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October 27, 2009

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Home » Feature » Health and Environment

Don't overdo iodized salt

ANXIETY, palpitations, trembling, heavy sweating and insomnia sound like facts of life for many stressed-out white-collar workers.

But if they are extreme and persistent, they can also be symptoms of hyperthyroidism - overproduction of thyroid hormones that stimulate metabolism.

Incidence of hyperthyroidism has increased rapidly in recent years among Shanghai white collars, according to doctors.

Among the causes are immune system problems and excessive intake of iodine, which is often added to salt. Seafood and marine products are also rich in iodine. Hyperthyroidism can run in families. Psychological pressure and fatigue can trigger symptoms.

In the early stages there are no symptoms. By the time symptoms are noted, the condition is advanced. See an internist for an overall diagnosis. Do not dose yourself.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, what we recognize today as hyperthyroidism is caused by stagnation of energy. Doctors advise herbal medicine, getting lots of rest and maintaining an upbeat mood.

Western medicine uses blood tests to make a clear diagnosis and determine the exact cause.

Among the symptoms are various ocular signs, such as protruding eyeballs and an enlarged neck (caused by enlarged thyroid). Goiter is an extreme symptom of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyrodism (low production of thyroid hormones).

Swollen legs, rough skin, a lot of sweating, weight loss, increased appetite, agitation, irritability, anxiety, insomnia and long-term fatigue are among the symptoms, says Dr Tang Hong, chief physician at the Endocrinology Department of Longhua Hospital attached to the Shanghai University of TCM.

The highest rate is among people from 20 to 40 years of age and the rate is three to four times higher for women than men, Dr Tang says.

Many patients find the symptoms occur after very hard work for a long period of time or after great emotional upset, especially anger. Hormone production and uneven mood may be one reason for high occurrence among women. Intense competition and irregular lifestyle may play a role.

Hyperthyroidism belongs to ying liu (goiter and tumor) category in TCM. Innate deficiency of yin (cold) energy is an underlying cause, while blocked energy flow is the immediate cause.

Generally, there are three main causes of qi (energy) stagnation in this case - simple qi stagnation, phlegm-dampness blocking qi, and blood stasis inside. Long-term depression, sorrow and anger usually lead to liver energy stagnation, blocking normal energy flow, which may result in hyperthyroidism.

Deficient energy in the spleen and kidneys is the main cause of phlegm-dampness blockage. Deficient energy in the spleen usually causes excessive phlegm while deficient energy in the kidneys causes slow flow of internal fluids, which impedes energy flow.

And since energy flows together with blood, blood stasis also leads to energy stagnation and causes problems.

Energy stagnation in the liver usually results in excessive internal heat. These patients are usually irritable and suffer dizziness and sore throat.

Some patients have an increased appetite when pathogenic heat hurts the stomach. Patients with deficient energy in the spleen usually cannot absorb enough nutrition and thus lose weight quickly and feel fatigue.

TCM recommend different treatments for hyperthyroidism depending on the cause.

Soothing the liver and regulating energy is prescribed for energy stagnation, dissolving phlegm and dispelling pathogenic dampness is prescribed for phlegm-dampness blockage, and activating blood circulation is prescribed for blood stasis.

Patent TCM drugs like Chaihu Shu Gan Wan (Chinese Thorowax Soothing Liver Pill) containing with herbs like Chinese thorowax (chaihu) root extract are often prescribed to soothe the liver and regulate energy.

Herbs like dried orange peel, banxia (tuber pinellia) and fuling (tuckahoe) are used to dissolve phlegm and dispel pathogenic dampness.

Herbs like danshen (salvia miltiorrhiza, mint family, a heart tonic), motherwort and angelica promote blood circulation.

"Cool" (yin) energy foods like watermelon, celery and golden mushrooms help relieve pathogenic heat; accompanied with the ailments; yin-reinforcing foods like fungus, lily roots and duck reinforce yin energy; spleen-benefiting foods like yam, apple, jujube and qianshi (gorgon euryale seed) regulate energy by benefiting the spleen.

As most patients have complicated imbalanced energy, they should see a doctor for an overall diagnosis before getting a prescription or dosing themselves, says Dr Tang.

Patients suffer over-active metabolism, often leading to weight loss, so they need extra nutrition, including protein and vitamins. Young patients need food containing fat.

Iodine-rich foods should be avoided, since they stimulate the thyroid. Avoid iodized salt and cosmetics using marine (high salt/iodine ingredients) and avoid tea, coffee and stimulants.


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