So often, it is assumed that our hormonal imbalances, period problems, or infertility stem from issues with our female organs and sex hormones. While they are definitely an important part of women’s wellness and balance, a small yet powerful gland located in the neck is actually quite influential too! Yes, you guessed it, the thyroid.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that is often referred to as the master of metabolism and our internal thermometer. The thyroid is in constant communication with the brain and secretes hormones into the blood stream to make our energy stable and to manage growth and maturity of our cells (1). Every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormone—that’s how important this gland’s function is for overall health!
Unfortunately, thyroid issues are proving more and more common. The American Thyroid Association suspects 20 million Americans to have thyroid disease, 60% of which are likely completely unaware of their condition. Furthermore, 1 out of every 8 women is expected to develop thyroid disorder at some point in her lifetime (2).
While the cause of thyroid disorders or dysfunction is not clearly defined and can be different for different individuals, our thyroids are more vulnerable than ever before as environmental toxins (such as chemicals in plastic and heavy metals), stress, nutrient deficiencies and gut issues are more common than ever before (3, 4, 5).
So what does thyroid dysfunction look like?
There are many symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, some of the most well-known being rapid weight gain (hypo) or loss (hyper), low energy and fatigue, cold hands and feet, and hair loss.
However, there are other symptoms too, which are directly related to our cycles and fertility, such as:
- Irregular cycles
- Heavy periods
- Painful periods
- Irritability, feelings
- Anovulation & infertility
- Low Basal Body Temperature
How does thyroid dysfunction affect menstrual health?
When we think about our hormones, it is important to remember that all of our glands and organs are always in communication with each other. They are sending messages amongst themselves, and every player in the hormone game is working hard to stay synchronized: the brain, the adrenals, the thyroid, the ovaries, and the liver—all of them! Therefore, out-of-whack thyroid hormones are likely to alter the balance of our sex hormones and vice versa.
Changes in our menstrual cycle, amenorrhea or infertility can occur for many reasons having to do with the different parts of the hormonal feedback loop mentioned above. However, hypothyroidism specifically often affects Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH). These hormones are essential for ovulation and the production of estrogen and progesterone. Furthermore, in some women, hypothyroidism is part of a PCOS or Ovarian Cyst diagnosis, which can cause anovulation and irregular cycles as well (6).
Complete thyroid testing
While diet and lifestyle changes can help shift thyroid health, testing is also important! There are multiple hormones to test in relation to thyroid health (7):
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH; produced by the brain)
- Free T4
- Free T3
- Reverse T3
- TPO & TG antibodies
While many doctors only test for TSH and Free T4, more and more thyroid experts are confirming that these tests may not be enough to detect what is considered “subclinical” thyroiditis. Subclinical means that your thyroid may be in overdrive or under-functioning, but your TSH or Free T4 levels come back normal despite your raging symptoms.
Furthermore, there are two autoimmune diseases that cause direct attacks on the thyroid: Graves (autoimmune hyperthyroid) and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroid). Hashimoto’s is considered one of the leading causes of hypothyroidism, but neither of these conditions can be detected by testing TSH and Free T4 alone! Without testing TPO and TG antibodies, Graves and Hashimoto’s, can go undetected for years until the issue or condition has caused great distress or damage to the body.
Health professionals also dispute which ranges are best to use to truly detect thyroid issues. I find this article by thyroid expert Dr. Amy Meyers helpful when navigating the topic.
Stay tuned for part 2
As you can see, our thyroids are intricate glands that work hard to keep us humming along, but they can also be an important part of the hormone balance and fertility puzzle! Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series all about supporting the thyroid through a healthy diet and an active lifestyle!
About the Author
After years of interest and devotion to healthy living and using nutrition to prevent disease, Ellie returned to school to become a holistic nutrition consultant. Ellie is currently growing her practice, where she passionately accompanies women as they begin to understand their bodies on a deeper level, discovering what foods and habits aid each woman’s individual body to function and feel the best. Ellie loves chatting and teaching about the female cycle and how nutrition contributes to hormonal balance and fertility. Click here to connect with Ellie and schedule a consultation. You can also catch Ellie on Facebook and Instagram!