Monday, June 25, 2012

You're Going to Stick a Needle, Where????

(When last we met)

I lay on the acupuncturist's table and she prepared to needle some points to bring me back to the land of the living. For those of you who have never had (or heard of) acupuncture, it is a traditional Chinese medicine that dates back thousands of years. Practitioners work with the body's energy vortexes and lines, called meridians. Each meridian affects and governs the different organs, glands, and systems of the body. Acupuncturists insert thin, small needles along the meridians at various points on the body to balance the meridians. This all depends on what needs to be treated. (Here's the Mayo Clinic's entry on acupuncture:

For those of you who have had acupuncture before, you know, some points feel like nothing at all, some points feel like a tiny pinprick, and some points leave you clinging to the ceiling to escape the person with the needles. I won't lie. I'm not one of those people who hates needles. Nor do I love them. I find them a necessary evil. I take my shots. I've donated blood. I do what I need to do. But, and this is a big but, the point, T (the acupuncturist), prepared to needle was going to send me into the stratosphere.

"You're going to stick a needle, where???" I leaped off the table.

"About three quarters of an inch into your perineum," T calmly said it again. "It will likely hurt, but it, along with a point right below your nose will jump start your energy level."

Please, know right now. I trusted T. I had been seeing her for a few years and she knew her stuff. But, trepidation (and let's face it, modesty) impeded my ability to think straight and all I wanted was to run, far away.

I took a few minutes to think about it and gave her the go-ahead. She asked me to breathe deeply and in that instant between inhalation and exhalation, she inserted the needle what felt like 12 inches directly into my perineum.

ZING!!!! The electrical wave whooshed through me. When I was a kid, we had an old stereo receiver in our living room. It had faulty wiring, and one day I touched it just the wrong way. Millions of little voltage-like shocks coursed through me. My whole body buzzed in reaction. And it took a second to pull away from the stereo. The zing T sent through my body with that needle felt identical. The shock reverberated through me until she needled the point on that little indentation between upper lip and nose. Then, my body started to feel like a container for all that zing. I felt energized (although, I must admit, it might just have been the adrenaline rush of having a point that sensitive being needled).

We weren't finished by a longshot. I would need more sessions. But, she jump started me. I had energy for the first time in what felt like years. I broke down and cried right in front of her because for the first time since getting the diagnosis, I had hope. I had hope that I might once again have energy and dare I say it, vitality! T started the revolution for me, and it's definitely been the road less traveled. But for the most part, I'm thrilled I chose this path.

Here are some images about (some) of the points that I had needled. These are used by permission of Dr. Gigi Shames at 

Various acupuncturists I've worked with (T moved away years ago so I've had to find other acupunturists) have needled almost all these points on me. If needles bother you, and you want to stimulate the points, you can do it by gently pushing a knuckle into each point. Twenty or thirty seconds with a slight circular motion of your knuckle into that point will do. The point lies in a slightly different place on everyone, so you will need to find your own. I press around the area with my fingertip. I know I've found the right place when that place feels more sensitive to the pressure than the area around it. Try closing your eyes and feeling for that response and you will find the right place for you.

Acupuncture and supplements weren't the only changes I needed to make. I needed a complete lifestyle makeover. I'd spent my 20s in a haze of busy-ness. I bolted from one activity to another and I took on stressful, deadline-based work. I worked out, but never seemed to lose weight or get in any better shape (more, much more on that in a later post). I remained exhausted, wrung-out, and strung-out. And now that my thyroid had gone the way of the dodo, that had to change.

Next time: Enter, yoga!

Have you ever tried acupuncture or acupressure to treat issues? How did it work for you? Tell me your story.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hypothyroidism! The Diagnosis and the Decision

I was sitting at the endocrinologist's office. She had just said the words hypothyroidism, sluggish thyroid and medication. Outwardly, I took it calmly. Internally, the words sh*t, f*ck, and cr*p chased each other around inside my head.

My thyroid Stimulation Hormone (TSH) level was a 14. Normal range for a TSH result sits somewhere between .1 and 4.5, but endocrinologists keep truncating that upper range. At one point, the upper range was 5.4, but nowadays, according to the Journal for Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the upper normal range is likely 2.5 (with 2.5-4.5 being an indicator of future hypothyroidism. See this page for more information on ranges and what they mean.

