Mihai, D., Papadakis, G. Z., Tsatsakis, A., Spandidos, D. A., & Badiu, C. (2019). Treatment for benign thyroid nodules with a combination of natural extracts. Molecular medicine reports, 20(3), 2332–2338. https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2019.10453