The thyroid is a tiny gland with an enormous impact on the health and wellbeing of the entire body. Underfunctioning of this gland, or hypothyroidism, affects approximately 1 out of every 12 women. However, thyroid conditions can be sub-clinical or go unnoticed for many years. Every cell in the body needs small amounts of thyroid hormone for optimal functioning. So, when this gland is compromised, many aspects of health can diminish, including fertility.
Many women suffer unnecessarily with symptoms such as fatigue, decreased libido, hair loss, water retention, depression, insomnia, and menstrual irregularity and may experience fertility challenges such as recurrent miscarriages.
Chinese medicine groups many of these symptoms into the "Kidney" system, which loosely correlates to the endocrine system, including thyroid, adrenal and ovarian function. Chinese medicine practitioners assess not only standard lab tests (measurements of TSH, T3 and T4) but also delve into aspects of health history such as immunity, energy levels and sleep patterns that have interrelationships to the thyroid function in order to arrive at an understanding of the entire "Kidney" system.
Both Chinese and Western medicine recognize that stress, overwork and poor diet may negatively impact the "Kidney" or endocrine system. Conversely, applying acupuncture and appropriate lifestyle modifications may help improve endocrine health and in turn, reproductive function.
The insertion of acupuncture needles at specific points on the body propagates sensation to the brain (specifically the hypothalamus), which in turn helps regulate the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian Axis to impact hormone regulation and improve thyroid function.
Chinese medical nutrition traditionally employs substances from the sea that are rich in iodine, such as oyster shells and seaweed, to treat thyroid nodules. With the current availability of iodine (an essential component of the thyroid) in our regular food sources, these substances may not be as necessary, but a well-balanced diet, including good sources of protein (deep sea fish, hormone-free meat and poultry), complex carbohydrates (squash, asparagus, brown rice, beans, sweet potatoes), have shown to contribute toward healthy thyroid function. Foods to avoid include alcohol, sugar and goitrogens (peanuts, pine nuts, tapioca and sorgum).
Stress reduction techniques and immune-restoring activities such as yoga and meditation help to re-balance and restore thyroid function. Cognitive therapy has also shown an effect on the thyroid axis similar to that of antidepressant treatments.
Proper diagnosis and treatment of hypothyroidism can significantly improve reproductive health and overall quality of life.