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February 20, 2023 10 min read

Acupuncture is an ancient healing practice that has been around for centuries. Today, it's gaining more and more popularity as a natural therapy for various health conditions, but can it help increase thyroid hormone levels in people with hypothyroidism? It might be!

From understanding how acupuncture works and understanding its potential benefits and risks, here's everything you need to know about acupuncture for underactive thyroid.

Understanding the thyroid and hypothyroidism

The thyroid gland, which is located at the front of the neck, plays an important role in the normal functioning of your bodily functions. It produces and releases thyroid hormones, mainly thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones help control your body's metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate, among others.

Unfortunately, the thyroid gland can be affected by numerous issues. One of the most common ones is hypothyroidism. Also known as underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism arises when your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormone. It can be caused by autoimmune thyroid disease, goiter, thyroid removal surgery, or radiation treatment.

Common underactive thyroid symptoms include dry skin, fatigue, loss of energy, and memory problems. These symptoms occur as a result of the slowing down of metabolism due to a shortage of thyroid hormones. A high level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood is the hallmark diagnostic marker of hypothyroidism. TSH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that regulates the release and production of thyroid hormones.

While there's no cure available, patients can take thyroid hormone replacement medications to ease their underactive thyroid symptoms. These medications can help you live a long and normal life even with an unfortunate thyroid condition.

What is acupuncture therapy?

Acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine that has been used for over 3000 years. This therapy involves inserting thin, sterilized needles into specific points, known as acupuncture points, on the body. The needles are then stimulated by the practitioner, either through gentle hand movements or by using electrical stimulation. The aim of acupuncture therapy is to balance the flow of energy or Qi (pronounced "chee"), which is believed to run through the body's pathways or meridians and is responsible for the body's overall health and well-being.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, if there's an imbalance or blockage in the flow of Qi, it can lead to illness. By inserting needles into specific points and stimulating them, acupuncture therapy aims to restore the balance of Qi in the body, promoting health and reducing the risk of disease.

However, Western practitioners have a slightly different perspective. For them, acupuncture points are seen as specific spots where nerves, muscles, and connective tissues can be stimulated. By stimulating these areas, your body can activate its own natural painkillers. Thus, decreasing pain levels.

Many studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective therapy for numerous health conditions.

Acupuncture for thyroid Can it increase your hormone levels

How does acupuncture feel?

When done by a qualified practitioner, acupuncture doesn't cause much discomfort since the needles are very thin. While some people don't feel them inserted at all, others may experience a brief and slight pain where the needles puncture the skin. When the needles reach the correct depth, you may also experience a mild aching sensation.

It's also possible that you feel a tingling or a dull ache in the muscles. If you feel significant pain, heaviness, or numbness in your body, be sure to communicate it with the practitioner.

How can acupuncture help with thyroid disease?

For those with thyroid disease and related symptoms, the focus may be on meridians that are believed to be linked to these conditions. By identifying and treating the root of the problem, acupuncture aims to restore balance and natural equilibrium to the thyroid.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), acupuncture can be used to treat thyroid diseases. Moreover, acupuncture's potential as a treatment for thyroid disease has been the subject of a great deal of research. The British Acupuncture Council has highlighted various positive effects of acupuncture. Some of the ways acupuncture has been found to be potentially beneficial for people with thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism.

  • Balancing thyroid hormone levels. For those with hypothyroidism, acupuncture can help to increase levels of thyroid hormones, while in patients with hyperthyroidism, it can help to lower them.

  • Reducing sensitivity to pain and stress while promoting relaxation by acting on specific areas of the brain. This is achieved through the release of adenosine, a chemical that decreases sensitivity to pain.

  • Increasing blood circulation in small blood vessels that help improve muscle stiffness and joint mobility.

  • Promoting the release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors, which can reduce inflammation.

Other reviews have also found acupuncture to be promising for people with thyroid disorders.

Acupuncture points commonly used to treat hypothyroidism

When treating acupuncture, practitioners aim to identify underlying patterns of organ imbalances and treat them using different acupuncture points. With hypothyroidism, symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, constipation, and cold intolerance are common, and spleen qi deficiency is often a pattern seen in these symptoms. The spleen plays a crucial role in producing Qi and blood, and if this function is impaired, one may experience weakness, coldness, and fatigue.

