Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs for Treatment of Graves’ DiseaseA healthy thyroid produces hormones that control metabolism (conversion of food into energy). Graves’ disease, described by Sir Robert Graves in the early 19th Century, is a common thyroid condition. It is also the leading cause of hyperthyroidism which is when the thyroid overproduces hormones resulting in a myriad of unwanted symptoms. However, when someone has Graves’ this overproduction of hormones which can cause heart palpitations, sweating, weight loss, trembling and more is unable to be controlled by the stabilizing chemical TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone – thyroxine). Instead, TSH is mimicked by abnormal antibodies produced by this disease and the thyroid ends up overworking and overproducing hormones.

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition believed to be caused by genetic as well as environmental influences such as stress. About 10 million Americans (2-3% of the population) are afflicted by Graves’ with women, pregnant women and smokers most susceptible. Conventional medicine has no cure for this disease so it attempts to control it by prescribing beta-blockers, anti-thyroid medications and radioactive (iodine) treatments. In some cases surgery is performed to remove the thyroid altogether.

Other symptoms of Grave’s include:

  • Enlarged eyeballs (exophthalmos)
  • Heat intolerance
  • Muscle weakness
  • Profuse sweating
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Insomnia
  • Shortness of breath
  • Double vision
  • Anxiety
  • Increased appetite

Described as “gu yan ning jing” which translates as “dove-like fixed eye”, Graves’ disease has been treated by acupuncture and Chinese herbs for hundreds of years. Chinese medicine considers Graves’ to be a manifestation of stagnant qi (chee – life force) with accumulated phlegm as well as heart and liver yin deficiency with deficient fire. Overall, the body’s cooling as well as nourishing functions are weak and malfunctioning.

Acupuncture has been integrated into many conventional medicine modalities and Graves’ is no exception. It can be used alone or alongside medical treatment as it has been found to regulate neuropeptide release, autonomic nervous system, and hormone release. A 1988 clinical study conducted by by Guo Xiaozong et al published and reviewed by Subhuti Dharmananda, PhD reported that,

“…acupuncture was used to treat benign thyroid nodules (thyroid adenoma, nodular goiter, or cystic goiter, but not thyroid carcinoma or thyroiditis). The acupuncture treatment revealed a long-term effective rate of 90% in resolving the nodules. Nearly half of the individuals were cured (measured by palpation of the neck and by ultrasonography), and most of the remaining individuals showed marked improvement.”

Below is a list of a more detailed look at how Chinese medicine breaks down the various causes and results of Graves’ disease. This template is what an acupuncturist would look for during a detailed intake interview with each patient suffering from Graves’ to be able to determine the best point protocol.

  • Liver Fire Flaring Up – Manifests as irritability, propensity to outbursts of anger, high-pitched tinnitus, deafness, temporal headache, dizziness, red face and eyes, thirst, bitter taste, dream-disturbed sleep, constipation with dry stools, vomiting of blood, coughing of blood and nose bleeds.
  • Liver Qi Stagnation – Causes the fluids to accumulate and transform into Phlegm which then obstructs the neck with Qi and gradually induces goiter. Lingering Liver Qi transforms into fire, which is manifested in fidgeting and irritability. If the fire consumes body fluids and stomach Yin the resulting Yin Deficiency produces heat. Liver Qi Stagnation manifests as melancholy, moodiness, depression, fluctuation of mental state, nausea, vomiting, epigastric pain, unhappiness, irregular periods, painful periods PMS and irritability.
  • Heart Yin Deficiency – Manifests as palpitations or severe palpitations with fear, fidgeting, forgetfulness, insomnia and profuse sweating.
  • Deficiency of Qi and Kidney Fluids – Causes insufficiency of water, which leads to excessive heat, which in turn harms the vital energy.  Excessive heat also hurts the Yin and often involves the Heart, Liver and Stomach.
  • Damp Phlegm – Manifests as expectoration of very profuse phlegm which is white and sticky, no appetite, no thirst, a feeling of stuffiness of the chest and epigastrium, swellings and lumps and joint problems.
  • Disturbance of Qi by Sorrow and Anger – Involves a weakening of the Stomach and Spleen Qi (which may be the result of emotional factors or diet) produces Turbid and Moist substances, which are raised to the thyroid area by the stimulus of excess Liver Qi.  It manifests as swelling in the neck and protrusion of the eyes.
  • Kidney Yin Deficiency and Liver Yin Deficiency – Manifests as dull occipital or vertical headache, insomnia, sallow complexion, dream-disturbed sleep, numbness of limbs, flushed cheeks, dizziness, dry eyes, blurred vision, propensity to outburst of anger, soreness of the low back, dry throat, tinnitus, night sweats, feeling of heat in the palms and soles, difficult-dry stools, scanty menstruation or amenorrhea, delayed cycles and infertility in women.
  • Spleen Yang Deficiency – Causes indigestion and loose stools, and produces Phlegm, which goes up to the neck and causes the enlarged thyroid or nodules, or goes to the eyes to induce exophthalmos.

Chinese Herbs
Using Chinese herbs to treat Graves’ disease can be effective if done so under the guidance of a capable, professional naturopathic doctor. Some Chinese herbs are disallowed in the U.S. which has prompted some people with Graves’ to travel over seas for treatment. Some Chinese herbs that may be prescribed depending on each individual’s symptoms and history include;

Radix Astragali Membranacei (Huang Qi) – Increases Yang; Tonifies qi
Raw rehmannia and scrophularia – Yin nourishing and/or fire purging.
Fritillaria and oyster shell – For thyroid nodules and swelling; phlegm resolving.
Codonopsis, ophiopogon, scrophularia, bupleurum, citrus, salvia, peony, moutan, lycium fruit, and licorice – All clear heat and have shown beneficial results in alleviating various symptoms associated with Graves’ disease.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs for treatment of Graves’ disease can be a highly beneficial formula. Be sure to seek out proper guidance when attempting an alternative approach to this condition with close monitoring for any contraindications.

At Integrative Med Solutions, we will design an acupuncture and naturopathic treatment program that works for you. In many cases, insurance covers portions of the acupuncture treatment. Allow us to support you to achieve optimal health.  To make an appointment or find out more about how acupuncture and naturopathic medicine can benefit you, please call our office at 914.337.2980 or CLICK HERE to schedule an online appointment.

*Please CLICK HERE to see a current list of In-Network Insurance Companies for Acupuncture that we participate with as well as insurance companies that commonly have Out-of-Network benefits. Please call 914.337.2980 or securely email to verify your specific benefits. If you are emailing, please include your full name, date of birth and insurance identification card number.

2 Responses to “Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs for Treatment of Graves’ Disease”

  1. Mathias Wien says:


    I live in Norway and got graves. I have been through radiojod treatment and are now taking thyroid medicine for hypo. I am planning to seek help in chinese medicine and acupuncture, do you know anyone in Oslo/Norway that you can recommend? If no, wouldt it be possible for you to guide a practicing acupuncturist, if you know what I mean?

    Mathias Wien

  2. I would love to have any research article citations for my MD!

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