Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits on either side of your adam’s apple and is responsible for regulation of your metabolism, among other things. Keeping this powerful gland in balance requires the adequate production of thyroid hormone, a molecule combination of iodine with the amino acid tyrosine: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormones. Every cell in your body has receptor sites for thyroid hormone and upon T3 and T4 to regulate its metabolism and generate energy. Therefore, your thyroid affects every system in your body.
It is estimated that 10 percent of North Americans suffer from thyroid problems and that more than half of all thyroid disorders are undiagnosed. There are two main thyroid imbalances and the presenting symptoms that may indicate that you have a thyroid imbalance:
- Hyperthyroidism – when the thyroid is over functioning; symptoms:
- Fatigue or muscle weakness
- Hand tremors
- Mood swings
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
- Skin dryness
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
- Increased frequency of bowel movements
- Light periods or skipping periods
Some people may develop a goiter or nodules, which is an enlarged thyroid gland that feels like a swelling in the front of your neck.
- Hypothyroidism: when the thyroid is under functioning; symptoms:
- Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight
- Coarse, dry hair
- Dry, rough pale skin
- Hair loss
- Cold intolerance (you react to cold more than those around you)
- Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
- Memory loss
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Decreased libido
Hypothyroidism accounts for 90 percent of all thyroid imbalances and the leading cause of it is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s disease. Why are so many thyroid conditions misdiagnosed?Since the blood tests used to diagnose thyroid conditions are not always indicative of what is actually going on in your body, Many times thyroid imbalances are misdiagnosed. Dr. Hackett likes to review your latest blood work, but relies on the subject information gathered from discussing your symptoms with your to find the best TCM approach to helping you find better balance. In the 1970s the TSH blood test was developed using a small sample size of 200 people to determine “normal” range for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. Hormone levels vary over time, with stress, age, stage of life…multiple variables that were not taken into account.
Your pituitary gland releases TSH in response to T4, T3 and reverse T3 levels (rT3). If you have enough T4 but if it is not converting to T3 or is converting to rT3, your TSH may be normal but your body will not have enough T3 hormone to function properly. Reverse T3 is essentially a mirror image of T3 and is a hormone produced in response to physical, environmental and emotional stress. rT3 takes up your T3 receptors in response to stress to help your body conserve calories and energy so that in time of famine we survive longer. The implications of dysfunction are for nutritional stress as well as perceived stress.
When Dr. Hackett treats thyroid imbalance, she applies the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for diagnosis and treatment, rather than depending upon blood work analysis alone since the methodology for developing the “accepted range” of proper thyroid function can easily be disputed.
What causes thyroid dysfunction? Systemic inflammation is a common root in the development of thyroid function imbalance. The disruption of your endocrine system created by inflammation interfers with the conversion of T4 to T3, depressing thyroid receptor site sensitivity. The inflammatory response is triggered by: chronic stress, chronic insufficient sleep, poor nutrition, toxins burdening your organ function, digestive function imbalance, and over- or under-exercising. All of these areas assessed from a holistic perspective with Dr. Hackett. Additional blood work can be done at Eastern Holistic Arts to further determine any other imbalances. How chronic stress disrupts your endocrine function:
Stressors are factors that require the body adjust homeostasis radically. It’s not just pressure from work and family or social life, but also rapid blood sugar/insulin swings, stomach dysfunction, food intolerances (especially gluten), chronic infections, lack of proper rest or exercise, toxicity and autoimmune problems. When the autonomic nervous system is in a constant state of hyper-vigilance, the chronic adrenal stress created depresses hypothalamic and pituitary function, both of which direct thyroid hormone production. Therefore, anything that disrupts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis will also suppress thyroid function.
Sleep: Your thyroid is dependent on several other hormones such as melatonin and growth hormone. Melatonin is a hormone derived from the serotonin that you release at night, that helps you sleep soundly and restoratively. Human Growth Hormone is released at intervals during deep sleep. The lack of deep sleep disrupts the release of this hormone.
Nutrition: Nutrient deficiencies or excesses can trigger or exacerbate thyroid symptoms. A diet rich in foods that contain Iodine, D-3, Omega 3, B12 and Selenium support thyroid health. Foods that can possibly disrupt thyroid function include: soy, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, sugar, preservatives and alcohol. TCM theory also takes into account the energetic qualities of foods, such as hot (chills) or cold (ice cream), and how they impact your digestion. TCM nutritional balance not only is suggestive of balanced tastes in proportion with moderate calorie intake (amount and type), but also how much you fill the stomach itself.
If you clench your fists and hold them together, that represents the normal internal volume of your stomach. In TCM nutrition, 80% of that volume is considered a full stomach because the organ itself needs to move in order to digest the food properly. Nutrient-dense vegetables and at least two litres of water a day will put the amount of denser, richer foods at even smaller proportions than you think are ‘necessary’ for a proper meal. Over-consumtion of calories is a well-known, but quickly ignored factor in endocrine disruption. Simply paying closer attention to how much food your body really requires will go a long way toward rebalancing your overall health.
According to TCM diagnosis theory, one of the main causes of thyroid imbalance is Kidney energy deficiency. This rarely relates to the actual organ, but rather to the associated meridian (or energy) channel and its relationship as foundational to the whole system of the body’s energy. Kidney Essence (Jing) is the fundamental substance for birth, growth and reproduction and is the motivating force of all physiological processes. A weakness in that energy is often related to: overwork, poor sleep habits, overconsumption of food and alcohol, drug abuse, poor food choices, and unmanaged levels of stress.
Left untreated, thyroid disease can lead to obesity, general aches and pains, infertility, and heart disease. A TCM doctor works with each patient to find their unique pattern through analyzing their constellation of symptoms to formulate a treatment plan. Depending upon your specific imbalance, Dr. Hackett will design a combination of dietary advice, botanical medicine, acupuncture, and lifestyle changes to effectively treat your whole system to restore your long-term health.