Aside from the spleen, some practitioners may also use ear acupuncture, also known as auriculotherapy. The best combination of auriculotherapy points to support the thyroid will depend on the diagnosis made by a Chinese medicine practitioner. Typically, treatments begin with the Ear Shen Men Point, located in the upper outer corner of the triangular fossa. This point is calming and helps to enhance the effectiveness of other points when used together.

Another important point is the Thyroid Point, located at the bottom of the antihelix tail. In individuals with hypothyroidism, this area of the ear may appear whiter than the rest of the ear. The Kidney Point is also relevant, as it is associated with both hormones and the thyroid in Chinese medicine. This point is situated in the upper area of the cymba concha, close to where the ear joins the face.

Finally, the Endocrine Point, located at the center of the inside wall of the intertragic notch, is an additional point to consider. This point can be used to address any hormonal issues in the body, as it has a direct effect on the endocrine system and works to balance hormonal levels.

When selecting and placing points, it is crucial to examine the ear for any discolored, swollen, or tender areas to ensure the proper selection and placement of points.

Is acupuncture safe for hypothyroidism?

When performed by a qualified, registered acupuncturist who uses sterilized needles, acupuncture is generally very safe for people with hypothyroidism. However, all therapies come with both benefits and risks, so it's important to be aware of them. Some of the possible risks of acupuncture are as follows:

  • Bleeding or bruising where the needles puncture the skin

  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Feeling sick

  • Drowsiness

  • In very rare cases, the needle may break and damage an internal organ.

Before getting acupuncture, make sure to inform the practitioner if:

  • You suffer from a bleeding issue. If you have a bleeding condition like hemophilia or take blood thinners, your risks of bleeding or bruising from the needles may be enhanced.

  • You have a pacemaker installed. Acupuncture that includes the application of modest electrical pulses to the needles may interfere with the operation of a pacemaker.

  • You have a metal allergy.

  • You have an infection in the area where needles may be inserted.

  • You're pregnant.

Additionally, it's very important to make sure that the practitioner uses sterilized needles. Otherwise, you'll risk getting an infection. Acupuncture needles are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as medical devices. The needles have to be nontoxic, sterile, and labeled "for one use only."

How to find a qualified acupuncturist

If you are considering having acupuncture, you should follow the same steps that you would take to locate a doctor, which is as follows:

  • Make sure to get references from people you know you can trust.

  • Investigate the practitioner's level of schooling and any qualifications they may have.

  • Make sure you ask the practitioner any questions you may have. Inquire about the therapy, including how likely it is to help with your condition and how much it will cost to get it.

  • Meeting clinical and diagnostic criteria.

  • Determine whether or not the treatment is covered by your medical insurance.

Keep in mind that acupuncture is not for everyone. Therefore, you should let your primary care physician know that you are considering receiving acupuncture. It's possible that he or she will be able to provide you information on the success rate of getting acupuncture to help you get better, or they may be able to suggest an acupuncture practitioner to you.

Are there other traditional Chinese medicine that can help with hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism (and hyperthyroidism) is seen as a Yin/Yang imbalance in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Yin and Yang represent the fundamental building blocks of reality in traditional Chinese medicine. Maintaining a harmonious Yin and Yang is a central tenet of TCM, as doing so is essential to good health. Therefore, according to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM), Chinese thyroid disease diagnosis and treatment also include Chinese herbal medicine in addition to acupuncture.

Shanghai Medical University in China conducted a study to investigate the link between hypothyroidism and a lack of kidney energy. After an assessment, participants' diagnosis criteria is a combination of the presence of serum antibodies against thyroid antigens and appearance on thyroid sonogram according to a review and the diagnosis criteria in Chinese clinical guidelines.

Participants were then treated with a Chinese herbal preparation that stimulated the kidney energy channel. The study found that symptoms of hypothyroidism improved significantly following this treatment. This research suggests that TCM may be a valuable addition to the treatment of hypothyroidism, and further studies may be needed to explore this potential therapy.

There are various herbs and formulas recommended for hypothyroidism, including cinnamon bark (rou gui), kidney yang tonic (jin gui shen qi wan), aconite (fu zi), and right restoration formula (you gui wan). In addition, you may also try yingliu mixture to increase your thyroid function, as well as haizao yuhu decoction and xing qi hua ying tang to treat goiters.

Do you still need hormone replacement therapy?

Yes, acupuncture is a complementary therapy, so it shouldn't take the place of doctor-recommended treatments. This means that you still need thyroid hormone replacement therapy. According to the British Acupuncture Council, acupuncture may be beneficial for patients with hypothyroidism, but it is still necessary to take medication.

