The Yin and Yang of Your Thyroid
Most people don’t think of Yin and Yang when it comes to their thyroid. However if you were to visit a practitioner of acupuncture or Chinese medicine, Yin and Yang is likely to be one of the things that they’re thinking about.
Your thyroid is an endocrine (hormonal) gland in your neck. It produces two chemicals, called T3 and T4, which regulate your metabolism. When your thyroid produces too much of these chemicals, your metabolism speeds up, causing weight loss, anxiety, sleeplessness, a rapid heartbeat, and hyperactivity.
However, more often than not, when your thyroid is out of balance, it’s not making enough of these hormones, resulting in a sluggish metabolism, or hypothyroidism. Symptoms of a slow metabolism include fatigue, weight gain, constipation, depression, a slow heartbeat, and an intolerance to cold.
The signs of a thyroid imbalance are often subtle, and many people don’t think about their thyroid when they’re not feeling well. As a result, thyroid imbalances frequently go undetected. Diagnosing a thyroid imbalance can involve a simple blood test to measure the levels of hormones that your thyroid is secreting. In Western medicine, thyroid imbalances are usually treated with hormones to supplement an inactive gland, and an overactive thyroid is often treated with medication to suppress its activity or through radioactive iodine that shrinks the gland.
In Chinese medicine, Yin and Yang can be used to describe the function of metabolism and understand the implications of thyroid balance. Yang is depicted by the Chinese character of the sun and a hill—the sunny side of a hill. The sunny hill is warm, bright, invigorating, transformative, and moves upward and outward. In contrast, Yin is depicted by the shady side of the hill, or the presence of clouds. On the shady side, it’s cool, calm, dark, damp, and more nourishing.
In your body, Yang acts like an internal pilot light that keeps your body warm, active, and transformative—the very essence of metabolism. Yin, on the other hand, acts like a moist coolant that keeps Yang in check. When it comes to your thyroid, the balance between Yin and Yang is what keeps your thyroid and metabolism healthy. Too much Yang, and your metabolism runs too hot and active. Not enough Yang, and cool, damp Yin takes over.
Most people who have thyroid issues, struggle with an underactive gland—or a shortage of Yang. Without the warmth and activity of Yang, they feel slow, cold, low on energy, and tend to gain weight. This is where Chinese medicine can help, because whether or not you take medications to regulate your thyroid, chances are your imbalance will persist.
Whether you’re struggling with an underactive or overactive thyroid, your acupuncturist can help balance your body, regulate Yin and Yang, and stabilize your thyroid through the use of a number of healing tools. They will likely begin with acupuncture, this may including ear acupuncture, with a number of points that affect your thyroid gland. In addition, there are several Chinese herbal formulas that can balance Yin and Yang for an underactive or overactive thyroid. Your practitioner may recommend heat therapy for an underactive gland, and can help you develop a dietary strategy to get the nutrients you need and foods to avoid for healthy thyroid function.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.