Thyroid hormones are used by every cell in the body. Consequently, thyroid diseases that disrupt production of thyroid hormones have far reaching affects upon protein synthesis, calcium levels and the manner in which the body burns energy. Symptoms of thyroid problems can thus surface in any part of the body, depending upon whether the thyroid is in the hypo or hyper mode. The two most common thyroid problems are Graves’ disease, which leads to hyperthyroidism, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which starts with a hyper thyroid condition but converts to hypothyroidism later.
The conventional approach to thyroid disease is to use a thyroid supplement containing synthetic hormones to cover up deficiencies. Hyperthyroidism is treated with anti-thyroid drugs, or surgery in severe cases. In either case the treatment is temporary. Treatment of the hyper function usually results in low thyroid functioning, while hormone replacement requires constant monitoring lest low levels convert into a higher concentration of thyroid hormones and hyperthyroidism.
The Oriental approach, basically Indian (Ayurvedic) and Chinese (TCM), is different. It focuses mostly on preventing thyroid disease and strengthening the immune system. In the unfortunate event of occurrence of thyroid disease, the emphasis is on herbs for thyroid that contain iodine and those that promote thyroid function and boost immunity.
According to Ayurveda, enlargement of the thyroid can be averted by regular consumption of milk and milk products, rice, barley, lentils, Bengal gram and sugarcane juice. Kanchanara (_Bauhinia veriegata_ or purple mountain ebony) is specifically meant for improving thyroid function. Pistia, a widespread weed in rivers and lakes, is applied in paste form topically to reduce the swelling.
The Chinese approach relies basically on use of sea foods like oyster shells, seaweeds (mainly laminaria, and sargassum). These are especially beneficial for iodine deficiency goiter. Various herbs like pinellia, fritillaria , sinapis, Dioscorea bulbifera, and various types of citrus plants are used to dissolve the thyroid mass.
Iodine on its own is not effective against autoimmune thyroid conditions. Continued use of herbs or foods containing iodine may not be necessary for such thyroid diseases, and require herbs meant specifically for boosting immunity, in conjunction with other herbs for thyroid.
It is not only with regards to thyroid alone that there is a difference between the Oriental and conventional approach to medicine. The ancient therapies believe that all disease is caused due to certain internal factors. The Chinese theory emphasizes blockage of vital energy and so does the Ayurvedic theory, albeit in different ways. The net inferences, however, are the same. Chinese medicine has concomitant therapies like acupuncture that support herbal treatment. Ayurveda, on the other hand, advocates yoga for thyroid support. Yoga not only promotes inner calm, but specific yogic postures and practices help to improve glandular functions and metabolism, too.