Doctor Richard Shames, MD & Acupuncturist Georjana Shames, LAc, Dipl. OM
As a doctor known for treating difficult thyroid conditions, a colleague recently inquired of me, "Dr. Shames why have an acupuncturist as part of your practice? What can she offer thyroid patients that you––that we––cannot?" The short answer is "Plenty!" But here is what I actually told him.
If we utilize both Western and Eastern methods of healing there exist many options for treating and even curing hormone imbalances. In fact I have long believed the 5,000-year old system of Acupuncture has so much to offer thyroid patients that I strongly encouraged my daughter, Georjana Shames, to pursue this field of medicine professionally.
When from an early age Georjana displayed a deeply compassionate nature and avid love of the healing arts, I was very pleased, and suggested a career in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I had first-hand observation from years of California medical practice that this ancient modality had surprising ability to correct hormonal imbalances. I and other MDs had seen patients benefit greatly from this older approach to hormone health; often this was the best method for certain recalcitrant and debilitating versions of thyroid imbalance.
Fatigue, exhaustion, infertility, weight gain, depression, digestive problems, hair loss, arthritis, feeling chilled no matter the temperature––all may be symptoms of a low thyroid condition, one of the most misdiagnosed medical disorders in America. The lethargy, lack of stamina, and emotional distress of low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) is often mistaken for clinical depression and wrongly treated with seratonin reuptake inhibiting medications like Prozac and Paxil. Misdiagnosed or undiagnosed hypothyroidism may affect one in nine adult women in the U.S. and for the post-menopause subset that statistic gets as high as one in four.
It is important to become informed of the wide spectrum of hormone-related conditions that can affect one's health, energy, and quality of life. Low thyroid function is one aspect, but adrenal function, reproductive hormones, the pituitary and hypothalamus, and so on, each play a critical role in proper metabolic rate and homeostasis. It is of critical importance to be accurately tested for hormone function if you display the previously described signs and symptoms and/or if your health care provider suspects sub-optimal hormone levels.
For quality, affordably priced laboratory tests you can order without a doctor's prescription, please visit our test pages.
But once cognizant of an existing hormone imbalance via lab test results or compelling symptom-related evidence, how can your health care providers fully remedy your condition? There are options but also many limitations available within the Western medical model, including hormone replacement prescriptions (if you are low in thyroid/adrenal or estrogen/progesterone/testosterone) or hormone suppression prescriptions (if any of the above are too high).
For hypothyroid patients specifically, some do not respond well to the standard (slow-acting T4) Synthroid prescription and instead might benefit from the addition to Synthroid of Cytomel (fast-acting T3). Sometimes what works even better is a different thyroid prescription completely like Armor or Naturthroid (both non-synthetic).
These medicines greatly assist, but among autoimmune patients (who comprise the majority of thyroid sufferers in either the category of Hashimoto's hypothyroidism or Grave's hyperthyroidism) there are still many who despite determining which thyroid replacement is best and at what dosage, they still do not feel 100%. These patients benefit some from their medical prescriptions but are still hovering around only 60% or 70% or 80% of their normal self, and suffer continued symptoms such as fatigue, emotional distress, insomnia, mental fuzziness, etc. There are several possible causes for this, in the Western medical viewpoint. Autoimmunity is likely the most severe example of imbalance within the human body that one could find: An organism at war with itself, the immune system cells attacking the body's own tissue.
Of course in such cases it may be difficult to fully optimize the thyroid being replaced as there exists a cellular resistance to the hormone, for instance because the autoimmune response has targeted the thyroid hormone receptors, or perhaps because synthetic chemical pollutants in our air, food, and water interfere with endocrine function. It is also possible an iodine deficiency may be at fault, although this is more common in underdeveloped countries.
So how can thyroid hormone (whether produced internally by the endocrine system or replaced by prescription medication) be adequately metabolized, taken up by the body's cells to perform its many functions on both a microscopic and macroscopic level? The answer is: The entire human system must be in balance for successful utilization of thyroid hormone.
The key here is an integrative approach to balance and optimal wellness, for which ancient Chinese healing practices are world-renowned.
