The physiology of the human body reveals the awe-inspiring intelligence behind its design. The thyroid gland, shaped like a butterfly, sits above the windpipe, just below the voice box; forming a key part of our interconnected endocrine gland system.
And like so many symbols of the natural world, our thyroid’s form reflects its purpose. Just like the butterfly, it is a living symbol of transformation, literally transmuting the nutrients of our food into cellular energy via its hormones. Thus, it harmoniously regulates almost every metabolic process in our body.
Our heart and digestive functions, our growth and maturation, our mood and brain function, our immune function; even our sensitivity to temperature and stress are governed by this remarkable gland. So when our thyroid does not truly function as it is designed to – it is easy to see why the effects on our bodies are so widespread …and devastating.
Right now, there is an unprecedented and historical global epidemic of thyroid disease, the majority of which is occurring in women.
Between 165-170 million women worldwide suffer from some form of thyroid disease.(1) This translates to one woman in five to one in eight developing a thyroid disorder in her lifetime. (2) Amongst them are those with under or over functioning thyroids, those with autoimmune variants (when the body attacks its own thyroid cells) and those with rare but usually aggressive thyroid cancer, also with increasing yearly incidence.
Chances are, you already know a woman who is or has been affected by thyroid gland dysfunction in some way – usually evident from a neck swelling or scar. Or perhaps you are one of the silent unknown many with ‘subclinical’ thyroid dysfunction - going undetected for years before symptoms become extreme. Depression, fatigue, diarrhoea, constipation, irregular heart rhythms, early heart disease, voice changes, irregular periods, infertility and drastic weight fluctuations are just a few of the red flags. So with there now being an International Thyroid Day (25 May), it is timely to ask...
Is there something about the way we live and express, particularly as women, that is stopping our thyroids from balancing and tuning the energy systems of our bodies?
Conventional medicine has many complex nutritional, genetic, hormonal and environmental theories to explain the spiralling incidence of thyroid disease. As a medical doctor and a woman with an underactive thyroid herself, these explanations make fascinating reading and some do have real treatment benefit.
For example, many people find that taking more iodine, prioritising sleep and switching to a grain-free, dairy-free, sugar and toxin-free diet helps speed recovery when conventional treatments do not ‘deliver’ former states of health. This approach certainly helped in my case.
However, conventional thinking around thyroid disease still fails to address the possible ‘root’ or underlying metaphysical causes of thyroid dysfunction. Those deeper ‘epigenetic’ or lifestyle choices that may underpin our genetic predispositions and hence our total package of expression in the world?
What if - the thyroid gland was not simply a physical transmuter of energy, as conventional medicine has dictated for just 100 years or so of our ‘modern’ history.
What if - as ancient philosophers, teachers and healers knew – the quality of our self-expression, or lack thereof, was treated as an inseparable relationship by way of impact to the physical body? And in this case, the thyroid gland, in terms of the way we express ourselves daily, could be classed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ medicine for the body.
Well, given the state of the world’s thyroid health, it might imply that there is a chronic and increasing disharmony in the way we are self-expressing or ‘giving voice to ourselves’ that is affecting our thyroid’s natural ability to function.
When I fell ill with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune variant) during stressful medical exams, I know that it came after two decades of ‘shutting down’ my personal expression, my ‘voice’ and, in truth, my ability to self-love - for a whole host of ‘logical’ reasons.
Stifling my voice in conflict situations with my parents or friends.
Not voicing my true feelings around men because ‘their views mattered more’.
Suppressing acts of self-care - like going to the loo before I’m bursting or having a natural break - out of ‘duty’ to work.
Not speaking up during ward rounds or clinics, for fear of outshining bosses or losing that job reference.
Stifling my voice out of misplaced deference to ‘authority’ e.g. university department leads, the local ‘bully’ or even my partner.
Not voicing hurt at casual daily mistreatments just to ‘keep the peace’ or ‘get through’
Not expressing to my children when they’ve overstepped the mark because of losing my ‘cool’ status or their validation.
Not singing freely (as I’d done during childhood) due to fear of critique and ‘imperfectness’.
This list could go on! And perhaps it rings a bell for you too…
The point is, all the suppressing and stifling of our natural ‘voice’ takes place at the expense of our body. And this is made manifest by the multitasking thyroid which has to compensate and ‘retune’ the body via its hormones and chemicals, for this choice of expression to occur-always at the expense of OUR own energy.
