Book Review: Healing the Thyroid with Ayurveda: Natural Treatments for Hashimoto’s,Hypothyroidismand Hyperthyroidism by Marianne Teitelbaum. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2019.

     With my interest in the power of medicinal herbs and becoming acquainted with them as spirit guides I received a request from the publisher to review Marianne Teitelbaum’s book Healing the Thyroid with Ayurveda.  It is fascinating and though it may seem extreme to some, Teitelbaum’s understanding of how the Thyroid and other glands of the endocrine system interact, a body system that is very central for health maintenance, she is quite convincing in her way of presenting these Ayurvedic ways.             

     Healing the Thyroid with Ayurveda begins by makes an important distinction between the treatments of conventional medicine and the ways of Ayurveda.  Conventional medicine does not ask “why” when searching for the cause of a disease but looks only to what appears to be the cause of the disease in the moment, whether from some bacteria, virus, or chemical imbalance as assessed with blood tests.  The treatment is then to eliminate the bacteria, virus, or chemical imbalance without asking why these possible causes took hold to cause the disease in the first place.  The word Ayurveda means the science or study of what is good and bad for life.  It seeks to understand “why” the disease took hold by considering a person’s life style, sleeping pattern, diet, and stressors in the person’s life.  With conventional medicine the diagnosis becomes possible only after the disease is well established. In the early stages of the disease blood tests do not reveal the disease. Ayurveda considers nine steps in the development of a disease and makes the diagnosis much earlier in the process of its development.  The Ayurvedic practitioner listens to a person’s pulse, its strength, rhythm, and volume, as well as to the symptoms and person’s complaints to make the diagnosis.  Then treatment is through lifestyle changes, and herbal medications.

     A conventional medical approach is often to use hormonal replacement when the blood work shows that some hormone is depleted, but in doing so, the body’s natural mechanisms for producing the hormone is not needed and stops functioning thus the natural process is weakened, causing a greater or longer lasting problem.  This example is one of many inadequacies of conventional medicine when it ignores the “why” that leads to the beginning of a disease.  The prescription of pharmaceuticals may have negative side effects and does not address the “why” of the disease. 

     I recently reviewed Matthew Wood’s two volumes of Earthwise Herbal that use a number of descriptors of plants and diseases, descriptors that he calls tastes of the plant but include all five senses.  He has integrated these characteristics derived from ancient Chinese, Greek, Indian and American Indian medicine ways into his own system, characteristics that have many parallels to the Ayurveda taxonomy of plants and diseases.  Wood’s taxonomy of the plant and disease tissue states included: Hot/Excitation, Cold/Depression, Dry/Atrophy, Damp/Stagnation, Damp/Relaxation and Wind/Tension, with the tastes of Sour, Bitter, Salty, Sweet, and Pungent or Spicy.  He includes in these descriptors sensations and textures: Diffusive (tingling, nerve-stimulation); Permanent (not tingling); Astringent (puckering, constrictive); Acidity (taste of bile in throat, taste that provokes shivering); Watery (thin); Mucliaginous (slimy); Gummy (tacky); Resinous (sticky); Soapy; Oily (nutty); Meaty (proteinadeous); Metallic (taste of blood in mouth, presence of metals); and Aromatic (scent); and characteristics of the blood which include location (high or low within the organism); viscosity (thick or thin); speed (fast or slow moving); and temperature (hot or cold).

     The Ayuredic taxonomy groups these characteristics into three categories that come from three sources: the moon, sun, and space and air.  Those coming from the moon include the characteristics of cooling, nurturing, stabilizing and growth-giving.  From the sun come the fiery elements for transformation, and the raw materials of nature.  From space and air comes all the intelligence of creation which is considered rough, dry, cold, quick, light and moving.  The goal of Ayurveda is to balance these components of the force of life or Prana.