Georjana Shames, LAc, Dipl. OM, writes As a Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist I have always been impressed by how TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) cultivates a holistic perspective in developing diagnostic impressions and treatment protocols for each patient. The keystone of our medicine is awakening the body's natural intelligence to heal itself. Our goal, when we needle specific points or prescribe herbal formulas individually modified to the patient's pattern of dis-ease, is restoring balance to the system of meridians that crisscross and encircle the body in a similar fashion to the lymph or nervous system in Western medicine. TCM seeks to restore health within the body by benefiting, with needles, herbs, nutrition, massage, lifestyle changes and so on, the fundamental balance of Yin and Yang within the body. Yin and Yang are the two aspects in Chinese medical philosophy representing the many balances within the body such as internal/external, cold/hot, deficiency/excess, acidic/alkaline, sympathetic/parasympathetic, and so on.
Let us take as an example, a fifty year-old menopausal woman who has just discovered she has thyroid dysfunction as well. Because estrogen production wanes during the menopausal years, and the endocrine system is a delicate balance of many different glands all producing and utilizing various hormones depending on hormone production in the other glands, not only is she experiencing hot flashes and night-sweats from the estrogen decrease but she also has chilliness and fatigue from the hypothyroidism. She feels excessively hot then deficient and cold, the mind races while the physical body becomes exhausted. The Western practitioner might put her on estrogen replacement that helps the hot flashes (but it can increase her weight and breast cancer risk) as well as thyroid hormone which helps the fatigue (but it can increase adrenal irritability and insomnia).
The Eastern practitioner seeks the root cause within the pattern of imbalance, which she determines to be a deficiency of both Kidney Yin and Kidney Yang (a common diagnosis for menopausal women as both the Qi and Blood may wane too suddenly during the transition).
She needles points to clear heat (LI 11, Liv 2), strengthen the Liver and Kidney Yin (Sp 6, Liv 8) and invigorate the Kidney Yang (K 3, K 7). She prescribes a granulated herbal formula like Golden Book Tea, otherwise known as Jing Gui Shen Qi Wan, and modifies it with long gu to anchor the Yang and dang gui to build Blood. After a couple weeks of daily herbal tea and weekly acupuncture, the patient reports having no more hot flashes, less chilliness, and much more restful sleep leading to overall more energy and well-being throughout the day.
How does TCM accomplish what Western medicine cannot?
By rebalancing the internal homeostasis of the body. Tongue and pulse diagnosis plus symptom cluster are the pillars of objective data gathering. Utilizing carefully chosen trigger points and tonifying or sedating herbs, one nourishes the vital fluids and balances Yin and Yang while removing stagnation within the meridians. Every patient is unique, so an individualized approach is essential to accuracy yet the overarching pattern can be determined based on objective tongue and pulse signs, and the subjective symptom cluster. (Please visit www.ShamesHealth.com for more information this topic.)
Patients best benefit from an integrated Eastern and Western medical approach to health. The strong point of Western medicine is intervention in life-threatening illness, whereas the strong point of Eastern medicine is increased quality of life. Therefore it is most optimal to have available both Eastern and Western medicine options for more complete care. This blending of the East and West has been the standard of hospital care in China for three decades.
Indeed when our United States health care system is at its best, this is the trend it is following. More and more insurance companies are offering coverage for acupuncture visits; today Medical Doctors and Licensed Acupuncturists are working alongside one another, cultivating an integrated approach, as my father and I. Proper laboratory testing (ie., both blood tests and saliva tests, to determine thyroid function and associated hormone utilization) is critical for the Western practitioner to determine how to modulate thyroid prescriptions, so research the options yourself at www.CanaryClub.org
If you have not tried Traditional Chinese Medicine as a critical aspect of your complete hormone care, consider it today. Visit www.ShamesHealth.com for more information on Georjana Shames' practice and her specializations (Thyroid, Adrenal, Stress/Anxiety, and Your Son/Daughter's Child-to-Teen Transition). You deserve the best of both worlds when it comes to your health. We are delighted to assist you in cultivating a more energetic, balanced, and graceful lifestyle! For appointments in San Rafael and Cotati with Georjana Shames LAc Dipl. OM and/or Richard Shames MD please call the Preventive Medical Center at (415) 388-0456.