Ayurvedic Management of Hypothyroidism
By Dr Sajimon George BAMS, AAA, ATMS
Ayurveda is all about food, herbs, lifestyle, yoga, and meditation, which promotes physical as well as psychological health. Ayurveda teaches us how to live in harmony with Mother Nature.
Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder, and it is thought to affect around six to ten per cent of women. The prevalence rises with age – up to a quarter of women, over the age of 65 years may be affected.
Men are also affected, but less frequently. Hypothyroidism can be either primary or secondary. Primary hypothyroidism means that the thyroid gland itself is diseased, while secondary hypothyroidism is caused by problems with the pituitary gland.
The most common cause of primary hypothyroidism is the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s disease. The thyroid gland is one of the most important and sensitive endocrine glands. It easily responds to stress and hence the global incidence of hypothyroidism is increasing day by day.
The major function of the thyroid gland is to control the rate of metabolism. The principle function of thyroxine (thyroid hormone) is to act as a catalyst of oxidative metabolism in most tissues. Cells in the body take their ‘cue’ from thyroxine. The amount of stimulation the cells receive from thyroxine will determine how ‘quickly’ they perform their functions. These functions are similar to the description of Agni principle in Ayurveda.
Hypothyroidism results from inadequate production of thyroid hormone. Any structural or functional defects of thyroid gland that significantly impairs its output of hormones will lead to the hypo metabolic state of hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism makes confusion for their nonspecific nature and for the way in which they mimic many symptoms of other diseases. So it often remains undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Common symptoms include
- Fatigue and Weakness
- Weight gain and hard to lose weight
- Tendency for constipation
- Tendency to feel depressed
- High intolerance to cold
- Coarse, brittle or lusterless hair
- Dry, scaling, flaking skin (e.g. cracked heels)
- Brittle, splitting, curved or ridged nails
- Rounded puffy face
- Puffy around eyes or droopy/baggy eyelids
- Thinning or loss of outer third of eyebrows or poor hair growth on lower legs
- Fungal infection in nails or peeling/splitting of skin between toes
- Redness to skin on front of neck
- Swollen/puffy ankles or legs
- Slow resting heart rate (less than 65)
Ayurvedic Interpretation of Hypothyroidism
Ayurveda offers a very different approach to understanding the cause and the treatment for this disease with its emphasis on treating the whole person not just focusing on the specific part that has disease. It is a comprehensive approach that addresses mind, body, behaviour, beliefs and environment.
Treatment of disease is highly individualized. According to Ayurveda the thyroid function is controlled by Pitta dosha. Pitta is responsible for all of the metabolic actions carried out by the thyroid hormones. In Hypothyroidism coating by Kapha dosha and Fat dhathu prevents Pitta dosha (fire principle) in cellular level functions. Treatment principle is aimed to remove coating of Kapha dosha and Fat dhathu and thus enabling fire principle to perform in metabolism.
Concept of Agni
Agni (fire principle) is a main concept in Ayurveda. This concept is very relevant in hypothyroidism. It is considered as sacred fire in Ayurveda and is an important key to all the physiological and psychological processes in the body. It includes the digestion of food, absorption, assimilation, cellular metabolism and the regulation of hormones at the level of neurons and even beyond that. In other ways, the fire or agni principle is the cellular intelligence behind the healthy existence of a cell and organism. There are thirteen types of Agni mentioned in Ayurveda at a physical level.
- Dhatwagni 7 in number
- Bhutagni 5 in number
Jadaragni – Food ingested into the alimentary canal undergoes the digestive process and is converted into a nutritive fluid called “Rasa dhathu“. A healthy Jadaragni results in good digestion, absorption, assimilation. It burns out toxic components and helps in differentiating nutritive and waste parts from food and body tissue building units called dhathus. Samaana and apaana vayu, pachaka pitha and kledaka kapha are the principles involved in this process.
