As you may recall, the thyroid gland located in our neck produces a hormone called thyroxin, which regulates our metabolism, and immunity. Problems occur when too much, or not enough, is being produced.
A hyperactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroid) will overstimulate the body, resulting in loss of weight, anxiety, palpitations and insomnia. In contrast, an underactive gland (hypothyroid) will understimulate the body so that it works at half speed.Consequently, the affected person will be constantly fatigued, suffering from digestive disorders, dry skin, and excess weight.
The thyroid gland needs an adequate supply of iodine to function.
While iodine can be found in many types of food, including fish, seafood, dairy products, vegetables, eggs, sea salts and strawberries, most of us struggle to get enough in our diet.
First of all, it is not always easy to get fresh supplies of affordable seafood, and in many countries, including Australia, the soil is now very depleted in most minerals, including iodine.
Supplements in the form of kelp are available in most health stores, but you should check with your doctor to make sure that the dosage is adequate to your needs.
In Oriental medicine, hypothyroidism is considered to be caused by a deficiency of Qi (energy) and Yang (fire). It involves a weakness in the energetic function of the Kidneys and Spleen organs, both Yang organs.
Traditional Chinese Medicine considers the digestive system to be like a cooking pot. The process requires an adequate supply of heat for the transformation to take place.
The two main digestive organs, the stomach and the spleen, require warmth to break down the foods and transform them into energy.
A deficiency in the thyroid weakens the metabolism, which is the body’s ability to process energy, so basically the flame under the pot becomes too weak for digestion to take place.As our food is not digested properly, we suffer bloating, flatulence and indigestion. And since our body is using every bit of energy available to complete the digestive process, we feel tired after eating. The blood circulation is also impaired, which manifests in cold extremities and reduced libido.
So, it is very important to include warming foods in your diet.
Oriental medicine classifies foods according to their thermal qualities and their tastes. Foods can have a warming, cooling, or neutral effect on the body.
A person suffering from hypothyroidism can stimulate their body’s digestion and blood circulation by eating more apricots, cherries, dates, onions, pumpkin, leeks, most green vegetables, basil, with the addition of pungent spices like cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, ginger, cloves, and chilli.
According to American Dr Eric Osansky, who specialises in treating thyroid conditions with natural methods: “One should eat plenty of vegetables, ideally twice as many vegetables as fruits, and minimise the intake of grains, due to the impact they have on sugar levels. Also grains can interfere with the absorption of iron, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients “.
Following the same principle we should also limit our intake of cooling foods and raw foods.
Digesting these foods takes a lot of energy since they first have to be warmed up by the body. Unfortunately, many vegetables like asparagus, cucumber, eggplant and lettuce have a cooling quality so we should really reduce the amount of them we eat.If you’re a salad eater this might present a challenge at first, but you can substitute neutral vegetables like mushrooms, carrots, corn, sweet potatoes or cabbage, and they can easily be included in a salad or vegetable dish.
Also try to include tyrosine-rich foods such as sesame seeds, lentils, legumes, fish, turkey, organic yogurt, almonds, avocado and pumpkin seeds.These foods contain an amino acid that combines with iodine to make thyroxin.
Stress takes a lot of energy out of the body and we will benefit greatly if we learn how to manage it through breathing exercises, or meditation. I personally recommend a free meditation app called “Insight Timer”, which can be downloaded into your mobile phone.
When we are constantly tired it is easy to resort to stimulants like coffee, guarana, or sugar drinks to get an extra boost.Unfortunately, the extra source of energy has to be drawn from somewhere in the body, and it is the kidney organ, which becomes even weaker in the long term.
Enjoy exercise, but don’t overdo it as pushing yourself to exhaustion will force your body to dig even deeper into its depleted reserves.
While walking, swimming, doing Tai Qi or yoga is very beneficial, for many people with hypothyroidism, running or playing any competitive sport might be too strenuous.
Finally, get a good mineral supplement, and find a doctor who is a good listener and has an open mind.
You might still need to be on medication, but if you follow these guidelines the dosage will gradually be significantly reduced, and that’s a victory in itself!
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com