The week before Christmas while I was spending time with my daughter, I happened to catch a segment of a regular show featuring a panel of young attractive Doctors who discuss health issues during their program broadcast. The segment featured a young woman, who had recently been diagnosed with a thyroid gland disorder, who called in to ask about her condition. Naturally she was concerned as she tried to understand how this was going to impact her health and life.
The doctors briefly discussed hyper vs hypo-thyroidism, and treatment. They tried to ease the patients concern by informing her that the treatment with drugs is well established, and that she would have to take the drugs for the rest of her life!!!
Typically, the hormone produced by the pituitary gland or thyroid is supplemented, replaced, and/or regulated by the use of replacement hormones. Several forms of drugs such as synthetics and bioidenticals are available.
What concerns me is not so much what they said, but what they didn’t say! First of all they did not discuss the cause of the thyroid problem. Secondly they did not tell the woman that the drugs only treat the symptoms, and do nothing to address the root cause of the disorder. Thirdly, they did not inform her that she would probably have the dosage of her medications gradually increased over time in order to maintain their effect or that she might run a gamut of several drugs before finding the one that she responded to best. I’m not even going to mention the potential side effects such as arrythmia, heart failure, menstrual irregularities, tremors, insomnia, headaches … OK I lied … or the contraindications and possible interactions with diseases, drugs, or supplements. Oh and let’s hope she has medical insurance to cover the cost of her lifelong prescription.
Thyroid gland disorders are most common in women. A type of hypothyroidism known as Hashimotos disease is the most common form of thyroid disorder in our country. The root cause of this disease is due to a disorder in the immune system not the thyroid gland itself. The immune disorder results in the affected individuals immune cells attacking tissues or enzymes in the thyroid gland and gradually destroying them. This attack of ones own body by their immune system is referred to as an auto-immune disease. This means there is a progressive loss of thyroid gland tissues and thus a gradual decline in thyroid hormone.
Drugs help replace the loss of thryoid hormone (in the case of hypothyroidism), but because the thyroid is continually being destroyed by the auto-immune condition the amount of natural hormone produced by the thryoid gland continues to decrease. This means that the drugs will have to be continually monitored and the doses adjusted (increased) to maintain control.
Treating the root cause of the disease is always a good approach if one hopes to manage or heal a disease or in the least slow it’s progression and minimize the use of drugs. Addressing the patients immune system and the auto-immune condition is a key element in helping the patient manage their disease with the most beneficial results, for example, in the case of Hashimotos disease. This approach helps reduce the destruction of the thyroid gland by a disregulated immune system, and helps slow down the gradual decline in thryoid function.
There are steps that can be taken to help the immune system function properly. Some of them relate to diet and lifestyle choices. Treating the modern disease classification of autoimmune disease using Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is established in China following principles that date much further in the past (Hou, W., Xu, G., Wang, H. (2011). Treating autoimmune disease with chinese medicine. China: Churchhill Livingstone Elsevier). Modern scientific research has turned out numerous papers in the last decade showing acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine has a regulatory effect on the immune system and can benefit the immune system.
The use of acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal formulas or supplements may be a better first approach to managing auto-immune diseases such as Hashimotos disease or in the least used as supplemental complimentary care for a more comprehensive treatment program.