Traditional Chinese Medicine and Thyroid Disease

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By Alex A. Kecskes

Thyroid disorders fall into two categories. There is hyperthyroidism characterized by an overactive thyroid gland that produces too much thyroid hormone. Typical symptoms of hyperthyroidism include high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, moist skin, increased sweating, tremor, nervousness, increased appetite with weight loss, diarrhea, and/or frequent bowel movements. Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, 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.

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


Recent research by Oriental medicine practitioners suggests that Yin and Yang balance can be linked to charged particles that exist in living cells and that move freely through the body. Practitioners postulate that these "bioelectrons" move along the classic energy pathways (meridians) that carry qi through the body. External factors (such as diet and physical injury) and internal factors (such as emotional states, mental stimulation, and hereditary conditions) can affect bioelectrical movement in the body and cause a Yin/Yang imbalance of electrons at the cellular level.

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.

TCM herbs for treating hyperthyroidism include Rehmannia (shu di huang), Dioscorea (shan yao), and Cornus (shan zhu yu). Kidney Yin Tonic (Liu Wei Di Huang Wan) is the herbal formula most often used. Other herbal formulas such as Liver Cleansing (Zhi Zi Qing Gan Tang) and Heart Yin Tonic (Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan) are also used.

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.

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