Diagnoses of hyper (overactive) or hypo (underactive) thyroid are increasingly common, especially in women who are over 40 years old. Here, we’ll explain some common thyroid issues, outline the symptoms of hyperthyroid and hypothyroid, and provide some guidance about ways to manage these conditions with gentle changes in diet and lifestyle.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland at the base of the throat and is a major part of the endocrine system, which regulates hormonal activity and metabolism. The thyroid and the hormones it releases, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) assist some major bodily functions including temperature regulation, sleep, heart rate, thirst, hunger, and emotions. The thyroid is controlled by the pituitary, also known as the “master gland” of the endocrine system. The pituitary secretes thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to prompt the thyroid to be more or less active, depending on blood chemistry changes detected by the hypothalamus (another major gland that regulates all homeostasis in the body).
Problems with the balance of TSH, T4 and T3 can stem from lots of different issues, including problems with the thyroid manufacturing T3 and T4, or problems in converting T4, a less active form of thyroid hormone, into T3, the more active form. Certain autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Graves disease can damage thyroid cells and create hypothyroid or hyperthyroid symptoms. TSH levels can even be affected by an unrelated cause like a tumor pushing on the pituitary, which is why it is best to consult with a medical professional to determine the exact cause of any issues you may be having. Stress may also exacerbate an underlying thyroid condition, provoking symptoms, or may make you more susceptible to autoimmune reactions.
These are some of the most common symptoms to note. If you find yourself experiencing several of these it's time to schedule a visit with your doctor:
- Sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Dry brittle hair
- Tiredness or sluggishness, fatigue
- Low appetite
- Difficulty losing weight even with modified diet and exercise
- Sensitivity to heat
- Exophthalmos (protrusion of the eyes or the appearance of larger than average eyeballs)
- Big appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Irritability or agitation
Thyroid From an Acupuncturist's Perspective
Luckily, the symptoms mentioned above fall into some very common Chinese medicine patterns. The systems used in acupuncture draw on over 2,000 years of observation of natural phenomena, which were then broken down and applied to medical uses. The concepts of Yin and Yang, which you might be familiar with as corresponding with dark and light, have much broader uses from this perspective. Yin is like a cooling insulation that grounds us and cools us down when we're agitated. Yang is like an internal fire that motivates and excites us. Too much or too little of either result in imbalances similar to the symptoms of hypothyroid or hyperthyroid.
Do any of these look familiar?
Yin Deficiency: Irritability, dryness, hot flashes, sensitivity to heat, sleeplessness
Yang Deficiency: Sensitivity to cold, depression, sluggish digestion, weight gain
If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid issue or have similar symptoms, scheduling a session with a licensed acupuncturist may be a key to managing your symptoms in cooperation with your doctor's treatment plan. If you would like to try acupuncture give us a call today!