Hyperthyroidism is confirmed by blood tests where the T4 and T3 levels are elevated and thyroid stimulating hormone is low. Graves’ disease leads to hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease is hereditary and effects more women than men and is characterised by protusion of the eyeballs, enlarged thyroid gland, excitability and nervousness and rapid heart beat. It is an auto immune disease and blood analysis can show that there are antibodies against the thyroid TSH receptors.
Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include anxiety, weight loss, intolerance to heat, sweating and irritability. Palpitation and a fluttering heart sensation can be common as well.
One western medical treatment for Graves’ disease is radioactive iodine which causes hypothyroidism in more than 25% of patients.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been used for hundreds of years to treat hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease.
In ancient China, symptoms of hyperthyroidism were called
“gu yan ning jing” which translates as “dove-like fixed eye”.
Ancient Chinese physicians in fact knew that goitres were more prominent in certain remote mountainous areas where the soil was deficient in certain substances and that sea weed could treat the problem. About 1000 years later, modern medical physicians worked out that iodine deficiency can cause goitre.
Chinese medical diagnosis looks at the cause of hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease also from a hereditary point of view where treatment is focused on improving the “essence” or constitutional factors of the patient. In western medical terms, stress can also affect the thyroid and Chinese medicine looks at the liver to address the stress causing the imbalance.
The liver in Chinese medical thought can become imbalanced in a number of ways. One is that it can become blocked and then affect free flow of energy to all the meridians. This then causes fluids, including phlegm, to accumulate and block the throat region and cause goitre.
The liver can easily become too hot from excess anger or spicy food and as we all know, heat rises. As the heat rises, the symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism such as sweating, palpitations and heat intolerance come about.
Ancient physicians realised that there was a connection between the eyes and liver and this is one of the reasons why patients with hyperthyroidism get the symptom presentation of bulging eyes.
Many of the Chinese herbs that have been traditionally used to treat this problem have been researched from a modern biomedical perspective. For instance, huang qi (Radix Astragali Membranacei) when used at high doses in formulations can lower T3 and T4, and effectively therefore treat hyperthyroidism.
Acupuncture for hyperthyroidism is best combined with Chinese herbs for optimum effect. Dr He of the Jiang Su Provincial Hospital in Nanjing has found that with his research, the “acupuncture only group” had a 40% higher rate of remaining symptom free as compared to the control group that received acupuncture plus western medicine. He also found that many patients who received western medicine only were able to control the hyperthyroidism but the symptoms of bulging eyes and dry throat remained.