Dhatwagni – Once the food has been digested through Jadaragni, the nutritive part (Ahara rasa) of food enters the dhathu (tissue) level. Digestion in the dhathu level progresses similarly. If the Ahara rasa is of poor quality, or if the dhatwagnis are poor, it generates a toxic material called ‘Ama’ which is the mother of all diseases. It blocks the srothas or subtle channels of the body, resulting in pathological changes, which result in manifestation of diseases.
Bhutagni – Bhutagni gets activated when the digested food finally reaches the sensory or most subtle level. It is responsible for the formation of the sense organs of the body. Each sensory organ is formed from combinations of the panchamahabhutas (five basic elements).
In hypothyroidism, relation with stress is well established by modern medicine. Acharya Charaka gives great importance in the intimate relationship between mental activities and physical functions. Any disturbance in one, affects the other and ultimately results in disease. Ayurvedic treatise say “Wholesome food taken even in proper quantity do not get properly digested when the individual is afflicted with grief, fear, anger, sorrow, excessive sleep and excessive alertness”
Ayurvedic Management of Hypothyroidism
The thyroid’s function in metabolism relates to agni both within the gland as the T3 and T4 hormones and at the cellular level as it kindles the agni within the cells. Based on this understanding, food, medicines and treatment procedures with appetizing (deepana), digestive (pachana), hot (ushna), penetrating (theekshna) , minute (sukshma) , scraping (lekhana) qualities would be beneficial. Herbs such as Commiphora mukul (Guggul), Bouhenia veregata (Kanchanara), Boerhavia diffusa (Punarnnava) have proven very useful in the treatment of hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism and Ayurveda
In the management of hypothyroidism, the following procedures are useful and effective.
Medicated Powder Massage:
It has fat burning properties, which is performed using herbal decoction and powder of suitable herbs. This is useful in dissolving subcutaneous fat and stimulating the nervous system and glands.
Steaming and other heating procedures:
Oils are never used. It is useful in removal of blockage of subtle channels or srothas.
Virechana or Medicated purgation:
It is a cleansing method, performed by giving some herbal purgatives which remove coating of fire principle or agni.
Vasthi or Enema like procedure:
Designed to clean the lower alimentary canal and most effective in Ayurvedic treatment bringing cleansing of subtle channels or srothas spread all over the body. This is very effective in removing coating of fire principle caused by Kapha dosha and Medas or Fat dhathu. Special ingredients may be added to it making it a lekhana vasthi which can cause scraping of Kapha and medas or fat dhathu.
Performing nasya is worth doing before pranayama. Nasya with vacha (Acorus calamus) or other herbs specified for thyroid stimulation are very useful.
Yoga and meditation
As with all disease, the importance of the effect of stress on the body cannot be denied and meditation can be very effective.
Yoga stimulates and normalizes the function of the thyroid, pituitary, pineal and adrenal glands. It limbers and stretches the neck, as well as strengthens and tones the nervous system. The asanas specific for thyroid health are: Sarvangasna which puts considerable pressure on the thyroid, improving circulation and squeezing out stagnant secretions, Matsyasana, Halasana, Surya Namskara, Naukasana, Uttanapadasana, Yashtikasana, Pavanmuktasana, Suptavajrasana and all forward and backward bending asanas. These should be taught by a qualified doctor.
Deficient flow of energy through the nadis manifests as hypo activity of mind, fatigue and dullness of senses. According to Ayurvedic concepts there are 72000 nadis in the living body. Of these, Pingala is with its energy of the sun, and Saraswati nadi branching out from the throat chakra supplying prana to the mouth and throat area are of importance to the thyroid. Pranayama techniques that focus on these nadis are useful to the thyroid gland.
Diet Tips for Hypothyroidism
Milk in adequate quantities, old rice, barley, green gram, black gram, cucumber, sugar juice are beneficial. Drinking water stored overnight in a clean copper vessel is believed to improve this condition.