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Acupuncture & Hypothyroidism

Overt hypothyroidism is diagnosed by a serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) concentration above the normal reference range and a serum free thyroxine (FT4) concentration below the reference range (BTA 2006). Clinical features may be absent or present. Subclinical hypothyroidism is diagnosed by a TSH concentration above the reference range with an FT4 concentration within the reference range (BTA 2006). Clinical features are usually absent.

In the UK, hypothyroidism is usually due to autoimmune hypothyroidism or thyroid damage after surgery or radioactive iodine therapy.(Wheetman 2003). It may be associated with a goitre (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) or without (atrophic thyroiditis or primary myxoedema). The prevalence of overt hypothyroidism is 1.9% in women and 0.1% in men (Tunbridge 977), and of subclinical hypothyroidism is about 8% in women and 3% in men in the UK.(Vanderpump 1995).

The most common symptoms are tiredness, weight gain, constipation, aches, dry skin, lifeless hair and feeling cold. Hypothyroidism is treated with levothyroxine.

Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically help in thyroid disease by:

  • Increasing free thyroxine (FT4) and free tri-iodothyronine (FT3) levels in hypothyroidism (Xia 2012; Hao 2009; Hu 1993);

  • Decreasing serum tri-iodothyronine (TT3), total thyroxine (TT4), free T3 (FT3) and free T4 (FT4) levels and increasing supersensitive thyrotropin (S-TSH) levels in hyperthyroidism (Li 2006);

  • Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010; Hui 2009);

  • Increasing the release of adenosine, which has antinociceptive properties (Goldman 2010);

  • Improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling;

  • Reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kavoussi 2007)

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