So, the entire healthy thyroid thing is a moving target. How fabulous. What did that mean to me at the time? It meant that a 14 needed to be brought down to somewhere lower.

"What do we do now?" I asked.

"Okay," said Dr. L the endocrinologist. "We'll put you on Synthroid right away."

"What will it do?" I asked.

"It will provide you with the thyroid hormone your body should be making, but isn't."

That peaked my curiosity since I wanted my body to make the stuff it was supposed to make.

"So, when will my body start to make the hormone again?" I asked.

"Well," she replied. "It won't. You'll be on the Synthroid for the rest of your life."

"But then what will happen to my thyroid?"


"So what you're saying is that it will just sit there and be useless?" I asked incredulously.

"Pretty much, yes."

WTH? I didn't want to be on meds every single day for the rest of my life. I wanted my thyroid, my body, to do what it was supposed to do. I was glad I'd asked because that's something they don't tend to tell you. If you go on meds (permanently), your thyroid will atrophy and generally become useless. It won't be needed anymore so it'll go on a permanent vacation.

"I don't want to go on it," I said as I stood up.

"I can't recommend that," she replied. "Once your thyroid gets this sluggish, it's not possible to bring it back into normal range without medication."

"I'm going to figure out how to make it happen, how to get my thyroid back on track because I don't want meds. I want my thyroid to work."

"You have to understand. Once it goes," she said. "That's pretty much it."

I was really glad she was so honest but all that did was to light my fire.

I thanked her, promised I would keep getting my TSH levels tested to make sure things didn't get a whole lot worse, and then I left.

I cried the whole way home. I felt two emotions: release and apprehension. On the one hand, it was good to have a diagnosis. It was good to learn that there was a reason for my fatigue and my achy muscles and joints. I'd been thinking I was just pushing myself too hard but it wasn't just that. I was under a lot of stress, I was working incredibly hard, I was pushing myself, and I burned the darn little gland out.

I would bet a lot of people can relate to that feeling, the feeling of pushing yourself like crazy, beyond endurance. So many of us drive ourselves to exhaustion, regularly. I had no idea it was possible for me to stress so much that a part of my body would stop working. But it did.

Now I had to decide what to do. My initial "no meds" stance had been reactionary. Meds would make things easier. We would determine the appropriate dosage and I'd just go on the meds and my energy level ought to return. It would be so much easier, and with how exhausted I already was, "easy" beckoned seductively. By the way, here's an interesting side note. There is absolutely no guarantee that meds will help you take off the weight, relieve the depression or help bring energy back. What they will do is get the appropriate (for you) amount of thyroid hormone in your system. They are supposed to help alleviate all these symptoms, but they won't necessarily do so. So, the decision rested with me: go on Synthroid or fight to find another way.

Somewhere on the walk home, I resolved to figure out exactly what I needed to do to fix myself. Although I knew that I faced an impossible task (according to Dr. L) I promised myself that I'd try and that meant a different perspective

I had already been interested in alternative medicine. I regularly saw an acupuncturist, and I had done some studying about herbalism. I knew fairly little, but I figured there someone had written about thyroid issues and supplements, herbs, and alternative treatments.

First thing, I dug out my copy of "Prescription for Natural Healing." ( I looked at many books and I will eventually note them here.)

The book has an entire section dedicated to hypo- and hyper-thyroidism. And oh boy did it have things to say. It gives herbs and supplements to take and foods to avoid (this last has been very helpful) Some of the supplements included (a more comprehensive list will come):
Evening Primrose Oil
Vitamin A, B, C, E.
(in certain dosages)
I purchased a litany of herbs and supplements. I had never taken supplements before, but now it had become necessary since the alternative was a dead thyroid and that scared me.

The foods to avoid included: spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and tofu. The kicker? I am a vegetarian and those four were in my diet every single day. I believe that the amount of those that I was eating contributed to my thyroid going out of whack to begin with and I quit eating them completely (for a while). For a person with a properly functioning thyroid, these foods rock. They are full of nutrients, especially iron. But, unless a proper balance of iron, iodine, and selenium is maintained, thyroid function will be impeded (Here is an abstract from the NIH about the proper balance of those three :

My next move: I made an emergency appointment with my acupuncturist.

