Addressing Hypothyroidism with Chinese Medicine

April Crowell, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM) AOBTA CI & CP, CHN

Feeling burnt out or exhausted?  Impaired thyroid functioning may be part of the problem.  A little gland located in the neck, the thyroid produces hormones that play roles in many major functions of the body including maintaining the body’s metabolic rate, growth, detoxification and immunity.  A hyperactive thyroid produces too many hormones and can lead to goiter, sudden weight loss, racing heart or the manifestation of Grave’s disease.  At the other end of the spectrum, an underactive thyroid can lead to hypothyroidism which affects more than 10 million Americans.

Symptoms of  hypothyroid disharmony

  • exhaustion
  • chronic fatigue
  • weight gain
  • feeling cold
  • dry skin
  • slowed metabolism
  • immune deficiency
  • lethargy
  • enlargement of the thyroid gland
  • low libido
  • general lack of vitality
  • depression
  • slowed mental functioning
  • anxiety
  • low basal body temperature
  • hair loss
  • estrogen and progesterone imbalance
  • painful cycles
  • constipation
  • loss of the outer 1/3 of the eyebrow–yes, really.

Quite the list.  Looks like things have cooled and slowed down, right?  Right. Most clients with hypothyroidism have a basal body temperature of 97.6 or below.  In the eyes of Chinese medicine this is a deficiency of Yang–the fire in the body–yet,  it’s not quite that simple.

Causes of hypothyroidism 

Heredity–Mom or Dad may have passed the trait down. However, even in this instance, there is improvement that can be made.  We look at whether the person’s habits encourage or discourage healthy thyroid functioning.

Burning the candle at both ends–Literally, you worked and/or played too hard and often without adequate rest and nutrition appropriate for your life stage, health and constitution.  This leads to a collapse of Yang and Qi (energy, for an over simplified definition) in the body–you snuffed out the fire. This includes having too many children and leading an excessive lifestyle.  Yes, Qi and Yang are recoverable, but it takes time which can be difficult to convince a type A personality that they back down and rest for a while.  The perception that being still and resting is accomplishing “nothing” is a common misconception in A types.  It’s not,  you are recharging your batteries, so you may need to battle a few beliefs to let yourself to master this step.

Illness–Severe illness or long term chronic patterns will whittle away the immune system and the Qi in the body. Once Qi is depleted Yang and Yin deficiency may soon follow. Included in this we have to look at the drugs and their affect on the body.
Lack of digestive vitality–Ideally, we make the Qi that our body uses daily by properly ingesting foods and transforming them into vital essence, nutrients, Qi and Blood.  When our digestion is weak or we have irregular eating habit the system declines.  In times of need, the body will utilize Jing, our stored essence, to keep the system going.  Jing, unlike Qi and Yang, is not a renewable substance.  You are born with a certain amount based on your parent’s health at the time of conception. Jing is then stored and in the Kidney and used a little a day for each functioning.  Think of it as your stored treasure or savings account. Each time we dip into it rather than properly nourishing our system we chip a little off the stone.  When it’s gone–that’s it–when the essence is gone the body dies.
Overuse of stimulants–Americans love stimulants to ‘keep us going’–just look at the sales of energy drinks.  Powerful foods like coffee, caffeine, chocolate, sugar, and guarana may give us a kick now and then, but they often don’t replenish or return much to the body. They can lead to adrenal exhaustion. It’s a matter of balance, if you find yourself requiring a strong stimulant daily take a look at whether you are getting enough rest, proper nourishment and exercise.
Chinese medicine’s view on hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is considered a deficiency pattern in Chinese medicine.  Specifically, a lack of Qi (energy) and Yang (fire) of the Kidneys and Spleen organs.  This lack of fire and vitality will mean other systems has suffered.  Often we see a lot of Liver Qi stagnation. As with any disharmony, proper Chinese medicine assessment is necessary to identify and treat the individual.  Five clients with a western diagnosis of hypothyroid may leave with a few similar recommendations but there will be variances based on age, gender, constitution, history and more.
Chinese medicine practitioners–look for a slow, deep pulse especially on the right side and in the proximal (Kidney) position.  If dampness has crept in the pulse will have a slippery quality. The tongue is often swollen or thick, but color may vary on other factors.  The general protocol for an Amma therapist or acupuncturist is decongest the Liver first, if necessary, then restore and strengthen Spleen and Kidney Qi and Yang.  There may also be dampness that needs drained.
General recommendations–what you can do now
Don’t skip meals–The body relies on you to feed it regularly.  It then uses that food to create energy.  If you are irregular with your diet habits the digestive fire (a Yang function of the Spleen warmed by the Kidney Yang) will burn out.  Your metabolism slows and weight will creep on.   The digestive fire is at its peak from 7-11 am in the morning, so eat a good breakfast.  Learn more about the energetic Cycle of Tides.
Avoid cold and raw foods–The digestion is like a cauldron.  The Middle Burner, made up of the Stomach and Spleen, require warmth to cook down the foods and transform them into energy.  If your metabolism is already low and your body temperature already cold, the fire isn’t there to manifest the transformation properly.  This creates a slow, sluggish digestion, bloating, gas and lethargy.  Iced foods should be avoid as much as possible in hypothyroid.  A little in the summer is okay, but you are literally dumping ice on the fire.  And, yes, sushi is cold, however, it’s usually served with warming soup and pickled ginger which is very warming (fights food poisoning, too).
Keep the body and Kidney 1 warm–Kidney 1It’s essential to give the body the aid it needs in keeping warm with this disharmony.  Don’t challenge the weather and dress appropriately until your energy recovers.  Kidney 1, located on the ball of the foot is a significant source for Yang energy in the body.  If your feet are cold, you run the risk of decreasing the body’s overall Yang–find some fun slippers.
Know your limits–If you just had major surgery or been through chemo,  you should probably not lunge into running a half marathon 3 months later.  There are those individuals with amazing health and stamina–but they probably aren’t needing to read this blog.
Get appropriate restSleep–Burning the candle at both ends burns out Qi and Yang.  Constantly going, working and moving–all Yang qualities– without resting will lead to a collapse of Yang which takes time to recover from.  Yang and Qi are replenished when we partake of Yin activities–that rest, gentle qigong and t’ai qi.  This can be quite the task for some clients that work and play hard.  I often ask them to schedule in at least on PJ day a month.  A day to just rest–remember when the norm used to be that you took one day a week to rest or take it easy?  Pop in naps every now and then too.
Eat Iodine rich foods–The body requires iodine rich foods to make the hormone thyroxine.  Iodine rich foods include: All sea vegetables (kelp, nori, kombu, etc),  sea salt, cranberries, strawberries, navy beans, potatoes and salt water fish.  Iodine supplements are available, often as kelp, but be sure to check with your healthcare provider before supplementing as you may need to watch your thyroid levels.
Tyrosine rich foods–Tyrosine is an amino acid that combines with iodine to make thyroxine.  Tyrosine is found in meat, turkey, sesame seeds, lentils and legumes, fish, turkey, organic yogurt, almonds, avocado and pumpkin seeds.
Selenium rich foods–Selenium is an essential mineral that fights free-radicals, aids in the proper functioning of the immune system including thyroid and aids in treatment of cancer.  Foods that contain selenium include: chicken, salmon, sea foods, whole unrefined grains, brewer’s yeast, Brazil nuts, dairy products, onions, garlic, leeks, and black strap molasses.
Get some sun–Sunlight stimulates the pineal gland that positively affects the whole endocrine systems, thyroid included.
Protein–Protein is the primary make up of our glands. Make sure each meal includes some clean protein, whether animal or vegetable (Watch out for soy!–See below).
Foods and herbs for treating hypothyroidcranberries-2-300x200
Remember keep them organic!  Foods laden with herbicides, pesticides and growth hormones are harmful, especially to those with weakened immunity or hormone functioning.

