Chinese: The Yin and Yang of Thyroid
In this interview, Dr. Patrick Purdue, Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture Physician, talks about the role of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thyroid conditions. Dr. Purdue is a graduate of the Florida Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He completed an eighteen month postgraduate program in Traditional Chinese Medicine gynecology, and regularly attends over 80 hours of continuing education yearly. His practice focuses on women’s health, gastrointestinal conditions and autoimmune diseases.
Mary Shomon: Can you tell us about your background, how you became interested in Chinese medicine, and what training you underwent to become a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and acupuncturist?
Dr. Purdue: I really got involved in studying Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in an around-about way. About 13 or 14 years ago, my youngest daughter Dana began to have recurrent middle ear infections. At the time, I was a commercial photographer shooting images for brochures, catalogs and so on. One of our neighbors was an MD, and so we took her to him and he put her on the standard 10-day course of Amoxicillin. The condition resolved, but she got another one not too long afterward. Another course of Amoxicillin resolved that one. But the episodes of ear infection began to become frequent and closer together. Then her tonsils and adenoids became swollen and inflamed, and her nasal passages were chronically congested. So she got to the point of being on antibiotics all the time and was on steroid inhalers for the congestion. The MD then suggested it was time to have her tonsils and adenoids removed, and have tubes put in her ears. That’s when we decided that there had to be another way. Luckily, we found a chiropractor who practiced nutritional medicine, and who quickly discovered that she had a dairy allergy. We took all dairy products out of her diet and she shortly afterwards became completely well and had no more ear infections. So I thought, here they were going to do all this surgery on her, not to mention the fact that she’d been on all sorts of medications for the better part of a year, and all it was was a simple allergy which the doctor didn’t even think to check out.
I decided I wanted to figure out how to help out other people with natural medicine. Not long afterwards I learned of the TCM medical school in a neighboring town, 20 minutes from my home. I checked into the program and found out I’d have a three year commitment. Now at this point in time I knew absolutely nothing about TCM. All I cared about was that I already had the basic entry-level college requirements done, and it was a year less time commitment than conventional medical school or chiropractic college. I figured I could suffer through three years of anything to get a primary care provider’s license so I could practice nutritional medicine. It was in the first couple of weeks of school in my first semester that I fell in love with TCM. It is the world’s oldest professional medical system. Basically, saying that the program is three years long is a bit deceiving (a change in state law will increase the training by one more year starting next year). We were using the Shanghai Medical College five year curriculum squeezed into three years. This was done by not spending time on subjects for which our license does not allow us to do (prescribe pharmaceuticals, do surgery, etc.), and squeezing the rest into five and a half month long semesters and 18 hours a week in class. When it became time for the internship phase of the training, we were still required to be in class for eighteen hours plus complete our internship requirements. It has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Incidentally, since I began studying this medicine none of my three daughters have had an antibiotic or any other prescribed drug. It is unusual in our culture for people to go for over ten years without an antibiotic or other medication.
Mary Shomon: The basic premise behind Chinese Medicine is the idea of harmony, the balance of yin and yang. Can you provide a bit of an overview of this concept for those who are unfamiliar with it?
Dr. Purdue: Most people have heard of yin and yang, and most have seen the yin/yang symbol. The interpretation of yin and yang in TCM physiology is a bit different than the definition of those terms in other arenas, such as the martial arts or Taoist philosophy. Yin, represented by the dark field in the yin/yang symbol, equates in medicine to body fluids such as blood, and to the actual structure of the body itself. It is cool in temperature. Yang, represented by the white field in the yin/yang symbol, equates to function and movement. It is warm in temperature.
So, for example, the liver as an organ structure is yin, but its function is yang. So obviously, if we have a balance between structure and function, that organ or body is in balance and everything is working well. And, if you recall, the yin/yang symbol has the opposite color “eyes” in each field. This implies that nothing is 100% yin or 100% yang, that each contain elements of the other. Our goal in TCM is to help the body achieve balance between structure and function.
The other important idea in TCM is the concept of “qi” (pronounced “chee”). It often gets interpreted as “energy,” and, loosely, this is correct. There are many forms of qi in TCM. For instance, “clear qi” is their word for the air that we breathe. “Heart qi” is the beating of the heart. “Stomach qi” is the action of the stomach churning up the food. Qi is a yang function. Qi is considered the “commander of the blood.” There is a famous statement about pain in TCM which reads, “If there is pain there is no free flow. If there is free flow there is no pain.” This implies that as long as the qi and blood are flowing smoothly one has no pain. Any pain, anywhere in the body, is due, in TCM terms, to a blockage or impairment in the flow of qi and blood. So our job, through the use of dietary modification, medicinal formulas or acupuncture, is to remove the obstacles so that qi and blood flow smoothly, or so that function is restored. This is the “return to balance.”
Mary Shomon: In Chinese medicine, health is considered balance and disease is evidence of imbalance. Can you describe what Chinese medicine feels can upset those balances?