But like any natural system, it has a tipping point. For when we do not speak or express our truth, in whatever situation that might be, we negate our innate worth, leading to feelings of unworthiness, disempowerment, shame or guilt. All of which contribute to chronic stress.
Could our collective choice, as women or men, to imbalance our natural expression, be contributing to the ever-rising rates of thyroid disease? And might this be preventing our true metamorphosis from human ‘caterpillar’ to the delicate butterfly - we know resides within each of us?
For example, studies have found that some groups of humans are more likely to exhibit thyroid dysfunction:
Women who have undergone childhood physical abuse (3)
Women who are pre or post-childbirth (4)
Post-menopausal and elderly women (5)
Women (and men) who are depressed (6)
People with mental illness including bipolar, schizophrenia or attempts (7,8)
Prisoners convicted of either violent/sexual offences (9)
People with chronic STRESS of unspecified origin that results in high cortisol (stress-hormone) levels, usually only triggered during ‘fight or flight’ situations (10)
Could it be that amongst these various diverse associations there is a common thread?
Perhaps what these groups have in common is a stunted, stagnant, diverted and/or unnatural expression or way of being that is unresolved and thus can later manifest as a similar stagnation and area of dysfunction in the body.
Or to be considered more deeply: Is the stress-thyroid link, in truth, a fundamental breakdown whereby we do not embrace the true inner ‘essence’ in one’s life and purpose and instead let life swallow us up?
This may occur due to a personal experience i.e. ‘giving up’ on one’s true expression and/or may result from outside social forces (e.g. the drive to ‘fit in’ within social ‘norms’ - as a new mum, elder or mentally unwell patient).
After 15 years of taking supplement thyroid hormones, I have taken a ‘drug-holiday’ and found that my thyroid function has remained stable. In other words, my amazing gland has been able to regenerate and rebalance me again – my very own butterfly.
Now, I am only a sample size of one – granted, but I attribute this mini-miracle to my choice to embrace the Esoteric Healing Modalities and Esoteric Women’s Health philosophies that support me to develop my true inner expression (which by the way, included writing articles for the first time since age 17).
Conventional medicine has and continues to have a vital role to play in treating the vast spectrum of thyroid disease; and this article does not advocate stopping thyroid medication or treatment. Rather it asks that we delve into the untapped and largely unknown epigenetic aspects of thyroid dis-ease, by asking what level of ‘ease’ we express with as women. And whether addressing this may truly aid in halting out thyroid epidemic.
Could this aspect of our health, allowing true expression of our essence, bring about the metamorphosis in thyroid function that science, and all of us, are really waiting for?
Thyroid disease: know the facts. Thyroid Foundation of Canada. Available at http://www.thyroid.ca/know_the_facts.php. Last accessed April 2018
https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism. Accessed April 2018
Pregnancy, postpartum and the thyroid: isn’t it time to offer women optimal care? V.J. Pop, Professor of Primary Care Facts Views Vis Obgyn. 2014; 6(3): 166–170. PMID: 25374660
The Thyroid gland in postmenopausal women: physiology and disease. Malgorzata Gietka-Cxernel. Prx Menopauzalny. 2017 Jun; 16(2): 33-37 Published online 2017 Jun 30 doi : 10.5114/pm.2017.68588
The Link between Thyroid Function and Depression J Thyroid Res. 2012; 2012: 590648. Mirella P. Hage and Sami T. Azar Published online 2011 Dec 14. doi: 10.1155/2012/590648 PMID: 22220285
Prevalence of psychiatric disorders in thyroid diseased patient: Neuropsychobiology. 1998 Nov ;38(4):222-5. Placidi GP1, Boldrini M, Patronelli A, Fiore E, Chiovato L, Perugi G, Marazziti D.
Thyroxin Levels associated with current Suicide Attempts: A Case control and Follow up Study. Psychology and Clinical Psychopharmacology 2016 Vol 26 (3): 278-286. Halil Ozcan, Atakan Yucel, Omer Atis, Nermin Yucel, Arzu Bilen, Mucahit Emet, Sultan Tuna Akgol Gur DOI:10.5455/bcp20130217101946
The prevalence of thyroid disorders among sexual and violent offenders and their co-occurrence with psychological symptoms. Int J Prison Health. 2009;5(1):25-38. Langevin R1, Langevin M, Curnoe S, Bain J. doi: 10.1080/17449200802692086.
Stress and thyroid autoimmunity. Thyroid. 2004 Dec; 14(12):1047-55 Mizokami T, Wu Li A, El-Kaissi S, Wall JR.