Thyroid hormone replacement therapy

Thyroid hormone replacement therapy is a type of treatment used to restore thyroid hormone levels in people with hypothyroidism. It's designed to replace the hormones that are either deficient or not present at all in your body. The goal of this therapy is to help regulate metabolism and restore normal body functions affected by the decreased production of thyroid hormones.

The process begins with your doctor performing blood tests in order to measure your current level of thyroid hormones in order to determine if you need treatment. If so, you will be prescribed medications that contain T4 or T3, or both.

Common thyroid hormone replacement medications

1. Levothyroxine

The most commonly prescribed medication by doctors is levothyroxine, which is the synthetic version of T4. Some of the most well-known brand names of this T4-only medication are Synthroid, Unithroid, Levoxyl, and Unithyroid.

2. Liothyronine

Liothyronine is another manmade medication. It's the synthetic form of the hormone T3. However, it's not as commonly prescribed as levothyroxine. Liothyronine is usually prescribed in conjunction with levothyroxine for hypothyroid patients who don't feel better with T4-only medications. One of the most popular brand names for liothyronine is Cytomel.

3. Natural Desiccated Thyroid (NDT)

Natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) is a popular option among those who don't feel better with levothyroxine or liothyronine. This is because NDT already consists of both T4 and T3 thyroid hormones. Therefore, you don't need to take two medications at once. Unlike levothyroxine and liothyronine, which are made in a lab, NDT is made from dried porcine (pig) thyroid glands, making it a natural option. There is a wide range of great NDT brands, such as VitaliThy, a natural desiccated thyroid you can buy online.

Both levothyroxine and NDT are oral thyroid hormone treatment that needs to be taken regularly, once a day. Some people may need to take the medication for the rest of their lives.

How is thyroid hormone replacement therapy dosage determined?

The thyroid hormone replacement medication dosage is determined through a thorough evaluation of the patient's body and medical history. It is important to understand that all patients with hypothyroidism require different dosages, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach for dosing.

The most common way to determine the appropriate dose of thyroid hormone replacement medication is by assessing levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). This test measures the amount of TSH in the blood, which helps doctors gauge whether your levels of thyroid hormones are too low or too high. A doctor may start a patient on a low dose and then adjust it over time depending on results from subsequent TSH tests. In addition, factors such as age, weight, lifestyle habits, and other medications can affect how much medication needs to be taken each day.

It's possible for hypothyroidism to deteriorate over the course of one's lifetime. As a direct consequence of this, the dose can eventually require an increase.

Can you combine acupuncture with hormone replacement therapy?

Yes, you can combine acupuncture with hormone replacement therapy. Just as explained before, acupuncture is a complementary and alternative medicine. This means that just because you routinely get it doesn't mean you can stop taking your medications.

Acupuncture provides an ideal complement to conventional medicine. In addition to making your thyroid problems feel better, acupuncture can also help increase circulation, reduce inflammation, enhance relaxation, manage stress levels, and support hormone balance which are all important factors in managing thyroid health.


Acupuncture is an ancient practice that has been used to treat a variety of ailments for thousands of years. It is gaining increasing recognition in Western medicine as a viable treatment option for hypothyroidism. Therefore, acupuncture may be worth a try if you have hypothyroidism and want to explore alternative therapies to further enhance your thyroid function and overall health. Acupuncture for thyroid problems is regarded as the most effective alternative treatment. Just make sure you see a professional acupuncturist and follow any thyroid-related recommendations.

If you're considering acupuncture for your hypothyroidism, it's important to take the necessary steps to ensure that you are receiving quality care. Make sure to visit a professional acupuncturist with experience in treating thyroid disorders and talk with your doctor about the potential risks and benefits of using this form of therapy. Additionally, never stop taking any prescribed medications without consulting your doctor; acupuncture should be done in conjunction with treatments to replace thyroid hormone production like NDT, not as a replacement for them.

There are so many NDT brands out there, but they're still hard to find in pharmacies, and some doctors refuse to prescribe them. But don't worry. You can buy desiccated thyroid online now: VitaliThy. This NDT supplement contains Thyroid (USP), similar to Armour Thyroid. Plus, it doesn't contain any shellfish, fish, or eggs, and it's also free of lactose and gluten. So you don't have to worry about allergies!

With these considerations in mind, acupuncture can be an incredibly beneficial tool for those living with hypothyroidism.

Wojciech Majda
Wojciech Majda

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