Treatments for Thyroid Diseases with Chinese Herbal Medicine
Until the past fifty years, thyroid disease could not be definitively diagnosed in China; rather, Chinese doctors could only detect a certain set of symptoms to be treated and could palpate any moderate or large nodules in the area of the thyroid gland. Now, objective measures, such as altered levels of thyroid hormone, can give a clue as to the site of the disease and can further elucidate the influence of various therapeutic measures that might be applied.
While treatments for both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism have been reported in the literature, the main thrust of clinical trials has been with hyperthyroidism. The treatments vary somewhat from one study to the next, but there are certain consistent features which will be described here on the basis of reports for hyperthyroid treatments only.
First, there is a strong reliance on materials from the sea, mainly oyster shell (included in 12 of 18 clinical trials using a basic formula), seaweeds (laminaria, and sargassum, used in nearly half the clinical trials), and somewhat less frequent use of clam shells, arca shells, or pumice. While these materials, especially the seaweeds, would obviously be helpful for iodine-deficiency goiter, they are now often used for Grave’s disease and thyroid adenoma. Iodine is not known to have an impact on chronic (autoimmune-based) thyroid disease, though it is employed as a temporary remedy in cases of thyroid storm (physiologic crisis resulting from thyroid hormone excess). The continued use of the sea materials may be unnecessary for modern thyroid diseases, and, indeed, two studies [2,21] producing satisfactory results in treatment of hyperthyroidism contain none of these materials. However, the sea materials may contain components other than iodine that benefit patients with hyperthyroidism. Their initial use was no doubt associated both with the experiential knowledge that consumption of sea materials resolved many cases of goiter and also by the theoretical concept that salty materials would soften and remove masses. Thyroid nodules often occur even in cases of non-iodine-deficiency hyperthyroidism.