     The thyroid gland is central among the endocrine glands that include the pineal, hypothalamus, pituitary, and parathyroid glands.  Each gland receives messages from each of the other glands regarding the strength or weakness in the flow of its specific hormones and in response adjusts the flow of the hormones to stabilize a healthy balance within the body. Teitelbaum presents in some detail the functions and interactions of the various endocrine glands and hormones.  Each cell of the body has specific receptors for specific hormones depending upon the role of the cell within the organs of the body.  Only the receptors for two hormones are found in every cell of the body, a receptor for the thyroid hormone and one for vitamin D.  This demonstrates the importance of the thyroid, but so far the role of vitamin D is not clearly understood.  A weakness in the thyroid that brings about imbalance may cause such symptoms as lose of hair, heart irregularities, and brain fog, symptoms that are caused by late bed time hours, toxins, infections, improper died, stress and possible genetic predispositions.

     One, two, three, or four iodine molecules are attached to the thyroid hormone to form four different thyroid hormones, T1, T2, T3, and T4.  With four iodine molecules T4 is too large to enter the cells of the body thus it needs to be converted to T3.  The liver and the bile produced by the liver play an important role in this conversion.  Everything we eat passes through the liver, and the bile of the liver along with the stomach flora for digestion are important in this conversion.  One source of disease is the breakdown in this conversion process which is caused again by imbalance in diet, toxins, stress and late bedtime hours.

     Teitelbaum then proceeds to examine the interactions between the thyroid and adrenal glands.  The adrenal glands release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol in response to stress.  If the stress is long lasting the adrenal glands cannot meet the demands for a continuous supply of these hormones.  High levels of cortisol lower thyroid hormone production, inhibit the conversion to T3, and close down the cell receptors for this hormone thus causing inflammation that disrupts thyroid functioning.  Besides causing all the symptoms of thyroid weakness, the resulting weakness of the adrenal glands cause exhaustion, slowed metabolism, feeling cold, decreased immunity, depression and anxiety, infertility, increased belly fat, low blood pressure, and dizziness, among other symptoms.  To recover from these problems requires rest along with a number of Ayurvedic herbs to again balance these endocrine hormones.  With my personal interest in growing medicinal herbs I need to research the six Ayurvedic herbs she offers to see if any are suitable for growing in the Hudson Valley of New York.  I also believe that there are herbs native to our area that can work effectively in the same way. I am thankful that Teitelbaum describes how the Ayurvedic herbs function, an aid in identifying the equivalent local herbs.       

     Teitelbaum then proceeds to examine the “why” for the autoimmune Hashimoto’s disease.  The protocol of our conventional medicine is to prescribe a synthetic version of the thyroid hormone thus causing the thyroid to stop producing the hormone rather than finding why the thyroid stopped its production.  Understanding how the immune system works is central to understanding the “why.”  The friendly bacteria of the gut are extremely important is this process and probiotics are recommended to support the gut bacteria, but most probiotics offered over-the-counter are not effective including most yogurts.  With Teitelbaum’s search for effective probiotics she concluded that the ProTren brand of yogurt is effective because it is produced without destroying its probiotic nature.  She also recommends slippery elm tea, an herb that can be grown in the Hudson Valley.  

     Also for the health of the thyroid and the immune system the liver needs to be healthy in its production of bile.  The immune system depends upon macrophages that kill the intruding organisms in the body.  The macrophages are created in the bone marrow and mature in the liver, and for the liver to function adequately it may need to be detoxified, but detoxification is a sensitive process.  Again Teitelbaum offers a number of Ayurvedic herbs to balance the health of the liver, bone marrow and thyroid, along with recipes that use these herbs that can be purchased in Indian markets.  I have enjoyed cooking with a number of these herbs using recipes from an Ayurvedic cook book, but the cook book does not explain when or how the recipes need to be used to promote health.  Coriander, fennel and turmeric are locally grown and ghee can be made from the butter of raw cow’s milk.  I have also made Masala with locally grown herbs.  Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining the immune system, but vitamin D is depleted by obesity, inflammation of the digestive tract, cortisol, and the use of sunscreen.