I got on the table and she told me she would need to needle a point that was unorthodox. She warned me it would potentially be quite painful, but it would jump start my body and re-engage my energy. I admit, that scared me some, but again, the alternative was a dead thyroid and I was more scared of meds forever.

Next time: the mystery acupuncture point!

Have you made dietary changes to help with health issues? Have you taken supplements? How has that worked for you? Tell me your story.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Exhausted 24/7? Get a Thyroid Test

Exhaustion! That's how it started for me. I was constantly running around like a chicken with my head cut off, always exhausted. But, still, I never stopped. I never slowed down. I pushed myself relentlessly. And then, one day, I realized that I hadn't had my period for almost five months. From May to September, I'd had nothing. After the freaked out run to the pharmacy to buy a pregnancy test (which was negative, thank heavens), I sat stumped and tired and tried to figure out what the heck was happening to me.

This sort of thing had happened before. When I was fifteen, I missed my period from December to May. At that point, I was so busy (high school, working at the ice cream store, and theater, choir, and all sorts of other extracurricular activities) that I didn't notice (and wasn't sexually active so pregnancy was a non-issue). The morning after the closing night of the last play of the year, I got my period and it plagued me for almost three weeks. Payback is a bitch. Then, there was a time or two when I got my period and it didn't stop for two months. What delightful fun. These happened when I was in my twenties and had no insurance so I didn't head to the doctor. Stupid? Yes. Reality? Sadly, also yes.

At the time, I had no idea these were some of the biggest indicators that my thyroid was desperately trying to tell me something. Some of the others: hair and nails get brittle, unexplained weight gain, fatigue, infertility, a puffy face, constipation, muscle weakness, loss of muscle tone, high cholesterol, hoarse voice, sensitivity to cold, painful, stiff joints, and depression (these and others are listed on the Mayo Clinic hypothyroid website:

It turns out that women are at the highest risk for thyroid issues (and something like 20-30 million are wandering around, exhausted and undiagnosed) and one of the big signs that something is amiss is when your period stops, or it starts and never ends or it just becomes irregular. That and fatigue. Holy moly: the fatigue! I would find myself more exhausted when I awoke than I had been the night before. It never ended. There simply was never a time when I felt energetic and strong. I was always desperately trying to catch up, like I'd just finished sprinting nine tenths of a mile, had the last tenth to go, and if I didn't get there, everything would collapse around me. I would force myself out of bed and push myself or throw myself into my daily activities because if I didn't, I would just drop. Literally.

Finally, in 1996 (at thirty) I found time to stop and do some research. Potential thyroid issues? WTH? Quickly, I made an appointment with an endocrinologist. My Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) test came back 14. TSH is what they test for first, once they've heard your list of symptoms. Here's the thing about TSH. The result is counterintuitive. The pituitary releases TSH when the thyroid isn't producing enough thyroid hormone (T4). TSH prods the thyroid to do its job. So, if there's a lot of it in your system, it means that the thyroid is sluggish for some reason. (Normal ranges and what they mean, next time.)

Here's the thing about endocrinologists. They treat the energy system of your body. The endocrine system governs the thyroid, the adrenals, the pituitary, and all the other glands that have responsibility with our energy and metabolism. (For a full write-up of that, see: So, the importance of taking care of those glands cannot be over stressed unless you want to be forced to lie in bed without the energy to raise your head.

I knew what was wrong and now I had decisions to make. Next time, we'll talk about normal ranges, and what happened to me next.

Do you find yourself exhausted, depressed, stressed, achy, and feel like you are pushing yourself just to get through a normal day on a daily basis? Can you relate to any of these symptoms and issues? What's your story?

Please Note

Welcome to Natural Thyroid. This blog details my process of treating my hypothyroidism naturally. Please note: I am not telling you *to* do or not to do anything with my posts (remember to work with your medical practitioner, whether it's an allopath or an alternative medicine practitioner).