According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million people have some form of thyroid disease,1 many of whom are experiencing hypothyroidism. How can Ayurveda help hypothyroidism? Let’s first take a look at the causes.
What Is The Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland located in the neck below the thyroid cartilage. The main function of the thyroid gland is producing thyroid hormones, the principal ones being triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). T3 and T4 are synthesized from both iodine and tyrosine. The thyroid also produces calcitonin, which plays a role in calcium homeostasis.
The two conditions resulting from impairment of the thyroid glands are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, of which hypothyroidism is more common.
Hypothyroidism is a major condition affecting many people. Most are unaware they have thyroid disease as the clinical signs are not visible externally. Only when they take the blood test will they know. In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland does not produce a sufficient amount of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
What Causes Thyroid Disease?
One cause of thyroid disease is autoimmune disorder. Antibodies present in the body itself attack the thyroid glands resulting in a condition named autoimmune thyroiditis which eventually destroys the thyroid gland.
Another reason is physical and mental stress. Physical stress can be defined as stress on the physical body where it is not able to accommodate a lifestyle such as fast food, disturbed sleep patterns and environmental risk factors. Mental stress can arise from work pressure, emotional weakness, grief or family disputes.
All of these factors result in the secretion of cortisol, the hormone which acts as a protective mechanism to stress. Originally developed as a response to physical threat, when the duration of stress increases too much cortisol causes the tissues to no longer respond to the thyroid hormone signal. This is known as thyroid resistance. It can cause thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels to be elevated while T4 and T3 are within the normal range.
Symptoms Of Hypothyroidism
Chronic fatigue, weight gain, depression, low blood pressure, sensitivity to heat and cold, paresthesias, bradycardia, elevated LDL- cholesterol, reactive hypoglycemia, hoarseness, constipation, headache, muscle weakness, joint stiffness, swollen face, menorrhagia (heavy and prolonged menstruation), cramps, memory loss, visual problems, infertility and hair loss.
The main causes of thyroid disease are diet and lifestyle factors that imbalance the digestive fire or agni and metabolism. Stress and overwork also play an important part as this causes imbalanced agni and vitiation of the dosha. In thyroid disorders kapha dosha is vitiated which can cause a depletion of ojas. Once the ojas is affected then the immune system begins to act improperly, attacking the thyroid gland and resulting in depletion of thyroid functions and body metabolism.
Ayurvedic Treatment For Thyroid Conditions
Kapha dosha has the property of guru which means heaviness. It also has the property of manda or dullness. Treatment should focus on reducing manda guna of Kapha dosha.
Ayurvedic herbal formulas for thyroid include Vaisvanara curnam for Agni Dipana, Varunadi Kasayam, Punarnavadi kasayam and Kancanara guggulu. The practice of nasya is also beneficial.
Foods high in iodine like shellfish should be included in the diet. High selenium foods such as Brazil nuts, oysters, tuna, sunflower seeds, whole wheat bread, pork, chicken, mushrooms, whole grains and milk are also beneficial.2
Foods To Avoid: alcohol, coffee, cabbage and cauliflower.
The practice of yoga and meditation everyday can reduce stress significantly. Pratimarshya nasya with appropriate medication can control kapha vitiation. Exercise for half an hour daily can be very beneficial. People with thyroid diseases who regularly exercise for half an hour stimulate the thyroid gland and increase body metabolic function thereby reducing excess weight gain.
1 “General Information/Press Room.” American Thyroid Association, American Thyroid Association, www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/.
2 House, Paul. “Top 10 Foods Highest in Selenium.” HealthAliciousNess, HealthAliciousNess, 22 June 2017, www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-high-in-selenium.php.