Metabolism: Whole Body Health

Feeling tired? Sluggish? Do you have lowered immunity or allergies? Are you gaining weight? Prone to digestive bloating or gas? Does your skin break out frequently? Do you have vague joint or muscle pain? More than usual hair loss? Blue moods? Are you chronically cold? Many of us suffer from these symptoms from time to time (or possibly quite regularly) and yet, modern allopathic medicine has little to say or recommend for such "everyday" complaints. Often we are told that it is all in our minds or that it is just part of growing old. However, folk healing philosophies from around the world have other viewpoints in this regard. The ancients of many cultures believed that regulating the vital organ system was of utmost importance in creating long-term health. By regulating the individual organs and the flow of energy between them, one can regulate the metabolism. Many of the complaints noted above are indications that this system is out of balance according to ages old healing philosophies.

Thyroid weakened by:

  • Caffeine
  • Candida albicans (yeast overgrowth)
  • Chronic dieting
  • Ephedrine (synthetic and natural)
  • Poor nutrition
  • Stress
  • Sugar

Metabolism is governed by a complex feedback relationship between the major organs of the body and is overseen by the thyroid. This system includes the liver, stomach, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, bowels and lymph glands. These organs are responsible for digestion, protein synthesis, mineral assimilation, blood sugar balance, detoxification, blood building, production of certain immune cells, energy conversion, energy metabolism, and elimination. If the supervising thyroid becomes fatigued or weakened, the whole system tends to slow down. Thus, people with underactive thyroids (whether they are low enough to register on standard medical testing or not) often suffer from extra weight gain, fatigue, sleeplessness, depression, headaches, menstrual disturbances, or infertility in either sex. In the era of pre-chemical thyroid testing, cases of "stubborn" infertility were considered classic examples of low thyroid function.

When our metabolism functions poorly, the thyroid is the first area to be checked medically. Even so, two renowned nutritional physicians, Gary Null and Julian Whitaker, state that an underactive thyroid is the most frequently missed diagnosis in America! Their preferred diagnostic method is to chart underarm basal (or resting) temperature readings, a method common before the development of modern blood chemistry tests for thyroid function. If the temperature is consistently low (under 97.8 degrees F), along with other classic symptoms noted above, the thyroid is generally considered at least sub-clinically underactive, whether confirmed by blood tests or not.

From a holistic perspective, the thyroid may be weakened as follows: by stress which activates the adrenals and drains the thyroid of vital energy; by stimulants such as caffeine, ephedrine and sugar, which also activate this adrenal cascade; by poor nutrition; or by systemic or chronic Candida albicans (yeast overgrowth) in the gut's floral community. The thyroid may also slow down from chronic dieting which, because of low calorie intake and poor nutritional management, causes the thyroid to function as though we are in starvation mode by slowing metabolism to keep us "alive."

Effects of a weak thyroid:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Infertility
  • Menstrual disturbances
  • Sleeplessness
  • Weight gain

According to naturopathic philosophy, if the digestive and eliminative organs are clogged with toxins, the feedback mechanism may signal the thyroid to increase stimulation in order to compensate. This can also drain the thyroid of vital energy. In this scenario, gently cleansing the digestive and eliminative organs while also toning them (balancing their various functions while strengthening them) is a common naturopathic treatment strategy. Cleansing and balancing individual organ functions may benefit all of the organs through this feedback mechanism, and reduce the energy pull on the thyroid as the supervisor of this circuit. Naturopathic treatment for rebalancing the system often includes resolving any mucous accumulations present, as well as preventing their further occurrence by regulating diet and digestion—the source of the problem. Mucous accumulations are often a breeding ground for overgrowth of infectious organisms like Candida. They also slow elimination and detoxification processes in the liver, gallbladder and intestines. If these are not attended to, toxins end up in the bloodstream, only to be filtered by the lymph glands. These in turn become congested and unable to function optimally as our first line of defense against disease. Naturopaths frequently note that many people with low thyroid conditions in our society also have Candida overgrowth to varying degrees.

Helpful Herbs

Yellow dock is one of the premier herbs for cleansing and toning all major organs, blood and lymph, and yet, it is gentle enough to be considered a tonic as well. It is traditionally credited with high quantities of valuable minerals that are key players in organ health (including the thyroid) and in energy processes. Folk herbalists have long used it to build blood quality in anemia and to resolve mucous and other toxin accumulations in the intestinal tract and liver. Yellow dock is historically thought to regulate energy flow amongst the organs (which we moderns would relate to thyroid function) and to relieve energy or digestive stagnation. It promotes liver functioning, urination, kidney cleansing, lymph cleansing and harmony amongst the organs. This classic tonic herb was highly prized by both Native American folk herbalists and the eclectic herbalists of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is frequently encountered in tonic elixir recipes of centuries past.

Renew thyroid health:

  • Build blood quality
  • Cleanse and strengthen digestive and eliminative organs
  • Cleanse blood and lymph
  • Cut down on mucous accumulations

Goldenseal, uva ursi and cleavers were highly prized by these healers as well for their multitude of cleansing and tonic actions for the mucous membranes, digestion, liver, kidneys and lymph. Additionally, the eclectics frequently employed goldenseal as a tonic for low thyroid function. Cleavers, club moss and uva ursi, like yellow dock, are traditionally linked with good mineral nutrition in folk herbalism, an important link in overall metabolism. Club moss and uva ursi, popular general tonic herbs in days gone by, are also reputed to tone the stomach, spleen and pancreas, which regulate digestion, assimilation and blood sugar balance. Native American and eclectic healers relied on white willow bark for its drying astringent properties for mucous and to harmonize stomach function, promote urination and cleanse toxins from the blood and lymph. Historically, it was also considered a general tonic.

According to the eclectics and Native American healers, formulas which combine these herbs, along with other classic tonics from this lineage like red clover, alfalfa and nettles, would be ideal for toning, balancing, restoring, and gently cleansing the major vital organs in an overworked or sluggish system. This type of preventive or maintenance tuning is considered an essential part of a program for optimal health, along with seasonal internal cleansing, moderate and regular exercise, lots of fresh air and sunshine, a well-rotated diet with plenty of fresh vegetables, and adequate rest.



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Bensky, D. & Gamble, A. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica. Eastland Press, 1986.
Duke, J. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. CRC Press, 1985.
Felter, H. & Lloyd, J. King's American Dispensatory, Vols. 1 & 2. Eclectic Medical Publications, 1983.
Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal. Dover, 1931.
Hoffmann, D. Therapeutic Herbalism. (publisher and date not noted)
Holmes, P. Energetics of Western Herbs. Artemis Press, 1989.
Hutchens, A. Indian Herbology of North America. Merco, 1973.
Moerman, D. Medicinal Plants of Native America. Vols. 1 & 2. University of Michigan, 1986.
Null, Gary. "Low Thyroid Syndrome: How to Recognize and Optimize," Natural Living Journal, No. 4. December 1994.
Pederson, M. Nutritional Herbology. Whitenan, 1994.
Whitaker, Julian. "Here's A Subscriber Who Took Affirmative Action for Her Thyroid," Health & Healing. June 1995.
Willard, T. Wild Rose Scientific Herbal. Wild Rose College of Natural Healing, 1991.


This Herbal Insights Reflection is from the Summer 1997 edition of Herbal Insights. Herbal Insights is a publication of Kroeger Herb Products Co., Inc., 805 Walnut Street, Boulder, CO 80302.



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