Q I am a 79-year-old woman.
I have a serious gastric problem as a scope done last year showed that I have a lot of acid in my stomach.
Besides that, I also have hypothyroidism. I take thyroxine medication, which causes me to be excessively hungry.
I have to eat every one or two hours. When I stopped taking thyroxine for two weeks, I had no hunger issue. But when I resumed taking thyroxine, the hunger problem returned after a few days.
My doctor told me that if I stop taking thyroxine, I will have symptoms such as a slow pulse, weight gain and even heart problems. If a blood test in six weeks' time shows no improvement in my thyroid condition, he may have to increase the dosage.
How can traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) help? Can echinacea root replace thyroxine?
A Hypothyroidism, also called an underactive thyroid, is a common endocrine disorder in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones.
It can cause a number of symptoms, such as an inability to tolerate cold, fatigue, constipation, a slowed heart rate, depression as well as weight gain.
If it is untreated, the symptoms can gradually worsen.
Constant stimulation of the thyroid gland to release more hormones may lead to an enlarged thyroid, termed a goitre.
Advanced hypothyroidism, though rare, can be life-threatening with symptoms such as low blood pressure, decreased breathing and body temperature.
In TCM, hypothyroidism is thought to be caused by deficiencies in the kidneys, spleen and heart.
In TCM, yin and yang originating in the kidneys is the root of all yin and yang for the organs. Kidney yin moistens and nourishes the body, while kidney yang provides warmth.
A lack of yang leads to a cold body, an aversion to cold and fatigue, dizziness, a pale complexion and scanty hair, among other symptoms.
A lack of yin and yang together triggers hypothyroidism, with symptoms such as dizziness, coarse skin, slow movements, a pale complexion and constipation.
The health of the kidneys and spleen is intricately linked.
When kidney yang is deficient and unable to warm up the spleen - an organ responsible for transforming nutrients from food into qi and blood- it can weaken spleen yang.
A spleen that is weak in yang is unable to produce qi and blood to nourish the kidneys, and can also further weaken kidney yang.
A deficiency in kidney and spleen yang can trigger hypothyroidism.
This leads to symptoms that include a puffy face, yellowish or pale complexion, fatigue, cold limbs, numbness, a lack of strength, breathlessless, reticence, dizziness, a poor appetite, bloated stomach, an aversion to cold, loose stools, impotence and irregular menstrual periods.
When kidney yang is deficient and unable to warm the heart, its yang element weakens.
This triggers hypothyroidism with coldness of the body and limbs, heart palpitations, a puffy face, pale complexion, sluggish movements, dizziness and tinnitus, among other symptoms.
Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and cupping therapy can help to improve your condition by strengthening your organs.
To boost kidney yang, take common curculigo rhizome, epimedium herb, dodder seeds and cassia bark.
To increase both kidney yin and yang, go for processed rehmannia root, fleeceflower root and dwarf lilyturf tuber.
Herbs such as morinda root, malaytea scurfpea fruit, cassia twig and codonopsis root are used to boost your kidney and spleen yang.
Others, such as prepared common monkshood daughter root, rehmannia root, Chinese angelica and white peony root are used to increase heart and kidney yang.
Echinacea root is not one of the herbs used to treat hypothyroidism in TCM.
There is no research to prove that this root can replace thyroxine.
Besides herbs, you should keep yourself warm and do some light exercises in the morning sun to increase yang in your body.
Avoid catching upper respiratory infections, which could lead to myxedema coma, a life-threatening state of extreme hypothyroidism.
Go for easily digested food that is prepared in liquid or semi-liquid forms, such as porridge or soup with fish, eggs, lotus seeds, red dates, walnut, black sesame, beef or mutton to enhance your spleen.
Avoid consuming cold, spicy, oily and raw food, which is difficult to digest and can reduce your spleen yang.
Go to bed early, at around 10pm, and have sufficient rest to boost your immune system and produce more yin and yang for the body.
Lim Lay Beng
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at YS Healthcare TCM Clinic