How This Helps
Conventional treatment in cases that don’t involve iodine deficiency is simply to supplement with thyroid hormone, either T4 or a combination of T4 and T3. Often patients take thyroid medication for life. This approach is not optimal, however, due to how the rhythmic secretion of hormones in a healthy person cannot be replicated with oral medications. An optimal approach would also recognize the need for the body to self-regulate, and any treatment that relies on lifelong medication is missing the deeper issues. I don’t accept the premise that hypothyroid can only be managed, but not cured. A more integrative approach provides treatments that can more completely address low thyroid. Making sure to address any potential adrenal fatigue is extremely important. Optimizing digestion, fixing leaky gut, and working with blood sugar deregulation is vital. Working with stress management, releasing contained emotions, and regulating the nervous system with meditation or breathing exercises will help rebalance the system. In some cases a small amount of thyroid hormone supplementation – for a short time – is helpful to restore energy and function while the body is being healed.
Though acupuncture is quite effective I won’t go into specific treatments protocols or point selection here. Similarly, with homeopathic remedies the number of different remedies is broad enough that speculation without a detailed history would be pointless. However, some basic aspects of diet and possible approaches for herbal treatment can be considered.
As diet is most closely related to Spleen and Stomach function in Chinese Medicine the fact that many hypothyroid cases involve some degree of Spleen deficiency makes diet recommendations relatively straightforward. When the Spleen is weak it is important to eat warm, easily digestible foods. This means at the very least that one should avoid eating anything cold or raw. No raw fruits, no raw vegetables, no cereal with cold milk, no ice cream, no cold leftovers. Food should be warmed up before eating, and even fruit should be lightly steamed. Though weak Spleen qi often leads to cravings for sugar and processed carbohydrates these should be avoided if possible. Instead, eat complex carbs that have been thoroughly cooked, like grains and root vegetables. Carbohydrates are important for Spleen function, and carbs are important for balancing blood sugar if the liver is not storing glycogen well. Especially with grains, cooking overnight in a crockpot or slow cooker is best to make them more digestible. Warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, cumin, coriander, or fennel are also good in small amounts. Season food with a bit of these spices to help the digestion and support the Spleen.
A small amount of bitter food, such as pickles, can be eaten to stimulate the appetite. A good tonic to take before meals is a tablespoon of apple-cider vinegar in some water, which will help increase Stomach qi and stomach acid. If there are signs of Stomach counter flow, such as heartburn, reflux, bloating, or nausea, a small dose of digestive bitters will help settle the stomach.
The mainstay of herbal treatment will be to tonify qi and yang. Qi and yang tonifying herbs often work on multiple organ systems but the following herbs are considered to work primarily on the Kidney and Spleen. Subhuti Dharmananda reports on good results from studies that used herbs such as astragalus (Huangqi), codonopsis (Dangshen), epimedium (Yinyanghuo), aconite (Fuzi), cinnamon (Guizhi)l, ginseng (Renshen), atractylodes (Baizhu), ginger (Ganjiang), and others. Heiner Fruehauf, in his Classical Pearls herbal formulas series, has a number of formulations that he recommends for hypothyroid (depending on the individual), many of which contain combinations of the above herbs. Western herbs of note according to Matthew Wood include siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus), nettles (Urtica), gotu kola (Centella), and kelp (Fucus) for the iodine content. Chinese medicinals from the ocean such as seaweeds and seafoods are also used for their iodine content in cases of hypothyroid.
For people with excess cortisol, usually due to chronic stress, herbs that address Liver qi stagnation and help regulate cortisol are helpful. These include herbs such as Chinese skullcap (Huangqin), bupleurum (Chaihu), bitter orange (Zhishi), magnolia (Houpo), and others. For Liver deficiency, formulas that contain evodia (Wuzhuyu) can be helpful, along with the yang tonics listed above.
The best treatment approach is an individualized one that takes into account the person’s unique presentation and history. If you or someone you know is ready to move past symptom management with thyroid hormone and get to the root of the issue, find an integrative practitioner who can help you understand, and treat, your unique situation.