Autoimmunity & Thyroid, an Eastern approach

Auto immunity is difficult to catch right away. It is more commonly seen in women, and it is unclear whether this is simply because women report more of the symptoms, or because of the link with estrogen. Some theories for the cause are estrogen dominance, latent viral illness, adrenal gland weakness, and heredity. Estrogen can bind some thyroid hormone, making it unavailable for conversion into the active form of thyroid that is needed to function.

Whatever the cause, it is also true that immune conditions often get triggered by stress — and this can be good stress or bad stress. Pregnancy, for example, is linked to a switch in immune cell regulation. But so is trauma, relationship or work stress, as well as so many life events.

Acupuncture and herbal medicine help with managing immune cell regulation (Liang, Cooper, et al., 2015), an important consideration for any immune-specific illness.

With most autoimmune problems there is also a problem with inflammation. Specific herbs that pull inflammation out of the tissues have been shown to be more effective than anti inflammatory drugs (Muluye, Bian et. al., 2014).  As the immune system struggles for balance, the thyroid may swing between more inflammation which can lead to destruction of the thyroid gland itself.

Because herbs work on a broader, less specific way, i.e., not targeting tissue types or cell types, there is the possibility for less resistance. There is also potentially less risk for side effects and other risks such as damage to kidney or liver.

Pulling down inflammation is important because auto-immune disorders, including thyroid, often see-saw between overactive and less active states. Both herb and acupuncture protocols must be alternated to address the phase and state of thyroid imbalance.

Even though I am now able to test thyroid hormones for my patients using ZRT labs, I prefer that this testing is completed by a medical physician or endocrinologist. The reason is that thyroid disorders can escalate and require medication if levels become too high or too low. Repeat testing is also important to assess any fluctuations as well as improvements.


Liang F., Cooper E., Wang H, Jing X, Quispe-Cabanillas J., & Kondo T. Acupuncture and immunity. Evidence Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:260620. doi: 10.1155/2015/260620. Epub 2015 Aug 5. PMID: 26347190; PMCID: PMC4540978.

Muluye R., Bian Y. & Alemu. Anti-inflammatory and Antimicrobial Effects of Heat-Clearing Chinese Herbs: A Current Review. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 2014 Apr;4(2):93-8. doi: 10.4103/2225-4110.126635. PMID: 24860732; PMCID: PMC4003708.

Fung-Kei Cheng, An overview of the contribution of acupuncture to thyroid disorders,
Journal of Integrative Medicine, Volume 16, Issue 6. 2018, Pages 375-383.