Does Acupuncture Work for Thyroid Disorders?

Does Acupuncture Work for Thyroid Disorders?

Acupuncture works for thyroid disorders not only as a complementary treatment, but as a drug-free alternative as well. There are a multitude of ways that thyroid issues can affect a patients’ everyday life being that there are many conditions that are garnered by the thyroid including hormone issues and autoimmune issues alike. There is an estimated 20 million people with some form of thyroid disease in the US alone, and what’s worse is that 60% of those people are unaware of their condition chalking it up to “normal issues.”

Thyroid Disorders

Unfortunately, the causes of thyroid issues are mostly unknown, and its symptoms are dependent on whether the thyroid is over or under producing the thyroid hormone. Alternatively, if the thyroid issue is autoimmune, the symptoms will be due to the thyroid gland being attacked by the body’s own immune system. The main role of the butterfly shaped gland in the front of the neck is to produce certain hormones which are important in regulating body temperature, metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, and the body’s reaction to other hormones.

Main hormones produced by the thyroid:

  • T3 – triiodothyronine

  • T4 – thyroxine

  • Calcitonin
When there is an issue with the thyroid, it prevents the body from making the above hormones and more that keep the body functioning normally. Producing too much thyroid hormone causes the body to produce energy too quickly, and the opposite if the body produces too little thyroid hormone.

Main types of Thyroid Disease:

  • Hyperthyroidism
    • Symptoms include: anxiety, irritability, nervousness, trouble sleeping, losing weight, enlarged thyroid gland or a goiter, muscle weakness or tremors, sensitive to heat, vision problems or eye irritation, and irregular monthly period or even the menstrual cycle stopping.
  • Hypothyroidism
    • Symptoms include: fatigue, weight gain, hoarse voice, intolerant to cold temperatures, forgetfulness, frequent or heavy menstrual periods, and dry/course hair.
The problem is that many of the symptoms experienced from both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are very similar to a variety of other medical conditions or even just stages of life making it that much more difficult to diagnose. Either way, other diseases of the thyroid will cause either one or the other, impacting the way the thyroid gland works.

Conditions Causing Hypothyroid:

  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – an autoimmune condition in which the cells in the body attack the thyroid, and is an inherited condition.

  • Iodine Deficiency – the thyroid utilizes iodine to produce hormones.

  • Thyroiditis – swelling of the thyroid gland lowering the number of hormones produced by the thyroid.

  • Postpartum Thyroiditis – this occurs in 5-9% of women post childbirth, and is most times temporary.

  • Non-Functioning Thyroid – this is a problem that occurs from birth affecting 1 in 4,000 newborn babies. Untreated, this can cause mental and physical issues in the future for the child. However, all babies are given a blood test in the hospital after birth to verify thyroid function.

Conditions Causing Hyperthyroid:

  • Graves’ Disease – the thyroid gland is overactive and produces too much of the thyroid hormone, and is also known as diffuse toxic goiter or and enlarged thyroid gland.

  • Iodine Surplus – too much iodine causes the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones than it needs. Something patients may not realize is that there is a surplus of iodine in some medications such as amiodarone (heart medication) and cough syrups.

  • Nodules – these nodules can be overactive within the thyroid causing hyperthyroidism. One single nodule is called toxic autonomously functioning thyroid nodule, and a thyroid gland with multiple nodules is known as toxic multi-nodular goiter.
Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can be diagnosed through blood tests, physical exams, or imaging tests. However, western medicine does not know the exact cause of these thyroid issues, so they treat based on symptoms to minimize issues, but not do away with them completely. As we know, acupuncture will take a look at both the symptoms and the cause which is why it makes both a great complimentary treatment as well as a stand-alone treatment.

Acupuncture & Thyroid

            Acupuncture is effective in treating a multitude of thyroid disorders, and works to correct symptoms of excess or lack of the thyroid hormone by restoring hormonal balance, smooth emotions, manage sleep and menstrual problems, and regulate energy levels.

Acupuncture Works for Thyroid Disease By:

  • Increasing the thyroid hormone level in those with hypothyroidism

  • Decreasing the thyroid hormone level in those with hyperthyroidism

  • Increase blood circulation in order to improve joint mobility and decrease muscle stiffness

  • Reduce inflammation

  • Reduce sensitivity to pain by increasing the release of adenosine with treatment
Thyroid disorders in TCM are considered yin or yang imbalances depending on if the patient is either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, and can present with a wide variety of patterns.

Hyperthyroidism TCM Patterns:

  • Yin Deficiency

  • Lung & Kidney Yin Deficiency

  • Stomach Fire

  • Heart Fire

  • Liver Fire

  • Spleen Qi Deficiency & Liver Stagnation with Phlegm

  • Heart Qi & Yin Deficiency

  • Liver Qi Stagnation

Hypothyroidism TCM Patterns:

  • Spleen & Kidney Yang Deficiency with Excess Water

  • Spleen & Stomach Deficiency Cold

  • Spleen Qi Deficiency

  • Spleen Yang Deficiency

  • Liver Yin Deficiency with Kidney Yin & Yang Deficiency

  • Qi & Blood Deficiency
Treatment along the Spleen, Liver, and Kidney channels are utilized to balance thyroid issues in addition to local points. When it comes to hypothyroidism, a common pattern is Spleen Qi Deficiency, and when it comes to hyperthyroidism, a common pattern is Liver Qi Stagnation with phlegm production. While there are a wide range of acupuncture points that work for thyroid issues, there are some that are the most beneficial for either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism depending on the patient’s individual presentations.

Acupuncture Points for Hyperthyroidism:

  • SP6

  • PC6

  • ST36

  • ST10

  • LI4

  • LV3

Acupuncture Points for Hypothyroidism:

  • GB20

  • Shangtianzhu

  • LI4

  • SP6

  • BL2

  • GB14
We know as acupuncture providers that there are many more patterns and acupuncture points that pertain to each individual patients, but having the basics within arm’s reach for these thyroid conditions are always good for a refresher. Most thyroid diseases are life-long, but can be managed with treatment, but undiagnosed, these disorders can turn into more serious conditions like cardiovascular diseases, infertility, or osteoporosis.
Acupuncture for thyroid disorders work to restore immune function and balance both the release and production of the thyroid hormone. In a study from 2018, An Overview of the Contribution of Acupuncture to Thyroid Disorders, it showed acupuncture to restore function to the T3 and T4 hormones by stimulating the pituitary gland, and also with decreasing cortisol. Acupuncture is an effective treatment for rebalancing the thyroid, and equally as important, beneficial in improving quality of life.

To learn more about Acupuncture & TCM for Thyroid Disorders, and earn 15 CEUs/PDAs, click here.