City life can be hard on the thyroid, and many Houstonians are living with a thyroid that’s out of balance, resulting in either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Both can reduce quality of life to a significant extent, but drug and surgical treatment may not provide the desired efficacy, in addition to also posing risks to patients.
Acupuncture offers an alternative that’s been in use for centuries to treat thyroid disease. While western medicine uses a targeted approach that segments the body into different organ systems, Chinese medicine considers the body to be an interconnected system itself. The goal for Houston practitioners is to identify which organs need support, then develop an individualized treatment plan based on the patient’s symptoms.
For thyroid disorders, acupuncture is a standard part of the treatment regimen – and it can be used to treat both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Environmental Factors Can Damage Thyroid Health
Thyroid disorders can be caused by a large array of factors, including environmental factors like picking up a communicable illness or exposure to high levels of airborne pollutants. Houston’s urban environment presents both risks, like most large cities. In Houston, thyroids may be stressed by the presence of petrochemical plants and the airborne pollutants they emit. Couple this with the high-density, high-stress form of life that accompanies population centers like Houston, and thyroid health may be constantly tested.
Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism: What’s the Difference?
The thyroid is a regulating organ that produces a cocktail of hormones responsible for metabolism and growth, as well as regulating numerous organ functions, including heart, muscle and digestive function. To do this, the thyroid must secrete the right balance of hormones, particularly two thyroid hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). When physicians refer to thyroid hormone levels, they’re usually focused on T3 and T4.
When diagnosing thyroid problems, physicians will use a blood panel to assess T3 and T4 levels. Depending on the outcome of this test, the patient may be diagnosed with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Here’s the difference:
- Hyperthyroidism – Hyperthyroidism is the term used for a hyperactive thyroid – one that secretes too much thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroid conditions include Graves’ disease, thyroiditis and thyroid nodules.Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include weight loss, sleep disturbances, tremors or weakness, heat sensitivity, restlessness, irritability and anxiety.
- Hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism is the opposite. It’s the result of an underactive thyroid that doesn’t release enough thyroid hormone to cover the body’s needs. Hypothyroid conditions include several forms of thyroiditis, such as Hashimoto’s and postpartum thyroiditis. An iodine deficiency can also cause hypothyroid issues.Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, fatigue, forgetfulness, hoarseness, coarse hair and cold sensitivity.
As the symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are typically non-specific, they can be difficult to treat with medication alone. Acupuncture, though, is designed to restore systemic balance in the body and support thyroid function as a result.
How Can Acupuncture Help with Thyroid Function?
Since the practice was developed millennia ago, acupuncture has been consistently improved upon by practitioners. Over the centuries, practitioners have identified an increasing number of acupuncture points, each one representing a potential stimulation point for acupuncture needles. These points may serve as nerve signaling pathways, each one connected to various organs and tissues.
Western medical research into acupuncture suggests that nerve stimulation is likely behind the practice’s beneficial effects. Some of those effects are relevant to thyroid conditions and include:
- Restoring hormonal balance – Acupuncture treatments can help balance out hormones, including those secreted by the thyroid gland. In hyperthyroid patients, acupuncture can reduce the amount of thyroid-stimulating hormone, while it can have the opposite effect (increasing T3 and T4) in patients experiencing hypothyroidism.Acupuncture treatment may do this by stimulating the glands involved in hormone production, helping better regulate their function. This effect has been noted in several hormone-related conditions, including menstrual disorders.
- Suppressing pain signaling – Some of the strongest medical research into acupuncture is related to pain management. Acupuncture can help with an array of pain conditions, including chronic back and neck pain, arthritis, headaches and fibromyalgia. It can also help with pain arising from thyroid dysfunction, including neck, jaw and ear pain caused by thyroiditis.Acupuncture’s efficacy in this area is likely due to its ability to stimulate the release of opioid-like biochemicals and adenosine. Together, these can downregulate pain signaling and reduce its intensity.
- Improving blood circulation – Acupuncture stimulation also encourages the release of circulation-regulating biochemicals like nitric oxide. Nitric oxide, for example, is a vasodilator that relaxes blood vessels and permits increased blood flow. Acupuncture can make nitric oxide more available in the body.Better circulation can aid with pain and inflammation by preventing fluid stagnation. Nutrients can be more efficiently delivered to tissues, too, improving their function. This can add up to reduced pain and inflammation in thyroid patients.
- Reducing fatigue and anxiety – Acupuncture is also recommended for several mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. Its ability to boost well-being and mood (thereby reducing stress) is related to feel-good chemicals like endorphins. Acupuncture stimulates their release and encourages the body’s parasympathetic system to enter a “rest and digest” mode. This helps patients maintain a relaxed state and be in a better mental place for managing pain.
Together, these effects can reduce the symptom load of thyroid conditions and resolve the underlying hormonal imbalance potentially driving the disorder.
A Licensed Houston Acupuncturist Can Help with Better Thyroid Function
Acupuncture is generally well-tolerated among patients, but it’s important to work with a licensed acupuncturist in Houston. In Texas, acupuncturists are regulated by the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners – which recommends best practices to the Texas Medical Board. Acupuncturists in Houston must abide by these practices to remain in good standing with both boards.
These practices include proper needle sanitation and targeting of the right acupuncture points. This knowledge is critical for rendering efficacious results.
If your thyroid is causing chronic symptoms, to the point where your quality of life is suffering, then acupuncture can serve as an effective adjunct therapy, and a licensed acupuncturist in Houston will be best equipped to deliver positive results.