     Another factor for the health of the thyroid is the functioning of the gallbladder.  The gallbladder works to breakdown and eliminate fat-soluble toxins and cholesterol, but there are a number of factors that create sludge, a thickening of the bile, factors that cause the toxins and cholesterol to become stuck in the gallbladder, factors such as eating and drinking ice-cold foods and beverages including ice cream and frozen yogurt, and the use of many of the oils used in cooking.  This thickened bile causes high cholesterol, acid reflux, osteoporosis, weight gain and the formation of cellulite.  To keep the bile thin and moving, heavy and hard-to-digest foods need to be avoided, and while eating one needs to focus on the food, chew well before swallowing, and not overeat.  Cooked foods are easier to digest.  Again a number of Ayurvedic herbs and recipes are recommended to flush out bile sludge and break up gallstones.  Cooked artichokes, apples and carrots are recommend and soluble fiber from beans, lentils, oat and rice bran, citrus fruits, and strawberries.

     The following chapter, Chapter 7 of the 8 chapters of the book, addresses a number of specific conditions caused by thyroid dysfunction: hair loss and brittle nails, irregular heartbeat, high estrogen/low progesterone, depression, weight gain, osteopenia and osteoporosis, high cholesterol, constipation, insomnia and anxiety, joint pain, and restless legs syndrome.  With each of these conditions Teitelbaum offers a number of Ayurvedic herbs and recipes, many of the herbs available only through stores that sell Indian herbs.  One preparation for joint pain is made from deer antler velvet.  Again, it is my belief that other herbs local to particular areas of the world can be equally effective if we open ourselves to them by listening to them through the heart.  As an instructor of ecstatic trance I find that this listening through the heart is facilitated through the use of ecstatic trance.  Yet, Teitelbaum’s understanding of the “why” these conditions develop and how the Ayurvedic herbs work as remedies is most important in leading us on this search for the local herbs of equal effectiveness.  The many foods readily and locally available that she recommends is also an important beginning.  The Ayurvedic principles are most important, but for the establishment of these principles in our local communities the herbs used also need to be local.  

     The final chapter offers a diet and daily routine to maintain a healthy thyroid.  She begins by offering a list of foods to be avoided, so many of which I would find difficult to avoid such as those vegetables from the nightshade family that include tomatoes, white potatoes, bell peppers and eggplant.  I did an internet search that validated that these vegetables contain nicotine that have the effect of shrinking the various channels of the body.  Also onions and garlic need to be avoided because they act as antibiotics that can deplete the friendly gut bacteria that lay the foundation for allergies and autoimmune diseases, though herbal medicine generally considers garlic a useful antibiotic.  Winter squashes, mushrooms, hard aged cheeses, soy products and cold dairy products are channel cloggers.  Acceptable to eat are grains, other vegetables and fruits except for channel clogging bananas.  Regarding vegetable oils, the monounsaturated oils such as olive oil are acceptable, but many of the others are difficult to digest.  She is very supportive of the use of ghee, clarified butter, because it is rich in omega-3 fatty acid and can help to decrease the levels of unhealthy cholesterol, but it should be made from the butter of grass fed cows. Milk, pasteurized and homogenized, that comes from cows treated with antibiotics and hormones, is less desirable and can cause inflammatory conditions, but good quality milk is most nourishing and beneficial.  Avoid most sweeteners except for blackstrap molasses, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, date sugar, maple syrup and raw honey.  Nuts and seeds to avoid include hemp and pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and peanuts.  Prescribed are peeled almonds, toasted sesame seeds and small amounts of heavy and hard to digest cashews.

     Then regarding your daily routine, arising at or before 6 AM is a time to stretch, walk and exercise to dispel the heaviness from your body, then after the sun rises you are ready to eat.  From 10 AM to 2 PM is your most active time and the time to eat your heaviest meal.  From 2 to 6 PM is a good time to study and stimulate mental activity.  From 6 PM to 10 PM is time to eat a light meal and slow down or unwind for sleep.  Then go to bed by 10 PM.

     These ancient Ayurvedic medicine ways are here for us to use to our advantage, ways that facilitate our immune system and can keep us in good health.  Teitelbaum’s book is eye opening and very enlightening.  It is an important read.