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Is It A Thyroid Problem, or a Lymphatic Problem?
Sluggish thyroid function, or hypothyroidism, is the most common thyroid condition, affecting almost 50 million Americans. A sluggish or underactive thyroid can lead to tiredness, dry skin, weight gain, swelling, sensitivity to cold, muscle weakness, thinning hair, brain fog, and moodiness.
In Ayurveda, these symptoms are all linked to a kapha imbalance. Specifically, the lymphatic system becomes congested, causing a feeling of body-wide sluggishness. When the cervical lymph nodes (rasa dhatu) in the neck that drain the thyroid become congested, kapha (congestion) can build up in the thyroid, resulting in sluggish function.
While Western medicine often aims to replace missing thyroid hormones, Ayurveda aims at addressing the cause of the underlying kapha imbalance or lymphatic congestion problems.
As far back as 1988, researchers knew that 90% of hypothyroid cases were due to an autoimmune concern that was originally described as a lymphatic congestive condition of the neck and thyroid. In 1912, the Japanese doctor Hakura Hashimoto was the first to describe the thyroid condition that we now call Hashimoto’s thyroiditis after him. However, he actually called this condition struma lymphomatosa. This is because of the congestion of the cervical lymph nodes that is present in this condition. Over the years, the related lymphatic congestion was the defining factor of the condition, leading to names like lymphocytic thyroiditis, lymphadenoid goiter and others. Eventually, the medical community finally settled on calling it Hashimoto’s—and, as a result, the underlying lymph congestion has been dismissed as just a symptom of sluggish thyroid function, instead of a potential cause.
According to Ayurveda, the swelling around the thyroid is called galaganda roga where the lymphatic vessels (rasa vaha srotas) in the neck become congested. To properly address the lymphatic congestion (kapha imbalance) surrounding the thyroid, Ayurveda looks to the source of the body’s lymphatic congestion.
The Digestion-Lymph-Thyroid Connection
There is an intricate connection between the digestive system, the lymphatic system, and the thyroid. Let’s break it down.
Digestion to Lymph
In Ayurveda, 85% of all health concerns start in the digestive system, which iswhere the lymphatic system also begins. The lymphatic system is the largest circulatory system of the body, tasked with carrying the immune system, taking out the ‘trash’ by removing metabolic waste, and delivering properly-digested fats and proteins to every cell of the body for baseline energy.
If the digestive system breaks down, it may result in indigestion, food intolerances, bloating, food comas, and more. When this happens, incompletely digested proteins and fats will be too large to enter the bloodstream as nutrition. Instead of being used as energy, they are absorbed into the collecting ducts of the lymphatic system inside the intestinal tract. This is why gluten has been pegged as an aggravator of thyroid health, when a gluten reaction is actually a canary in the coal mine warning us of an underlying imbalance in digestion and overwhelmed lymphatic detox pathways.
See also The Dangers of a Gluten-Free Diet
If the digestive imbalance does not improve, and there is exposure to an inordinate number of stressors (such as environmental pollutants, processed foods, and pesticides),, these undigested proteins, fats, and toxins will find their way into the lymphatic system.
Lymph to Thyroid
The first sign of lymphatic congestion is the building up of excess weight around the belly and hips, then pushing into other areas of concentrated lymph. This could cause muscle stiffness, fatigue, skin irritations, swelling, water retention or bloat, hypersensitivity reactions, weakened immunity, headaches, moodiness, brain fog, and much more— all of which are also symptoms of a thyroid imbalance.
See also Ayurvedic Herbs for Your Thyroid
Studies tell us that the thyroid is one of the body’s most sensitive organs to toxins, pesticides, and environmental pollutants. Many years ago, I was working with a patient who had lifelong weight gain and thyroid issues that had been well managed for a couple of years. One day, she came to me complaining of fatigue, significant weight gain, and the feeling of holding on to excess water. I called a friend of mine, Ryan Drum, who is a Ph.D. researcher who specializes in thyroid health. He asked me if she had been exposed to any new furniture or had bought a new car recently. When I asked my patient, she confirmed that she had just gotten a new apartment and a new car, as they had moved to a new country. She said that the toxic outgassing of the furniture was so bad that she had to open the windows 24/7—just so she could breathe! The same was happening with her “new car” smell. The new furniture and car were overwhelming her thyroid with toxic chemical outgassing.
In the book Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis by Izabella Wentz, she makes the case that most cases of Hashimoto’s start with digestive issues. Specifically, she points to heartburn and a condition called leaky gut syndrome, which is a breakdown in the protective barrier of the intestinal tract.
To support a healthy thyroid, all signs point toward a thorough evaluation of digestion as a foundation. Here are three free eBooks to get you started:
- Digestive Troubleshooting Guide
- Your Digestible Guide to Gut Health
- Miracle of Lymph
- We also recommend Dr. John’s Book Eat Wheat, which includes a step-by-step guide to rebuilding digestive strength.
NOTE: In the case of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Hypothyroidism, get evaluated and treated by a thyroid medical specialist.
Once a digestive imbalance has been resolved, support for the body’s lymphatic congestion can be started. Starting lymphatic therapies before the underlying digestive imbalance is resolved can be problematic. When the lymphatic congestion around the thyroid reaches the level of an autoimmune condition, there is excessive lymphatic congestion that is attempting to protect the thyroid from an overzealous immune reaction. In this advanced stage, the lymphatic system slows down in an attempt to halt the overzealous immune response that has turned on its own thyroid. During this advanced stage, it is best not to support the lymphatic system issues until the underlying factors are resolved, and you have received proper medical attention.
– Find All of Dr. John’s Thyroid Articles Here.
– Find All of Dr. John’s Lymphatic Articles Here.