Grave’s Disease and Hyperthyroid
by Steven Horne, RH(AHG)
Last week I wrote about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the most common cause of hypothyroid (low thyroid) in today’s society. This week I want to write about the opposite problem, hyperthyroid, which is an overactive thyroid. The most common cause of hyperactive thyroid is Grave’s disease, named after an Irish doctor named Robert James Graves.
Like Hashimoto’s, Grave’s disease is an autoimmune problem, but in this case, the antibodies involved are affecting the receptor sites for TSH in the thyroid. This causes the receptor sites to be overstimulated resulting in an increased output of thyroid hormones. It may also cause the thyroid to enlarge and the eyes to bulge.
Medical science does not know what causes Grave’s disease. They also do not have any real “cure” for this condition. They can use drugs to inhibit the thyroid, but this is often ineffective. So, most of the time they “fry” the thyroid with radioactive iodine, although they may also surgically remove all or part of it. In either case, the person has to be on thyroid medication for the rest of their life.
I have dealt with about one dozen cases of hyperthyroid disorders, including Grave’s disease, with varying degrees of success. A few people were able to get it under control naturally, others were not. Grave’s touched me in a very personal way because my ex-wife had it and the symptoms were frightening.
Symptoms of Grave’s Disease
Having hyperthyroid is like driving a car with your foot constantly pushing the gas petal to the floor. It races the body’s metabolic engine causing the person to burn up nutrients at an alarming rate. Not only does this cause weight loss, it also causes hyperactivity and restlessness.
Even more alarming are the circulatory symptoms it can cause, which include rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure and heart palpitations. My ex-wife’s heart rate would climb to 140, which were accompanied by heart palpitations. This was very alarming (to say the least).
Grave’s disease can also impair sleep, making a person unable to get to sleep or sleep very long. There can also be intolerance to heat, muscle weakness and lack of periods. Personality changes and mental and emotional shifts can also be part of the problem. There may be changes in memory, attention, productivity, anxiety, depression, mania and erratic behavior. The mind is often overactive and speech tends to be rapid.
Natural Approaches to Hyperthyroid
The first step to dealing with this condition is to use herbs that slow down thyroid function. The two best herbs for this problem are bugleweed and lemon balm. Both of these herbs contain substances that attach to TSH receptors in the thyroid and inhibit them.
I usually use a blend of bugleweed, lemon balm and motherwort. Motherwort is a major remedy for calming rapid heart beat and heart palpitations. Very high doses may be required to do the job. Some of the clients I’ve worked with have responded very well to this mixture, others have had only modest benefits, but it does seem to at least help with symptoms.
Foods may also be helpful in calming the thyroid. Cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower tend to have an inhibiting effect on the production of thyroid hormones. Soy also has a a strong thyroid inhibiting effect. Millet has a mild effect. These foods should be consumed freely.
One NSP formula that I have found consistently helpful for Grave’s disease is IF-C. This is a heat-reducing formula with an anti-inflammatory action. It helps reduce irritation to the thyroid.
Chinese Approaches to Hyperthyroid
While researching thyroid disorders for my DVD, I came across an article by Subhuti Dharmananda at the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon, called Treatments for Thyroid Diseases with Chinese Herbal Medicine. (Subhuti formulated all of NSP’s Chinese herb line except for VS-C.) He says that Western doctors see auto-immune thyroid diseases as having genetic and viral components, but “Chinese doctors have attributed the cause of the disorder primarily to emotional disturbance.”
This is interesting, because Svetla Bankova, a Russian woman, who has a Masters’ Degree in Psychology and is a Certified Life Coach, agrees with him. She had Grave’s disease and cured herself of it. She firmly believes the disorder has a very strong emotional component. I found her website www.gravesdiseasecure.com while researching information to help my ex-wife, and found her material to be very valuable.
According to Subhuti, one of the causes of hyperthyroid conditions in Chinese medicine is disturbed “heart fire.” This is a tendency to be anxious, nervous, easily agitated and overly talkative. Svetla also believes that excessive stress, pushing yourself too hard and overworking yourself are major contributing factors to this illness. She says that a person with Grave’s needs to learn to relax and take life easier and not over push themselves.
Chinese Stress Relief is a formula for excessive “heart fire” and although I haven’t tried it with hyperthyroid conditions like Grave’s I’m going to next time I encounter a case. The Chinese name for Chinese Stress Relief means “pacify the spirit,” which is exactly what a person with Grave’s needs emotionally—a calmer spirit.
Subhuti also says that there can be deficient “heart yin” with hyperthyroid conditions. This is what Nervous Fatigue Formula is designed to treat and I have used this formula with some success in hyperactive thyroid disorders. One of the interesting things in Subhuti’s article is that “virtually all formulas used [in TCM] for treating hyperthyroidism contain either seashells or seaweeds or both.” Chinese Stress Relief contains seashells as primary ingredients, which is another reason I’m going to try it next time I’m presented with a case.
However, the second half of that typical TCM therapy, seaweeds, is somewhat controversial. Medical doctors, and even most herbalists and natural healers recommend avoiding sources of iodine with hyperactive thyroid disorders (which precludes the use of seaweeds). They believe that the iodine will increase the stimulation to the gland and aggravate the disorder.
Iodine and Hyperthyroid Disorders
I used to believe the same thing. However, Kimberly Balas, got me thinking otherwise. She pointed out that the standard treatment for Grave’s disease is to destroy the thyroid with radioactive iodine. However, if the body had enough iodine, it would not take up the radioactive iodine.
I know this is true because I took a civil defense class when I was a teenager and learned that fall-out shelters included supplies of potassium iodide. The idea was to take the iodine in case of a nuclear attack so your body wouldn’t absorb radioactive iodine. This means, as Kim pointed out, that Grave’s patients must be low in iodine or they wouldn’t take up the radioactive stuff so readily. So, you may want to consider one of the thyroid formulas containing seaweeds as part of a natural protocol for treating Grave’s disease.
The formula that seems to work best in the case of Grave’s sufferers is TS II with Hops. The hops has a calming effect, something that Grave’s patients need, and the herbs in that formula seem to balance the thyroid function more than stimulate it. However, I know that Kim and others have successfully used stronger iodine supplements, including Iodoral with clients with hyperthyroid conditions.
Protecting the Thyroid During Conventional Treatment
Which brings to mind an interesting case I worked with one time. In one of my Grave’s clients, we had been unable to calm her thyroid down enough, so she decided to go for the radioactive iodine treatment. We decided, however, to at least partially protect her body from the radioactive iodine by having her take large doses of Thyroid Activator for several weeks before the procedure.
After the procedure her thyroid hormone levels dropped, but didn’t bottom out. The doctor kept testing her to see when she’d need to go on thyroid medication, but apparently we’d protected enough of her thyroid that part of it was still functioning. I don’t know if it eventually got low enough that she needed thyroid medication, but for at least the time I was in touch with her that didn’t happen.
So, if someone is going to opt for the radioactive iodine treatment, I’d at least consider protecting yourself by taking a lot of iodine supplements for a couple of weeks before and perhaps even during the therapy. It might protect your thyroid from complete destruction.
By no means is the information in this article sufficient to treat Grave’s disease naturally. It’s meant to be a starting point. One needs to look carefully at the individual person to determine a course of natural therapy. I’d also recommend doing more research. Furthermore, since hyperthyroid conditions like Grave’s disease are serious and potentially life-threatening, the situation should be monitored by a physician to make certain your natural therapies are working.