You may have a thyroid problem or know someone who does. Or you may just not be feeling yourself and you can’t put your finger on it. Many clients I see today have an undiagnosed thyroid issue, or their immune system is suppressed and they are on the verge of being diagnosed. Ayurvedic practitioners are trained in picking up disease in the pulse, so often we can tell there is an issue, well before the disease is labelled as such.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the front of your neck below the Adam's apple. It is responsible for providing energy to nearly every organ in your body - controlling functions like how your heart beats and how your digestive system works. Thyroid disease is a common problem that can cause symptoms because of over- or under-function of the thyroid gland. Without the right amount of thyroid hormones, your body’s natural functions begin to slow down.
Autoimmune thyroid disease
The most common causes of thyroid problems are the autoimmune disorders known as Hashimoto’s Disease, or hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland becomes under-active, and Grave’s disease, which causes the thyroid gland to become over-active (hyperthyroidism).
In both scenarios, the immune system is attacking the cells of the thyroid gland, which then become inflamed and either produce less thyroid hormone or more. This causes metabolic changes as the thyroid hormones regulate.
Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism are feeling tired and sluggish, constipated, sensitive to the cold, having elevated blood cholesterol, weight gain (mostly in fluid), muscle aches and pains (particularly in shoulders and hips), muscle weakness (especially in the lower extremities), feeling down and longer than normal menstrual bleeding.
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism, or Grave’s disease, include anxiety, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, tremors in the hands, sensitivity to heat, weight loss, enlarged thyroid, change in menstrual cycle, low libido, diarrhea, bulging eyes and thick, red skin usually on the shins or tops of feet.
Beginning of a problem
Medical treatment for autoimmune thyroid disease can be harshe and includes radioactive iodine therapy, anti-thyroid medication, beta blockers and surgery.
In Ayurveda we have a different approach, we look at the problem more holistically and get to the root cause of the problem rather than just offering a band-aid solution.
We know the disease process originates in the gut, so modifying diet and lifestyle is the starting point. The imbalance tends to come from weak digestive fire (agni) and excessive undigested food waste, or toxins (ama). Together with imbalanced doshas, it compromises the metabolic process of nurturing the seven tissues – starting with blood (rasa) and and going through to the final by-product of health and vitality (ojas). The seven tissues are fascinating and integral to understanding how your body works, you can read more about them in another article I wrote, here.
Once compromised, low quality ojas is created - and combined with excess heat (or pitta dosha) - the immune system starts to attack the thyroid gland and an autoimmune disorder develops.
If you want to read more about the disease process and find out where you are on the Health Spectrum – and ultimately get yourself to a place of greater wellness, check out this article.
Formation of an autoimmune disease
These conditions are not easy to treat, often they are caused by many years of untreated imbalances and they affect the tissue and vital organs at a very deep level.
Management needs to be comprehensive and very targeted to the individual rather than the disease generally because every case can be different. Normally there are many other symptoms or conditions with this as well.
Sore joints, digestive issues, eczema, headache, weight gain or low energy can seem like small unrelated health issues that come and go, but these can be the early symptoms of an autoimmune disease and shouldn’t be ignored.
The National Institutes of Health estimate that more than 23 million Americans now suffer from autoimmune disease (when your immune system makes antibodies and immune cells that mistakenly attack your own healthy tissues). This number is growing exponentially, think back a decade or two and autoimmune diseases were very rare, you probably didn’t know much about them and may not have known anyone who had one.
These days I’m seeing a lot of patients come in with autoimmune thyroid disease. While there is a strong genetic predisposition for this, even if it skips a generation, it can also be brought on by poor processing of diet and emotions.
What causes autoimmune disorders?
The most important thing to understand about autoimmune diseases is that they are best treated when they are individual niggly problems -- before they become a full-blown illness. Once you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune, it’s very common to get another one. It’s also difficult to reverse these disorders. Once you’ve had one, even if you seem better now, you’ll always be in remission. So you’re much better off taking care of yourself from the start.
The other thing to understand, is if you’ve got a genetic predisposition towards an autoimmune disease, it’s very unusual to go from birth to death without something triggering this disorder. Other triggers are usually an illness, which affects the immune system, or a life stress.
It’s easy to understand if you imagine a tree trunk as the autoimmune disease, with the branches of the tree symbolising the different disorders. Statistics show autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s and/or Graves' Disease) is increasing in Australia.
Treating thyroid issues
In spite of this, there are some dietary and lifestyle factors that are important to take on across the board. For example, it’s important to avoid activities that deplete ojas – so a starting point is often avoiding wheat, refined sugar, fermented foods, alcohol, yoghurt and yeast. It’s also worth limiting dry and cold food. Emotional imbalances like fear, anxiety, anger and grief can also deplete ojas. Other changes to diet and lifestyle will depend on the other imbalances and the specific case.
We put together herbal formulations to balance the body tissues (doshas), increase healthy ojas production, improve circulation and eliminate toxins.
When suffering a thyroid or autoimmune problem you will need to get help. The answer isn’t as easy, but it’s absolutely possible to get this under control in many cases. For more information get in touch with us here.
Home remedy: Quarter of teaspoon turmeric three times a day in water, juice or food – turmeric is anti-inflammatory and helps build the immune system.