Hypothyroidism and Chinese medicine

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The list of symptoms associated with hypothyroidism is long and vague. It can include things such as tiredness, weight gain or difficulty loosing weight, thinning, coarse or dry hair and skin, muscle aches and sore joints, bloating after meals, decreased libido, memory loss, irritability, sensitivity to cold – the list could go on. Additionally, if you have a relatively mild under-active thyroid you may not be experiencing more than a couple of these symptoms if any at all. Because the symptoms of an under-active thyroid can be so many other things including just the symptoms of our modern, over-stressed life, it is easy to understand how a hypothyroid condition slips through the cracks.

This can often lead to years of living hell for those with hypothyroidism, however, once you have obtained a diagnosis of hypothyroidism from your GP, the chances are you will be prescribed medication – and for good reason: your thyroid function is essential for many processes in your body, including the stimulation of the heart muscle, the use of cholesterol and nutrients along with the maintenance of brain function. Ignoring an under-active thyroid can have serious consequences.

Whilst taking the prescribed medicine from your GP may be necessary in order to being somewhere close to living again, consider that the medication will not rectify the reason your thyroid got out of balance in the first place and in the long term may not work so well – this is where Chinese medicine can play it’s part. So long as you still have some thyroid function left, Chinese medicine may be able to help you avoid the long-term use of thyroid medication whilst also addressing the other issues that go along with hypothyroidism including high lipid counts, insulin resistance and possible infertility issues.

How might Chinese medicine help you?

First and foremost is diet. Good digestion is paramount to a healthy body in Chinese medicine, and it would seem that the science of Western medicine agrees with this – did you know that much of the conversion of T4 to T3 takes place in your gut and if your gut is not functioning properly this process will be hindered? Chinese dietary therapy suggests foods to tonify the Spleen and nourish the Kidneys – it is important to avoid most dairy, cold and raw foods, along with eliminating fried food and refined sugars. Tailoring a Chinese medicine dietary plan is done for each individual as everyone is different – but remember to cook your food with warming herbs and spices such as pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic and ginger. Use your slow cooker during winter or make a Moroccan-style stew with lamb, sweet potatoe and spices.
Next is acupuncture. At the risk of reducing acupuncture into simple terms, acupuncture essentially reduces pain, reduces inflammation and helps restore balance (homeostasis) to the body. It is interesting to note that most people suffering hypothyroidism (or for that matter any chronic dis-ease) experience pain, have long-standing, systemic inflammation and have endocrine systems that are entirely out of balance. Depending on your individual pattern of disharmony according to Chinese medicine, I will design an acupuncture point prescription for you so your body can begin repairing itself.

Then we have exercise. Likely if you have an under-active thyroid the last thing you want to do is anything at all. It’s important to move – start by walking on the grass with bare feet. Do a lap of your garden. Park your car at the back of the parking lot and walk a little extra. The little things count to start – it doesn’t matter how fast you move, so long as you move forward. Remember to breath, start with taking some deep breaths into your belly in the morning, at lunch and before bed. When you are ready, seek out somewhere to do Yoga or Tai Chi.

Finally, supplementation and/or herbs. This is different for every person, but a necessary part of your treatment plan that I will discuss with you.

Although you will certainly begin to feel much better, the proof that your body is healing your thyroid will be in black and white – and by that I mean blood tests. Because your thyroid function is critical to your health I like to work with your GP and I will request copies of your blood tests regularly as your GP requests them done. Remember that Chinese medicine has a real effect on your endocrine system and as such, your GP will need to monitor your medications if you are taking any, and reduce accordingly.

Chinese medicine truly can give you hope – there is a passage in a 2,000 year old classic Chinese medicine text that reads:

“Where the five yin and six yang organs are diseased, it is like there is a thorn, a piece of dirt, a knot, or a blockage. Although the thorn may be longstanding, it can be removed. Although the dirt may be longstanding, it can be wiped away. Although the knot may be longstanding it can be untied. Although the blockage may be longstanding, it can be opened up. [Those who] say that old diseases cannot be taken up speak wrongly. Those [who] use needles should look for the cause of disease. Then the thorn can be removed, the dirt wiped clean, the knot untied, and the blockage opened up. Even though a disease is longstanding, it can be stopped. – Inner Classic, Divine Pivot, Chapter 1.”

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