“Having a systemic auto-immune disease is like riding a wave of pain, nausea, emotion and physical limitations. It drains you entirely. You’re instantly being pushed to your breaking point and it never ends.”
Hormonal changes in the body happen all the time. For a healthy person, the most intense times these changes happen is during puberty and when a woman is menopausal. In some people these changes can occur at other times in their lives because of their lifestyle choices or because of the unhealthy stress levels. In cases involving the thyroid gland, the two main disorders are hypothyroidism (due to a poorly functioning thyroid gland) and hyperthyroidism (caused by an overactive thyroid gland). I am about to introduce you to Premita, who, through no fault of her own, took a long time to understand her problem.
“Dr Siby,” she said, after telling me her name.
I smiled and said, “It’s OK. What can I do to help you?”
“Well, it all started five years ago. I started to put on weight. It’s unexplained weight gain, Dr. Siby. I would eat salad and still put on weight. I’ve tried every diet possible. Nothing works.”
I put my hand on hers to calm her down.
“It’s OK,” I said. She looked at me and nodded. Then, I asked, “How old are you? And how much do you weigh now?”
“I’m 35 years old.” Her voice then dropped, as though she was ashamed of telling me her weight. “I’m 64 kg. I knew something was really wrong when I started to lose my hair. Then my periods became irregular.”
Suddenly, she lifted her head and said, “You know, I visited my relatives in India last year. It was the height of summer and I was the only one in the room who couldn’t take the air conditioning. I had to have two blankets. And I was always tired.”
“Did you take any medication?”
Premita exhaled before placing a stack of lab reports on my table. “Yes. I did. I went to see an endocrinologist last year. He made me take a full blood test and a glucose test.” She put her hand on her chest and said, “Thank God I’m not pre-diabetic. But I’m on Levothyroxine. 100 micrograms a day.”
Pulling out another report, she pointed to the Free T3, Free T4 and TSH levels and said, “They’re OK now. All back to normal. T4 at 1.93 uiu/ml and Free T4 at 17.9 pmol/l.” She paused, scratched the side of her head and said, “But …”
“The thing is, because I still wasn’t getting my period, the doctor decided to put me on the contraceptive pill. I hated it Dr. Siby.”
“Well, I put on more weight. But that wasn’t what was horrible. What was really bad was that I was so depressed all the time. But the doctor refused to listen to me. So, he put me on another brand of the pill. A better one, he said. Also, he said I had to be on Glucophage to reduce my weight. I was miserable and I really didn’t want to be on all this medication at this age. Maybe after menopause, yes. But I’m 35. I’m not married. Can you imagine anyone wanting to marry a girl who is on this much medication?”
Then, she said something that absolutely horrified me: “The doctor thinks that by 40, I should start taking statins. As a preventive measure.”
I frowned. “Prevention? I don’t understand. I mean, don’t you think that when you say prevention, it’s better not to create the condition that allows the disease to manifest? Isn’t this better than introducing a drug to prevent the disease from manifesting?”
I shook my head to diffuse the tension between us. “I’m not trying to argue with you. I’m just trying to understand how and why it makes sense to give a drug that is supposed to treat a disease. All this when the disease hasn’t even manifested, yet.”
We agreed, at this point, not to discuss this matter any further. Instead, I explained that in Ayurveda, the prognosis and management of a disease is slightly different than in Western medicine. Then I asked her, “Do you have any stress in your life?”
She scrunched up her nose, shook her head and said, “Normal-lah. Like everyone else. Stress is normal isn’t it?”
“Hmm…” Quietly, she asked me. “Is there anything you can do to help me, Dr. Siby?”
“Yes, of course I can help you.”
A week later, she was admitted to the Ayur Centre. She stopped taking the contraceptive pill, Glucophage and Levothyroxine immediately. She had Abhayangam and, internally, she was administered Varanadi Gritham and Gulguluthikthakam Gritham for 5 days and had a bowl of rice porridge once a day.
On Day 13, she had a normal diet and on Day 14, she underwent Virechanam or induced purging. After this session, Premita said to me that she slept well for the first time in years.
By Week 5, she was looking much better and we introduced Njavarakizhi (massage using special rice paste) and other medication was given to strengthen her immune system. Since many patients with thyroid issues have some form of iron deficiency, I also gave her something called Loham 101 which is a purified form of iron supplements.
The Premita who left my consultation room after completing her treatment was over was more than 8 kg lighter, she had clearer skin and was a much happier person.
Two weeks later, when she came back for her follow-up treatment, she told me that upon leaving the Ayur Centre, she went straight to a laboratory to get a blood test done.
“You know,” she said, “I couldn’t believe it. I thought that with all that ghee, my cholesterol levels would go up. Not at all. In fact, they came down. My LDL is now 3.5 mml/l. Even my thyroid function has improved. So she went back on the thyroxine, but at a reduced dosage.
Three months later, when she walked into my consultation room, Premita was smiling and very happy. Her blood test then showed that she was back to normal. The best news was that her period was back to normal and she no longer needed to be on the pill. She still takes Levothyroxine, but it is at much reduced dose.
“Dr. Siby,” she said, “I finally understood that my thyroid function was connected to stress. Once I understood this, I was able to do my best.”
This one sentence encapsulates a lot of what I explain to many of my patients: even though the treatment I give is a physical one, my aim is often to make the patient regain his sense of self-worth and confidence. You have to listen to your heart and do what you feel is right for you. There is no need to suffer unnecessarily by listening to other people’s negative perception of you.
(8 March 2017)
This story is an excerpt from Knowledge of Life: Tales of an Ayurvedic Practitioner (ISBN 978-967-415-4004) by Vaidya C.D. Siby and Aneeta Sundararaj. It is an enlightening book published by MPH Publishing that dispels the myths surrounding this ancient medical system.