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 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).

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.

To enquire about treatment for Graves Disease, please call the clinic on 1300 432 639 or book a consultation with one of our experienced practitioners.


  11. Giovani Maciocia: The practice of Chinese Medicine.

About the Author 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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