The Thyroid Gland

This post is copied from our older, original blog. Original post date 03/30/2013. 

By Marcie Bower, Lic.Ac.

The thyroid gland is the largest endocrine gland in the body. When functioning optimally, this butterfly-shaped gland in the neck secretes just the right amount of thyroid hormone to regulate most metabolic processes in the body. Thyroid hormones control how quickly the body uses energy, the production of proteins, blood calcium levels, and how sensitive the body is to other hormones. Even slight changes in thyroid hormone levels can cause drastic changes to energy, weight, and mental functioning.

Problems with the thyroid gland are either related to the overproduction of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or underproduction (hypothyroidism). Symptoms of either disorder vary greatly but may include:

Hyperthyroidism:

  • Unexplained weight loss, difficultly gaining weight
  • Increased heart rate, heart palpitations, higher blood pressure
  • Loose stools or diarrhea
  • Feelings of anxiety and nervousness
  • Muscle weakness, trembling hands
  • Development of a goiter (an enlargement in your neck)
  • Lighter or shorter menstrual periods

Hypothyroidism:

  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Depression, difficultly concentrating, feeling mentally sluggish
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Increased sensitivity to cold, feeling cold
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands, cold hands
  • Development of a goiter (an enlargement in your neck)
  • Constipation
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Dry skin and hair

Western medical treatments for thyroid disorders involve medication and sometimes surgery. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine can be a very useful complementary therapy for thyroid issues, and under the guidance of your doctor, can reduce the chance of surgery or the necessary dose of medication. Acupuncture and herbs can easily treat subclinical thyroid hormone changes and can sometimes get the body back on track before medication is necessary.

Chinese Herbs have been used to treat goiter (enlargement of the neck in severe cases of thyroid imbalance) for centuries. Some of the common herbs used for this condition include certain kinds of kelps, shells, and seaweeds that have medicinal properties of reducing the goiter directly. Other herbs are added to the herbal formula to address whatever the underlying imbalance is that caused the goiter in the first place.

From an acupuncture perspective, we tend to understand thyroid disorders to be an imbalance in the yang energy of the body. The yang energy (represented by the white part of the yin/yang symbol) represents the hot, active, expansive, fiery parts of ourselves. (The yin, in contrast, is the cool, watery, passive, inward-moving parts of ourselves.) Hyperthyroidism is a revving up of the system – this is understood to be an excess of yang energy, or yang energy that is not anchored or balanced the way it should be. Hypothyroid, on the other hand, is a manifestation of a weakness in the yang energy – causing cold, a slowing down of the body’s systems, and an increase in the passive energy and passive responses. Acupuncture and Herbs help to either nourish the yang energy (for hypothyroid) or sedate the yang energy (for hyperthyroid).

Acupuncture and herbal treatment for hyperthyroid or hypothyroid also focuses on restoring balance to the body’s hormonal, metabolic, and psychological systems. Treatment will likely be different for each individual based on how symptoms of the disorder are manifesting for them at that time. The acupuncture can focus on alleviating problems with sleep, mood, digestion, menstrual cycles, temperature regulation, heart-rate, and energy levels, depending on what is most problematic. There are also certain points in the ear that regulate hormone levels directly, so treatment can focus on both the root cause and the manifestations simultaneously.

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