Your practitioner may also recommend glandulars or Chinese herbals.

What to avoid
Soy
What the?  Isn’t soy a super food?  Kind of…but it’s not a happy food for those with thyroid troubles.  Soy contains an isoflavinoids (particularly, genistein) that acts on hormones.  Consuming high amount of soy has been shown to actually suppress thyroid functioning by blocking the enzyme thyroid peroxidase.  This little enzyme is required to add iodine into the thyroid hormones. Most people can handle a bit of traditional soy in their diet in the forms of miso, a bit of tofu or tempeh.  However, be cautious, the American food industry decided soy was a perfect protein, super food and filler, so it often hidden in many foods.  For those with thyroid disharmony, traditional forms of soy 2 x a week is usually okay.  Make sure that if you use any soy it is GMO free, as soy is one of the most GMO produced crops.
Cruciferous vegetables
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage  and cauliflower, mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, spinach, rutabagas and kohlrabi are all beautiful vegetables.  But, again, they aren’t a match for anyone with a compromised thyroid.  Like soy, they block thyroid peroxidase.  Cooking reduces their propensity to mess with the thyroid.  Limit them to only a few times a week.
Gluey gluten is linked to aggravating thyroid disharmonies. There are many wonderful grains that benefit the Kidney and thyroid so explore them and keep the gluten grains to a minimum or cut them out entirely.
Fluoride and chlorine
These lovely chemicals are often in our tap water.  Both are being researched and are believed to block iodine receptors.  Fluoride specifically destroys iodine, so be sure to drink filtered or spring water.
Sulfa drugs
Sulfa drugs inhibit proper thyroid functioning.  Sulfa drugs are used as antimicrobials, diuretics, anti-diabetic and anticonvulsants…to name a few.

Time to recharge!

Be well,

April

re-posted from Aprilcrowell.com .  Links in this blog are located on April’s personal site.

By | 2016-12-29T12:24:14+00:00 March 16th, 2016|Categories: Blogs, Common Conditions, Holistic Living, Nutrition Articles, The Seasons|Tags: , , , , , , |Comments Off on Addressing Hypothyroidism with Chinese Medicine

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Pulse Holistic Health is a made up of independent, self-employed holistic healthcare practitioners that choose to work together for mutual benefit. Individual posts on the Pulse site may be written by a particular practitioner or as a collaborative effort. The views and opinions in Pulse post's, although approved by the group, may not reflect all the views and opinions of the individual practitioners. Members services include: Asian medicine, Traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, Amma therapy, massage therapy, holistic nutrition, acutonics, holistic health education, and more.