Tired, cold and hungry? We see this pattern every day in clinic, and quite often the thyroid gland is implicated.
Our thyroid is a small gland in our neck that affects nearly every cell in our body. It produces thyroid hormone which circulates around our body and controls metabolic rate, cell growth, cardiac output, glucose absorption, lipolysis (fat break down) and protein synthesis. A healthy thyroid supports conception and holding a pregnancy. No wonder life is harder when thyroid function is disturbed. Which is often!
Around 20% of the population experience thyroid disorders, and that’s only the ones that are diagnosed. Many more people may have borderline blood tests results but are assured everything is fine – when it’s really not.
A DELICATE BALANCE
Thyroid function is controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary in the brain. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary prompts the thyroid to release thyroid hormones T4 and T3. If there is too much T4 circulating in the blood, the pituitary reduces the amount of TSH produced, which then causes thyroid activity to slow. If there is too little T4, the pituitary increases the amount of TSH. In this dynamic and sensitive way, T4 and T3 levels in the blood are kept relatively constant.
PATTERNS OF DISHARMONY
Our bodies are constantly trying to maintain this balance within the fluctuating internal and external environment. When that balance is disturbed, the thyroid gland can become underactive or overactive.
Hypothyroid (underactive, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) can show up as the very common tired, cold and hungry pattern, with other possible symptoms such as weight gain, joint pain, heavy menstrual bleeding or spotting, palpitations or depression.
Symptoms of hyperactivity (including Grave’s disease) may be heat, insomnia, weight loss, large appetite, sweating, palpitations and bulging or sore eyes. Each individual is different, and as always in clinic, we treat according to individual presentations, and in conjunction with Western medical care.
THYROID DISORDERS IN TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM)
In terms of Chinese medicine, these imbalances can reflect disharmony between the Heart and Kidneys (Fire and Water axis), depletion of Yin, Yang, Blood or Spleen Qi (digestive energy), as well as interruptions to the flow of Blood and Fluids leading to stasis and Damp (inflammation).
Acupuncture and herbal medicine treatment is aimed at not just restoring normal hormone levels (the branch), but addressing the underlying disharmonies that are limiting the ability of the body to restore its own unique healthy balance (the root cause). We look at the entire system to assess where changes need to be made to restore optimal health.
There is an autoimmune component to many thyroid disorders. This is when your immune system attacks your own body tissues. This can be really disconcerting and scary, and it can feel like your own body has turned against you. However, recent findings have shown that the immune system may really be trying to attack the right target – external pathogens – but they are so deeply embedded that the body tissues feel the effects as well. Your immune system is just trying to do its best!
It is important in this scenario to avoid negative self talk, because our mind does lead our Qi. Paying attention to the inner landscape and how we relate to ourselves and others, building self-esteem and resilience, and working on unravelling bad habits, sometimes with the help of counselling, can often lead to better outcomes and a healthier immune system.
Giving ourselves some space and time for reflection and enjoyment, regular moderate exercise, plenty of fresh air, nature and connection to others can all help to restore natural healthy vitality.
Reducing sources of chronic inflammation is vital. This can include exposure to the usual culprits: chemicals, toxins and pesticides, as well as food sources such as sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol and caffeine. Please consult a nutritionist such as our wonderful Beni for detailed advice, since some diets promoted for thyroid are not helpful long term.
If you eat mostly home cooked food, include some salt because sodium is needed for iodine uptake. Fluoride is similar in shape to iodine so filtered water is best to ensure that iodine is utilised efficiently. Other important nutrients are Vitamins A, B, D, E, magnesium, zinc, iron and selenium, potassium and tyrosine, depending on your pattern.
THYROID & FERTILITY
Thyroid is just one aspect of a flourishing, fertile body. It seems to be very under-diagnosed due to the high range of what is considered 'normal'. What might be optimal for you, will be different to others. If you are on the lower or higher end of the range, this may not be enough for you.
Thyroid health is important for ovulation, conception, maternal and foetal health, and post-partum wellbeing. Getting thyroid right is vital prior to trying to conceive, as demands on the thyroid increase during pregnancy. (And none of us get enough rest afterwards!) It is important to know if there is an autoimmune component to any thyroid disorders, as this may be associated with other antibodies such as NK cells, which can then be addressed. 'Till the soil before planting the seed’ with preconception care in order to create a strong, warm, resilient and protective haven for your potential baby.