By Hayley Stobbs R.Ac, CNC
What is Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism?
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are metabolic endocrine disorders that are diagnosed based on lab results of either high (hypothyroid) or low (hyperthyroid) levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or autoimmune hypothyroidism, is a common cause of hypothyroidism, and Grave’s autoimmune disorder of hyperthyroidism. The diagnoses of autoimmune thyroid disorders are confirmed through out of range TSH, free T4, free T3, positive lab results of thyroid antibodies, and physical examination. Underlying causes of thyroid disease include heredity, stress, chronic illness, nutrition imbalance, and environmental factors.
As you can see from the common signs and symptoms below, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism present as opposites. From a Chinese medicine perspective hypothyroidism is primarily a yin dominant condition, while hyperthyroidism is predominantly yang.
Yin and yang are motive forces that embody the philosophical language within Chinese medicine. To learn more please read Yin & Yang Explained by Your Acupuncturist.
Common signs and symptoms:
- Cold intolerance
- Muscle and joint aching
- Hair loss, especially lateral 1/3 of eyebrows
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Absence of sweating
- Irregular menstruation
- Heat sensations
- Unable to ‘turn off’, restlessness, increased activity
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Exopthalmos (bulging eyes)
How Chinese Medicine Can Help
Chinese medicine regulates thyroid health by balancing the body’s complimentary yet oppositional energies of yin and yang while regulating meridian qi flow and vital organ systems so that one’s innate ability to heal strengthens. Acupuncture works physiologically through regulating the nervous and endocrine systems.
To facilitate this healing a patient’s whole health state is taken into account, looking at potential causes, diet, lifestyle, signs, and symptoms. An assessment also involves observation, palpation, and tongue and pulse analysis, which give clues towards a Chinese medicine pattern diagnosis and treatment plan that addresses the patient’s goals. Acupuncture for thyroid health is often implemented alongside nutrition therapy, lifestyle guidance, and western medicine pharmaceuticals or botanical medicine.
Acupuncture for Hypothyroidism
According to Chinese medicine, hypothyroidism is related to yang deficiency involving the spleen and/or kidney. Spleen qi deficiency, which presents as subclinical hypothyroidism, precedes a decline in yang energy. The first signs of spleen qi deficiency may include persistent fatigue, food sensitivities, bloating, heavy limbs, and tiredness after eating. Next, spleen yang deficiency as characteristic of clinical hypothyroidism can set in. As this progresses it may affect kidney yang. We also look at whether spleen deficiency causes or is caused by liver qi stagnation, as the liver’s patency is crucial for movement and flow of energy, emotions, and nutrients throughout the body.
Yang is a warming energy that stokes metabolic fire, transforms food into nutrients, regulates water metabolism, defends from pathogens, and keeps physical and mental energy levels regulated throughout the day.
Hypothyroidism treatment involves acupuncture and moxa for warming and tonifying spleen and kidney yang. Diet therapy focuses on replenishing deficiencies of qi, blood, yang, and essence, and lifestyle recommendations include stress reduction and gentle movement. To explore yang restorative food and lifestyle recommendations, please read Yin & Yang Explained by Your Acupuncturist.
Acupuncture for Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is commonly related to the Chinese medicine patterns of heart and liver yin deficiency, phlegm accumulation, and liver qi stagnation leading to fire. Yin is a cooling energy that nourishes, restores, and relaxes the body-mind. When it is deficient the body can feel hyperactive, hot, and restless, as yang increases and is unable to be subdued by yin. Yin depletion may develop due to ‘running on empty’, pushing through, over-doing, and being on the go consistently. It can also set in due to chronic illness or constitution deficiency. When the cooling nature of yin declines one begins to burn and dry up, leading to the borrowing of nourishing resources that can’t be replenished.
Thyroid Goiters and Nodules
When body systems and emotions aren’t flowing or detoxing properly acupuncturists look at liver qi stagnation. Liver qi stagnation can interfere with proper metabolism of the body fluid and leads to phlegm accumulation. As qi stagnation combines with heat and phlegm accumulation in the neck region, goiters can form. Chronic qi stagnation and phlegm accumulation will cause blood stasis, manifesting as hard nodular goiters.
Hyperthyroidism treatment includes choosing acupuncture points to facilitate movement of qi, invigorate blood, to nourish yin, transform phlegm, and to soften hard masses. Diet and lifestyle recommendations focus on foods that move liver qi, nourish yin, and drain fire. For yin nourishing recommendations, please read my post here.
The complex link between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
One of the laws of energy within Chinese medicine is that of inter-transformation, for example hypothyroidism transforming into hyperthyroidism, and vice versa. This is not uncommon to see in progressive stages of thyroid disease and often indicates a liver and gallbladder imbalance of an inability to soothe and regulate the flow of qi.
“One extreme turns to the opposite.” – Lao Tzu
The Throat Chakra and Thyroid Health
The thyroid is located within the throat chakra, one of seven distinct energy centers within the body that resonates with specific mind-body attributes. If you are experiencing difficulty with any of the resonances below, this may have an impact on thyroid health.
Throat Chakra (5th) resonances: Expression, communication, positivity, freedom, judgement centre, self expression without judgement, “what we perceive in another is a reflection of ourselves”. Body part: pineal gland, right eye, higher brain.
Blue Foods for throat chakra nourishment: Blueberry, grape, blue potato, blue-green algae, and hemp hearts.
Mineral Rich Foods to Nourish Thyroid Health
Iodine rich foods for hypothyroidism (not advised for autoimmune hypothyroidism) from highest to lowest source per serving: sea vegetables, scallops, cod, grass fed yogurt, shrimp, egg, sardines, tuna, strawberries, and cranberries.
Selenium rich foods for thyroid health (from highest to lowest per serving): oyster, lamb liver, tuna, chicken liver, turkey liver, shrimp, chicken (dark meat), clam, crab, beef liver, sardine, coho salmon, brasil nuts, lobster, snapper, ling cod, herring, halibut, turkey, sablefish, pork chop, haddock, bison, ground pork, scallops, ground bison, ground lamb, brown rice, crimini mushroom, egg, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, buckwheat, garlic, cabbage, and spinach.
Zinc rich foods for thyroid health: oyster, crab, lamb liver, beef, bison, venison, goat, lobster, chicken liver, hemp hearts, sesame seed, pumpkin seed, lentils, clams, turkey liver.
Acupuncture Points and Treatment Frequency
For both conditions, hormone balancing ear points, points on meridians that run through the thyroid area, and on areas of the body that image or mirror the thyroid are considered. Both local and distal points may be used. For example, the Mei Zen neck protocol is especially helpful for thyroid disorders when combined with body points that address one’s Chinese medicine pattern.
To balance thyroid health one acupuncture treatment per week, for approximately 10 sessions, or until symptoms reside, is required. From here one treatment every 2 – 4 weeks is recommended for prevention and maintenance.
I’d be happy to guide you along! Please visit www.vcaspa.com to book online or call 250-590-4341. To learn more about my acupuncture practice, follow @hayley_stobbs on Instagram.
In health & happiness,
Hayley Stobbs R.Ac, CNC