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Treating Thyroid Problems with Acupuncture


By: Diane Joswick, L.Ac.

 
 

When functioning properly, the thyroid gland secretes just the right amount of thyroid hormone to regulate almost all the metabolic processes in your body. Too much or too little of these vital body chemicals and it can drastically influence energy levels, body weight and your mental health. With over 20 million Americans living with some form of thyroid disease, much attention has been given to the many ways that acupuncture and Oriental medicine can treat thyroid problems.

What is the thyroid?

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that sits in the front of the neck. It is responsible for energy, metabolism, hormone regulation, body weight and blood calcium levels. Thyroid disorders stem from either an overproduction (hyperthyroidism) or underproduction (hypothyroidism) of thyroid hormones. When your thyroid is not functioning properly, your body can experience a variety of symptoms:

Hyperthyroidism:

  • Weight loss despite increased appetite
  • Increased heart rate, heart palpitations, higher blood pressure, nervousness, and excessive perspiration
  • More frequent bowel movements, sometimes with diarrhea
  • Muscle weakness, trembling hands
  • Development of a goiter (an enlargement in your neck)
  • Lighter or shorter menstrual periods

Hypothyroidism:

  • Lethargy, slower mental processes or depression
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands
  • Development of a goiter (an enlargement in your neck)
  • Constipation, heavy menstrual periods or dry skin and hair

Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can be diagnosed by testing the levels of thyroid hormones in your blood. Hormones secreted by the thyroid are measured, as well as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), a chemical released by the pituitary gland that triggers hormone production in the thyroid. Some milder forms of hypothyroidism can also be detected by a consistently low basal body temperature.

How can acupuncture help?

Both Western and Eastern medicine offer various methods to restore thyroid hormone levels. Western treatments rely mainly on drugs and surgery while Eastern treatments aim to restore immune function as well as balance the production and release of thyroid hormones through a variety of approaches ranging from acupuncture and herbal remedies to lifestyle changes and special exercises.

In the treatment to thyroid problems, acupuncture can be used to restore hormonal balance, regulate energy levels, smooth emotions and help manage sleep, emotions and menstrual problems. There are several powerful acupuncture points on the ear and the body that can be used to regulate the production of thyroid hormones. Treatments take all of your symptoms into account and are aimed at balancing the energy within the body to optimize health.

When it comes to lifestyle changes, a diet rich in protein, calcium, magnesium, and iodine helps support thyroid function while certain foods known as goitrogens may interfere with thyroid hormone production and should be limited. These include cruciferous vegetables (such as cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts), peanuts, and soy. Stress reducing exercises such as yoga or tai chi can also be beneficial.