Hypothyroidism
336 Case Studies
150 Member Stories
36 Research

What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is characterized by an under-active thyroid gland. Typical symptoms include a hoarse voice, slowed speech, puffy face, drooping eyelids, sensitivity to cold, constipation, weight gain, dry hair and skin, and depression.. Hypothyroidism is treated with levothyroxine.

Acupuncture is a vital part of traditional Chinese medicine. It involves the insertion of thin needles through your skin in strategic points in your body, and is most often used to treat pain. While the Chinese explanation is that balances the flow of energy or life force--called qi or chi (CHEE) through the body, many Western scholars consider the acupuncture factors help stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissues, which might increase blood circulation and the body's natural painkillers.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) regards both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism as Yin/Yang imbalances, and frequently uses acupuncture, herbal medicine and dietary treatment to rebalance Yin and Yang (the idea of duality forming a whole).

How does Acupuncture view Hypothyroidism?

Traditional Chinese doctors understood the symptoms and signs brought on by thyroid disorders. For centuries, they used acupuncture and Chinese medicine for thyroid therapy, based on traditional techniques of diagnosis. 

From the perspective of Chinese medicine, the pathogenic factors of hyperthyroidism are primarily linked to emotion, diet, inheritance and constitution. The pathogenesis of such disease is stagnation of qi that can generate fire, causing consumption of yin and qi, and asthenic yin excess pyrexia.

Before the introduction of laboratory testing for thyroid disorders in the 60s, Chinese and Western doctors alike could diagnose thyroid problems according to symptoms. Goiters, a visible enlargement of the thyroid gland, have been a great deal more common than they are now. Goiters can happen in either hyper- or hypothyroid conditions, so doctors also looked at other signs and symptoms for diagnosis.

Traditional Chinese medicine theory focuses on balancing opposites, correcting deficiency and excess, and regulating body systems. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine for thyroid therapy applied these traditional theories of equilibrium and harmony within the body. Traditional Chinese doctors recognized the contrasting symptom patterns of hyperthyroid and hypothyroid conditions, but called them by other names. They implemented different herbal formulas and acupuncture therapy regimens as needed.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine for thyroid therapy relies on laboratory tests to definitively diagnose thyroid disorders. Nonetheless, a look at the traditional analysis shows us the early Chinese understood many key concepts that scientific research has shown to be true now.

- Emotional disturbance and anxiety were viewed as a root cause of this agitation and anger found especially in hyperthyroid problems. We now know that stress truly has an effect on thyroid function and may trigger autoimmune disorder, including Grave's (hyperthyroid) and Hashimoto's.

- Geographic factors, like the climate and the availability of certain foods, were known to play a part in the creation of goiters. We now know that lack of iodine and other nutrients, in addition to an excess of foods which block iodine absorption, can lead to the creation of goiters.

- Depletion of the digestive tract has been seen as a root cause of fatigue and other symptoms of hypothyroidism. If the digestive depletion wasn't addressed, it had been known to cause depletion in different systems, ultimately affecting fundamental metabolism and aging. We now know that thyroid function and blood glucose metabolism are tightly tied, and a disturbance in one can lead to difficulties with the other.

- Traditional Chinese physicians understood that a person's constitution and family history (genetics) can be risk factors for illness. Chinese medicine emphasizes prevention of illness, preventing overtaxing one's constitution by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Acupuncture and TCM for thyroid can help support thyroid health and protect against illness, in addition to assist in curing a poorly functioning thyroid gland.

Acupuncture Treatment for Hypothyroidism

There are only a few clinical trials determining the efficacy of acupuncture treatment for hypothyroidism. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that acupuncture might be helpful in correcting hormonal imbalances, such as thyroid disorders. And a study by the International Advances in Health and Medicine suggests that acupuncture is a viable treatment alternative for hypothyroidism, even though it states more rigorous larger-scale research studies will need to be conducted to validate and further these findings. Since acupuncture is considered a complementary medicine therapy, it might be a treatment choice alongside traditional treatment, such as conventional medicine. The British Acupuncture Council states that acupuncture could be of benefit for individuals with hypothyroidism, but advises that some kind of care medication is often necessary.

  

In treating hypothyroidism, TCM practitioners would recommend cinnamon (rou gui) and Aconite (fu zi). The most often used herbal formula is Kidney Yang Tonic (Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan), and formulas such as Right Restoration Formula (You Gui Wan) are also widely used.

