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Expert Advice-Treatment of Thyroid Disorders in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM):

Safe and Effective Treatments for Thyroid Disorders

Two years ago a young lady came to my office complaining of tiredness, indigestion, and irregular periods. Her regular doctor, an internist, could not find anything structurally wrong with her. She went to several different practitioners for consultation or treatment. They treated her without success. Finally, someone suggested that she seek help from Chinese medicine, and she came to me as a "last resort." I took her health history, asked about her life style and eating habits, and looked at her doctors’ test results. I also looked at her tongue and read her pulse. Her tongue was very red, with no coating, and her pulse was deep, thin, and rapid. In Chinese medicine terms, these are obvious signs of a severe Yin deficiency. In Western terms, I followed a treatment strategy for hyperthyroidism. I prescribed acupuncture treatments and an herbal formula, as well as dietary changes. All of her symptoms slowly normalized.

Thyroid problems seem to be more prevalent these days, but this could be because more people are being tested, and the tests themselves are better at detecting irregularities. There are two main thyroid disorders: hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is overactive and produces too much thyroid hormone. Typical symptoms of hyperthyroidism include: high blood pressure; fast heartbeat; moist skin; increased sweating; tremor; nervousness; increased appetite with weight loss; diarrhea and/or frequent bowel movements; weakness; eyes that seem to bulge out of their sockets; and sensitivity of the eyes to light. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is under-active and produces too little thyroid hormone. Typical symptoms of hypothyroidism include: hoarse voice; slowed speech; puffy face; drooping eyelids; intolerance of cold conditions; constipation; weight gain; dry hair; dry skin; and depression.

Thyroid Disorders in Chinese Medicine
In traditional Chinese medicine, both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are considered to be a Yin/Yang imbalance. In Chinese philosophical and medical theory, Yin and Yang are the essential components of the material universe. Everything that exists is Yin or Yang (generally a combination of both in a characteristic balance). The Yin principle is dark, moist, receptive, female, sinking, and its electrical charge is negative. The Yang principle is light, fiery, active, male, outward-expanding, and its electrical charge is positive. A very basic principle of Chinese medicine is to keep the Yin and Yang in balance, since the balance of Yin and Yang represents the healthy state of the body. A treatment intervention by traditional Chinese medicine (which includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy) is designed to bring the Yin and Yang back to a normal balance. In Western terms, an overproduction or underproduction of thyroid hormone alters the body’s chemical balance and causes hyper- or hypothyroidism. In Chinese terms, when Yin is deficient it cannot control the Yang energy from escaping outward and upward, and this "reckless" movement of Yang brings about the characteristic symptoms of hyperthyroidism. When Yang is deficient, it simply cannot produce the vital energy necessary to keep the body functioning well, and symptoms of hypothyroidism result.

Recent research, by both Western and Chinese scientists, offers several exciting theories to reinforce ancient ideas about Yin and Yang balance in the body. Bioelectrons are charged particles that exist in living cells and move freely through the body. It has been demonstrated, by measuring electrical resistance on the skin, and by tracking the movement of bioelectrons in the body, that there is decreased electrical resistance at recognized acupuncture points, and that bioelectrons move noticeably along the classic energy pathways (meridians) that carry Qi through the body. External factors (such as diet, weather, and physical injury), and internal factors (such as emotional states, mental stimulation, and hereditary conditions) can all affect bioelectrical movement in the body and cause an imbalance of electrons at a cellular level. This can be interpreted as a Yin/Yang imbalance at the cellular level. Living cells also contain chemical structures called cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Chinese researchers found that there is a correlation between increased cAMP levels in cell plasma and symptoms of hyperthyroid/Yin Deficiency. There is also a correlation between decreased cAMP/cGMP plasma levels and the symptoms of hypothyroidism/Yang Deficiency. When cAMP and cGMP are in a good balance within the cell, Yin and Yang are balanced at the cellular level, and homeostasis exists in the body’s metabolism of thyroid hormone.

Patterns and Treatment of Thyroid Disorders in Chinese Medicine
In the following section, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are discussed in terms of their patterns in Chinese medical theory. The leading herbs and herbal formulas for treating each pattern are also given, as well as a few therapeutic recipes.

Hyperthyroidism Three patterns of Yin Deficiency are differentiated for hyperthyroidism: Kidney Yin Deficiency with Excess Heat; Heart/Liver Yin Deficiency; and Heart/Kidney Yin Deficiency. In the pattern of Kidney Yin Deficiency with Excess Heat, typical symptoms are: enlarged, soft, smooth thyroid; anxiety; anger; aversion to heat; flushed, warm face; dry mouth with a bitter taste; increased appetite; bulging eyes; tremor; increased volume of bowel movements, a red tongue body with a dry, yellow coating; and a wiry, rapid pulse. In the pattern of Yin Deficiency with Heart and Liver Deficiency, the symptoms are: enlarged, swollen, soft, smooth thyroid; heart palpitations; anxiety; insomnia; increased appetite with weight loss; dry throat; a red tongue body with a yellow tongue coating or no coating; and a thin, rapid pulse. In the pattern of Yin Deficiency with Heart and Kidney Deficiency, common symptoms are: enlarged, swollen thyroid; hand tremors; dry mouth and eyes; heart palpitations; increased appetite; irregular period or amenorrhea (for women); impotence or low sex drive (for men); weakness of the knees and lower back; a red tongue body without coating, and a deep, thin, rapid pulse.

Rehmannia (shu di huang), dioscorea (shan yao), and cornus (shan zhu yu) are leading herbs for treating Yin Deficiency. Kidney Yin Tonic (Liu Wei Di Huang Wan) is the herbal formula most commonly used for the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Other herbal formulas, such as Liver Cleansing (Zhi Zi Qing Gan Tang) and Heart Yin Tonic (Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan) are also used, depending on the specific pattern.

A traditional recipe for dietary therapy of Yin Deficiency is as follows: to three cups of water, add tremella (silver ear fungus), 10g; black fungus (black ear mushroom), 10g; and rock-type sugar, 30g. Cook for one hour. Eat one serving a day.

Hypothyroidism Two patterns of Yang Deficiency are differentiated for hypothyroidism: Spleen/Kidney Deficiency, and Heart/Kidney Deficiency. In the pattern of Yang Deficiency with Spleen and Kidney Deficiency, the key symptoms are: lassitude; sleepiness; poor memory; dizziness; ringing in the ears (tinnitus); weakness of the lower back and knees; aversion to cold; dry skin; dry hair; constipation; edema; impotence (men); irregular periods (women); pale, puffy tongue body with tooth marks along the edge; white, sticky tongue coating; and a pulse that is deep and thin or deep and slow. In the pattern of Yang Deficiency with Heart and Kidney Deficiency, the characteristic symptoms are: heart palpitations; chest congestion and pain; sleepiness; feeling cold; pale, tender tongue body with a white, slippery coating; and a deep, slow pulse.

Cinnamon (rou gui) and aconite (fu zi) are very useful herbs for treating Yang Deficiency. Kidney Yang Tonic (Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan) is the leading herbal formula for treating the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Formulas such as Right Restoration Formula (You Gui Wan) are also widely used.

A classical recipe for Yang Deficiency is also very appropriate for hypothyroidism: add pepper, 3g; ginger, 20g; and tangerine peel, 10g to about half a pound of fresh carp. Cook with an appropriate amount of water, and simmer for one hour over a low flame. Eat three servings a week.