The thyroid gland — an organ located in the front of the neck — plays a significant role in the metabolism, growth, and development of the human body. Unfortunately, the gland is prone to hypothyroidism, a condition that restricts the thyroid from producing and releasing an adequate number of hormones into your bloodstream. It can also cause a deficiency of thyroid hormones in the body and reduce the body’s metabolism.
While hypothyroidism is a common disorder in Western medicine, ancient Chinese medical records did not have an equivalent term to represent hypothyroidism. However, there were many examples in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) literature that highlighted the treatment for goitre, a disease that occurs due to the swelling of the thyroid gland.
The Primary Causes of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is usually caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder that triggers a chronic inflammation of the thyroid. Iodine deficiency, the use of certain medications, a reduction in T3 and T4 hormone levels, or a growth, irradiation, cancer, or surgical removal of the thyroid gland contribute to this condition.
In TCM, hypothyroidism is based on the concept of goitre, which is caused by several factors:
• Psychosomatic factors: Anger, anxiety, and long-term stress are some psychological triggers of hypothyroidism. Stress, in particular, can influence the size, firmness, and nodularity of the lumps in the neck.
• External factors: Such as an improper diet that includes irregular eating, an excessive consumption of raw and cold food, and environmental conditions like living in mountainous regions.
• Physical factors: Usually associated with a woman’s menstrual cycles, pregnancy, delivery, and lactation. These are closely related to blood and qi in the liver meridian. Psychosomatic or external factors can lead to deficiency or excess, hence resulting in women being more susceptible to hypothyroidism.
Common Hypothyroidism Symptoms in Pregnant Women
Often, hypothyroidism may lower metabolism and cause constipation, fatigue, weakness, weight gain or an increased urge to sleep. It can also cause dullness in skin, a reduction in heart rate, and make a person prone to feeling chilly or cold.
Likewise, hypothyroidism can put pregnant women at risk of symptoms which include:
- Depressed mood
- Eye puffiness
- Facial swelling
- Hoarse voice
- Memory loss
- Muscular aches
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Loss of eyebrows
- Coarse or dry skin
- Lacklustre or thin hair
- Joint pain and stiffness
Preventing or Treating Hypothyroidism Symptoms
The most common way for healthcare providers to diagnose hypothyroidism is to perform a thyroid function test. Specifically, it will involve a blood test that indicates the levels of thyroid-stimulating and T4 hormones in the body.
Healthcare providers in Malaysia will perform a mandatory blood test at birth to detect hypothyroidism in newborns. In addition, they will also look out for relative signs of abnormal physical and mental development. These include constipation, excessive sleep, troubled feeding, poor dentition or muscle tone, an oversized tongue, hoarse voice, or navel protrusion. Babies with prolonged jaundice that lasts more than 14 days will also have to undergo a second blood test to rule out hypothyroidism.
These tests are important because pregnant women can also pass down hypothyroidism to their unborn children. Therefore, it’s essential for women planning to have a baby or in the early stages of pregnancy to undergo a thyroid function test beforehand.
Switch up your dietary consumption
Unborn babies rely heavily on their mothers’ thyroid hormones for the first five months of development or until their thyroid glands can produce hormones. Even then, babies may still absorb iodine from their mothers. Therefore, it’s essential for healthy, expecting mothers to consume adequate iodine-rich foods regularly.
Eggs, milk, seaweed, seafood, and plants grown in iodine-abundant soil are suitable for consumption. The inclusion of iodised table salt, too, is also recommended in the preparation of meals. On the contrary, women diagnosed with hypothyroidism should avoid consuming cruciferous vegetables, iron supplements and soy-based foods, as they may inhibit the oral absorption of thyroid hormones. They should also stay away from iodine supplements, as it may disrupt the effectiveness of treatment.
Undergo hormone replacement therapy
This therapy is individual but can be one of the best ways to help people overcome hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormone replacement treatment aims to make up for the lack of hormones secreted by the thyroid gland.
Typically, a healthcare provider will suggest the oral use of synthetic thyroid hormone pills. However, take note that the human body can absorb hormones. Hence, the quantity of hormones the body needs to function correctly may vary.
Use acupuncture and moxibustion
TCM believes that hypothyroidism is the by-product of a chronic deficiency of one or more vital substances in the body. These include blood, jing (essence), yin (passive energy), yang (active energy), and qi (vital energy).
For this reason, people with the condition are encouraged to use acupuncture and moxibustion to achieve balance. For instance, stimulation of the back-shu points can tonify the Zang organs and regulate the Fu organs, whereas the front-mu points can sedate the Fu and modulate the Zang.
Consume traditional, herbal remedies
Formulation prepared with Codonopsis root (dang shen) is generally beneficial for boosting blood and qi. However, physicians also consider the different stages of hypothyroidism and deficiencies before prescribing the most suitable TCM herbal prescriptions.
A formula known as a ‘Four-Gentleman decoction’ (Si Jun Zi Tang) can address a spleen qi deficiency. Herbs like astragalus (huang qi), ginseng (ren shen), and white atractylodes rhizome (bai zhu) can also be used to strengthen spleen qi.
A modified ‘All-Inclusive Great Tonifying Decoction’ (Shi Quan Da Bu Tang) can remedy qi and blood deficiencies, while a formulation called You Gui Wan helps with treating kidney and spleen yang deficiencies. Combining a variant of ‘Prepared Liquorice Decoction’ (Zhi Gan Cao Tang) with a ‘True Warrior Decoction’ (Zhen Wu Tang) can also help heart and kidney yang deficiencies. Alternatively, a ‘Frigid Extremities Decoction’ with ginseng (Si Ni Jia Ren Shen Tang) is a good herbal remedy to replenish depleted yang and tonify blood and yin.
Regular tests are essential for alleviating hypothyroidism symptoms in pregnant women. You can also manage this condition using the tips and TCM recommendations in this article. However, it’s advisable for expecting mothers to seek the advice of a healthcare provider and TCM practitioner before using ancient remedies.
- Endocrineweb. What is Thyroid Hormone Replacement Therapy? [online] [Accessed 28 October 2021]
- 2016.Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach to Hypothyroidism. [online] [Accessed 28 October 2021]
- Journal of the Chinese Medical Association. 2021. Goiter disease in traditional Chinese medicine: Modern insight into ancient wisdom [online] [Accessed 2 December 2021]
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