Scientific studies/research

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) regards both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism as Yin/Yang imbalances. When treating either condition, TCM will typically employ acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy to rebalance an individual’s Yin and Yang.

Oriental medicine practitioners postulate that external factors (such as diet and physical injury) and internal factors (such as emotional states, mental stimulation, and hereditary conditions) can affect qi movement in the body and cause a Yin/Yang imbalance.

According to the World Health Organization, acupuncture can be used to treat thyroid diseases. Several studies suggest that acupuncture and TCM can be beneficial in treating hypothyroidism. In one study at the Shanghai Medical University in China, 32 patients with hypothyroidism were treated for one year with a Chinese herbal preparation to stimulate the kidney meridian (energy channel). The results were compared with a control group of 34 people. The study found that the clinical symptoms of hypothyroidism were markedly improved, which confirmed that hypothyroidism is closely related to a deficiency in kidney energy.

One randomized controlled trial (RCT) found that using moxibustion separated from the skin with a coating of aconite herbal cake, along with levothyroxine, can enhance clinical symptoms and thyroid function in patients of Hashimoto's thyroiditis compared with levothyroxine alone (Xia 2012). An observational study found that acupuncture may be an alternative to therapy with levothyroxine for subclinical hypothyroidism (Luzina 2011).


Generally, acupuncture is thought to stimulate the nervous system and trigger the release of neurochemical messenger compounds. The consequent biochemical modifications influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and psychological well-being.


Research has shown that acupuncture therapy may specifically help in thyroid disease by:

- Growing free thyroxine (FT4) and free tri-iodothyronine (FT3) levels in hypothyroidism (Xia 2012; Hao 2009; Hu 1993);

- Decreasing serum tri-iodothyronine (TT3), total thyroxine (TT4), free T3 (FT3) and free T4 (FT4) levels and raising supersensitive thyrotropin (S-TSH) levels in hyperthyroidism (Li 2006);

- Acting on Regions of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and anxiety, and promoting relaxation and deactivating the'analytical' brain, which is responsible for stress and stress (Hui 2010; Hui 2009);

- Increasing the release of adenosine, which has antinociceptive properties (Goldman 2010);

- Enhancing muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which assists dispersal of swelling;

- Reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kavoussi 2007)

Studies in Acupuncture for Hypothyroidism

Case 1: The influence of acupuncture on the quality of life and the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone in patients presenting with subclinical hypothyroidism [5]

Twenty of the 27 patients completed two therapeutic classes with a 3-4 month span between them. The treatment led to a substantial reduction of the number and severity of the primary clinical symptoms; the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone dropped to the physiological values, attributes of their quality of life became comparable with those of healthy subjects. It was concluded by the researchers that acupuncture may be regarded as a substitute for substitution treatment of subclinical hypothyroidism

Summary

While there are only a handful of studies in this field, it's clear that nutrition, stress and lifestyle play an essential role in thyroid health. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine as a complementary therapy for thyroid expands the treatment choices.

References

1. Tsuda R. P03.01. Acupuncture's Effectiveness at Treating Subclinical Hypothyroid Disease via the HPA/HPT Axis: A Multiple Case Series. Glob Adv Health Med. 2013;2(Suppl):S135. doi:10.7453/gahmj.2013.097CP.P03.01

2. McAninch EA, Bianco AC. The History and Future of Treatment of Hypothyroidism [published correction appears in Ann Intern Med. 2016 Mar 1;164(5):376]. Ann Intern Med. 2016;164(1):50–56. doi:10.7326/M15-1799

3. Tng EL. The debate on treating subclinical hypothyroidism. Singapore Med J. 2016;57(10):539–545. doi:10.11622/smedj.2016165

4. Javed Z, Sathyapalan T. Levothyroxine treatment of mild subclinical hypothyroidism: a review of potential risks and benefits. Ther Adv Endocrinol Metab. 2016;7(1):12–23. doi:10.1177/2042018815616543

5. Luzina KÉ, Luzina LL, Vasilenko AM, The influence of acupuncture on the quality of life and the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone in patients presenting with subclinical hypothyroidism,  2011 Sep-Oct;(5):29-33. PMID: 22165143

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