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Graves Disease (GD) and Chinese Herbal Medicine

Graves disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid often resulting in hyperthyroidism. Typical presentations include irritability, muscle weakness, sleeping issues, palpitations, a poor tolerance of heat, diarrhoea and weight loss. There may also be thickening of the skin on the shins and eye problems such as bulging called Graves ophthalmology (1). The cause of GD is not clear, however genetics has been shown to play a part (1). The condition may be triggered by stress, infection or child birth. Also, already having type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis increases ones chance of getting this condition. Smoking also increases the risk of the disease and may worsen the eye condition. In Chinese medicine, there are records of ‘goitre’ (swelling in the neck) as early the third century BC. (11) Typically in GD there is a raised T3 and T4 levels, a low TSH, and an increased radioiodine uptake in all areas of the thyroid and TSI antibodies. (1)

Although various reasons are given, the most common reason for GD in Chinese Medicine is called disharmony in the spleen and liver, caused by stress and anger. Often talked about with a swelling of the neck and protrusion of the eyes (2).

Treatment for Graves Disease

Treatment for GD includes anti-thyroid drugs, radioiodine and thyroidectomy (surgical excision of the gland). There are both minor and major side effects from antithyroid drugs. The minor side effects occur in approximately 5% of patients and include cutaneous reactions (usually urticaria or macular rashes), arthralgia, and gastrointestinal upset. Major side effects occur only occasionally and include polyarthritis (1—2%), agranulocytosis (0.1—0.5%),hepatotoxicity (0.1—0.2%) and vasculitis (rare) (3).

Some Chinese herbal formulas have shown to have a different mechanism to anti-thyroid drugs like methimazole (MMI) (3).Therefore these formulas may be effective in treating Graves disease in patients who have developed a MMI resistance (3).

Radioiodine therapy is inexpensive, highly effective, easy to administer, and safe. However radioiodine also causes permanent hypothyroidism in virtually all those receiving this therapy. It also worsen conditions of existing ophthalmology and can also induce post-radioiodine aggravated hyperthyroidism due to radiation related thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid) (3). Chinese herbs could be applied as a therapy before radioiodine therapy (3).

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Graves Disease

Studies have been promising in using Chinese herbal preparations as an adjunct to normal therapy. Including reports of improvement in palpitations, hidrosis (excess sweating) and a reduction in adverse reactions (4,7). Another concluded that Chinese herbs are an effective and alternative option for hyperthyroidism induced by Graves’ Disease, especially for patients who have an allergic reaction caused by thioamides (5). Yet another concluded a Chinese herbal remedy could significantly improve the symptoms of experimental hyperthyroidism graves. The herbal formulas mechanisms may be different from that of thiamazole (6).

Further studies showed that some Chinese herbs when used in combination with antithyroid drugs could induce cell apoptosis (removal of excess tissue in the thyroid) (8) and that Chinese herbal preparation Combination therapy was much more effective on the functional remission of thyroid and energy metabolism in GD patients than that of using Tapazol therapy alone (9).

A final study into Graves ophthalmology concluded that a Chinese herbal preparation was capable of inhibiting preadipocyte proliferation and enhancing adipocyte apoptosis and may potentially be applied to clinical practice (10).

Accumulating research is expanding the understanding of how Chinese medicine helps with Graves Diseases and what outcomes we can expect. In summary, Chinese herbal medicine has shown it be a valuable adjunct to normal treatment of Graves Disease. Research has established Chinese medicine as a valuable tool, especially for those patients who have side-effects from anti-thyroid drugs and do not wish yet to begin radioiodine treatment.

At Sustain Health we are up to date with the most recent research into Graves disease and Chinese herbal medicine. We also have a solid understanding of how the ancients have treated this disease through two millennia. We aim to combine the best of both worlds to attain the highest efficacy and safest approach to in our treatment of this disease.

If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of Chinese medicine and acupuncture in treating Graves Disease or any allergy & autoimmune condition, call us on 1300 432 639.

  1. 2020. Graves’ Disease. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 May 2015].
  2. Dorr, S., 2020. Treatment For Thyroid Diseases With Chinese Herbal Medicine. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 May 2015].
  3. Lee, B., Kang, S., Ahn, Y., Doo, H. and Ahn, S., 2008. An alternative therapy for graves’ disease: clinical effects and mechanisms of an herbal remedy. Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin,.
  4. Wu, J., Liu, D. and Chen, Y., 2011. Effects of Radix Astragali on IL-1beta, TNF-alpha and antigen expression of peripheral blood mononuclear cells in patients with Graves disease. Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine,.
  5. Chang, C. and Huang, S., 2010. Is Traditional Chinese Medicine Effective for Reducing Hyperthyroidism?. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(11), pp.1217-1220.
  6. Guo, J., Chen, C. and Li, X., 2009. Experiment research of Jiajian Yunvjian granules on hyperthyroidism graves. Chinese Journal of Chinese Materia Medica,.
  7. Li, X., Yin, T., Zhong, G., Li, W., Luo, Y., Xiang, L. and Liu, Z., 2011. Herbs for calming liver and suppressing yang in treatment of hyperthyroidism with hyperactive liver yang: herbal effects on lymphocyte protein expression. Chinese Journal of Chinese Materia Medica,.
  8. Zhao, J., Gao, L. and Liu, X., 1999. Preliminary study on Chinese herb induced apoptosis of thyrocytes in Graves’ disease. Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine,.
  9. Zha, L., 1997. Therapeutic effect and its mechanism exploration on mainly using traditional Chinese medicine of replenishing qi and nourishing yin in treating Graves disease. Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine,.
  10. Li, H., Wang, Y. And Xu, R., 2012. Pingmu Decoction Enhances Apoptosis Of Orbital Adipocytes Derived From Patients With Graves’ Ophthalmophathy. Molecular Medicine Reports, 6(6), Pp.1361-1366.
  11. Maciocia, G., 2007. The Practice Of Chinese Medicine. 2nd ed.

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Sustain Health
Sustain Health is a multidisciplinary, wellness clinic located in South Melbourne, Australia. We believe good medicine is about looking at the whole being, treating the person and keeping them well. We view each patient as an individual affected by their unique lifestyle, diet, environment, emotions and attitude. Every individual’s health needs a tailored approach to achieve better and sustainable medical solutions. Sustain Health currently offers its clients: * Fertility * IVF Support * Acupuncture * Chinese Medicine * Chiropractic

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