Patient Name: Meenakshi Shinde
Weight: 90 kg
Symptoms: Fatigue, weight gain, puffiness, muscle weakness,
high cholesterol level, hair fall
When Meenakshi Shinde was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, she was more or less relieved. Inexplicable weight gain and chronic fatigue over the past two years had left her feeling depressed. Her inability to meet deadlines and commitments had forced her to curtail her active, fulfilling life. Her condition left Meenakshi in a severely depressed state of mind. Once the diagnosis was in, Meenakshi hoped that with proper treatment, she would soon be able to resume her normal life.
Thyroid Gland & its Significance
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped endocrine gland located in the front of the neck. The hormone released by the gland determines the pace of the body’s metabolism. To put it simply, the thyroid hormone released into the blood by the gland will determine how fast the heart beats, how quickly calories are burned up, the rate of breathing, body weight, menstrual cycles, and the working of the peripheral and central nervous system. The gland uses iodine from food to make two main hormones; triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).
Any decrease or decrease in the hormones released into the blood stream can have a serious impact on health. Hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, goiter and thyroid nodules are some of the ailments associated with a malfunctioning thyroid gland.
What does Ayurveda say About Thyroid?
There is no direct reference to the thyroid and the problems that can be caused by the imbalance of its hormones in the ancient Ayurveda texts. However, pioneers like Charaka and Sushruta make oblique references to heath issues created by a neck-swelling described as Galaganda. Sushruta, the surgeon, described the Galaganda as two small or big swellings in the front of the neck, located in the sixth layer of the tissues. The description does fit the thyroid gland to a great extent. Both of them noted that patients with neck swelling normally suffer from breathing problems, weakness and lack of appetite. Charaka and Sushruta attributed the problems caused by the Galaganda to environmental factors like the climate, quality of water consumed and other dietary considerations. The literature also states that Galaganda was more common in the eastern part of the country and among fish-eating populace. It is possible that this could be the beginning of the theory that iodine had an important role to play in the functioning of the thyroid gland. Food grown in areas with too much / too little iodine in the soil would affect the Galaganda. Similarly, fish contains iodine; thus fish-eating people are more susceptible to Galaganda.
As per Ayurveda, the thyroid gland is located deep inside the layers of the tissue. When working out the treatment plan for a patient suffering from thyroid, the Ayurveda practitioner has to ensure that the first five layers of tissues are working properly. Only then will the prescribed medicines/foods/herbs penetrate into the sixth layer of tissue to correct the functioning of the thyroid gland. Thus, the Ayurvedic treatment would involve both repairing the structure of the tissues in the first five layers as well as correcting the functioning of the gland. Thyroid hormonal imbalance is explained in terms of the imbalance of the doshas. The functioning of the thyroid is determined by the Pitta. When the Vatta or Kapha doshas overpower it, the thyroid gland will malfunction. Excessive Kapha causes hypothyroidism, while aggravated Vatta will cause hyperthyroidism. Ayurveda believes that thyroid imbalance is caused by genetic or congenital factors. It could also be due to auto-immune disorders or the side-effect of some other ailment.
Ayurveda Treatment for Thyroid
Ayurveda relies on the power of herbs and diet to treat thyroid. Kerala, in the southern tip of India, is renowned for its practitioners, who offer Ayurvedic treatments to control thyroid. One of the most powerful herbs to treat the condition is kanchanara. It can be used to treat both hyper/hypothyroidism as the herb acts on the thyroid gland and regulates hormone production. It has the capacity to increase or decrease production of the hormone and reduces inflammation of the thyroid. The bark of the plant is taken as a decoction on an empty stomach. Nowadays, pills with kanchanara as an ingredient are also available. Guggul combined with kanchanara is often prescribed as the resins from the sap of guggul are said to flush toxins out of the system.
Ashwagandha is also often used to alleviate the symptoms of hypothyroidism. The herb is anti-inflammatory, boosts immunity and relaxes the nerves and brain. It helps to remove the feeling of sluggishness and weakness that can be debilitating in cases of hypothyroidism. Eating black walnuts, which have a high concentration of iodine, also improves the functioning of the thyroid gland. The seaweed Bladderwrack is also used to stimulate the thyroid gland as it contains high doses of iodine. Other useful herbs include jatamansi, shilajit, brahmi, gokshura and punarnava.
Jalakhumbhi or watercress is used to reduce the swelling or inflammation of the thyroid gland. A fine paste of the plant is applied on the affected area. Drinking small doses of juice of the iodine-rich vegetable will improve the functioning of the thyroid gland. A paste of dandelion leaves or flax seeds will also reduce thyroid swelling.
Diet for Thyroid Patients
The addition of coconut oil in the diet of hypothyroid patients can be helpful. The oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which can boost sluggish metabolism. Patients suffering from goiter should drink milk and have a diet rich in dals and cereals. Sea food including shell fish is also prescribed. Common vegetables like white onions and potatoes have plenty of iodine and should be included in the diet. For hyperthyroid patients, foods that reduce the activity of the thyroid gland include greens like mustard leaves, spinach and radish. Cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage should be included in the diet.