by Erin Kumpf
The Thyroid: What the heck is it??
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland situated in front of neck and contains numerous sac-like structures called follicles responsible for the production of thyroid hormone.
What it does
The thyroid is an intricate part of the endocrine system: the complex interplay of various glands that secrete hormones responsible for all of our inner-workings. The thyroid gland, in particular, is responsible for our metabolism and protein synthesis in just about every tissue in our body, hormone regulation, body weight and calcium levels, and growth and development of children (including brain development and reaching sexual maturity.)
Thyroid Disorders and Chinese Medicine
Alterations in thyroid function from over production or underproduction of thyroid hormones can manifest in a hyperfunctional state or hypofunctional state. Although the thyroid gland itself was not recognized in Chinese Medicine, the manifestations of these hyper and hypo functional states correlate to a relative imbalance of Yin and Yang.
Hyperthyroidism is an overproduction of hormones causing increased heart rate, insomnia, disruption in menstrual cycle, diarrhea, excessive perspiration, muscle weakness and weight loss despite increased appetite, tremor, nervousness and agitation.
This hyper state correlates to a relative deficiency of Yin of the body, particularly of the Liver Heart and Kidney (Yin qualities are feminine, dark, quiet, reflective, cool, night.) Eating more cooling foods such as cucumber, slightly steamed green veggies, fish, eggplant, duck, mung beans, green tea and peppermint tea can help nourish the yin substances of the body. Incorporating cooling/nourishing exercises like yoga, tai qi, gentle walking and cycling is also ideal for those that tend to experience more hyper-functional symptoms. Avoiding foods that are particularly hot and spicy, as well as alcohol (which is energetically hot) is preferable.
Hypothyroidism is an underproduction of hormones causing lethargy, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, heavy menses, reduced heart rate and depression, infertility, weight gain, hoarse voice, dry hair and skin, and hair loss.
This hypo state correlates to a relative Yang vacuity (Yang qualities are masculine, energetic, warm, moving, and dry) which as akin to lacking the internal fire that drives metabolism; particularly of the Lung, Spleen and Kidney. Eating more foods like ginger, pepper and tangerine peel, onion, lamb, beef, bone broth soup can help nourish and build yang. Avoiding raw, cold foods, especially raw cruciferous vegetables (see below) is preferable for those that experience symptoms of a hypo-functional symptoms. Also, getting plenty of rest balances with adequate exercise (brisk walking, is also advisable.
Factors that can contribute to thyroid disease:
1. Stress! Stress and the relative cascade of physiological effects that increased stress levels has on our minds and bodies is tremendous. Yoga, Meditation, Acupuncture are a few ways that can help in reducing stress.
2. Dietary factors: poor eating habits, eating processed foods loaded with sugar and preservatives can reek havoc on our bodies, and can adversely affect our thyroid gland.
3. Lack of exercise: our bodies need to move! Lack of movement leads to stagnation with leads to increased potential for disease.
4. Toxicity: toxins can bind readily to hormone receptor sites resulting in negative health consequences. Modest estimates show that we are exposed to an average of 700,000 toxic chemicals EVERY DAY. Trying to minimize this exposure may be difficult and seemingly out of our hands, but reducing our exposure in our homes to these chemicals is much more feasible. DIY cleaning products, detergents, toothpaste, can be fun, inexpensive and a good way to reduce your toxic load.
Thyroid Disease and Acupuncture
Acupuncture restores hormonal balance, manages sleep and emotions, and regulates energy levels. By inserting and manipulating acupuncture needles, burning moxibustion and appropriate herbal medicinal usage, your acupuncturist can assist in rebalancing internal homeostasis of the body and help reinstate proper yin and yang dynamic. Raw Cruciferous veggies (brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale) are goitrogens: they can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis. However, these are INACTIVATED by cooking and/ or lightly steaming.