Thyroid Problems- Do You Need To Worry?
Medikoe Wellness Expert
80 feet road indira nagar, Bengaluru Sep 9, 2019
The thyroid is a small gland located in your neck. Its job is to control our body's metabolism — the process by which our body converts what we eat and drink into energy — through the hormones it releases. The thyroid creates and releases thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), thyroxine (T4), and triiodothyronine (T3).
Nowadays, thyroid medication prescription rates in the United States have increased from an estimated 49.8 million in 2006 to 70.5 million in 2010.
In other words, our thyroid is worth paying attention to.
While many are aware that an imbalance can cause weight gain and fatigue, did we know that hormone imbalance can also impact our menstrual cycle and fertility? Regular thyroid hormone levels keep our reproductive cycle in check by sending signals to our ovaries to ovulate each month. Thyroid dysfunction is much more common in women than men — at about a five to one ratio.
An Overactive Thyroid
Hyperthyroidism (an excess of thyroid hormones) affects up to five per cent of women. Symptoms of this condition can include unexplained weight loss, increased appetite, feelings of nervousness and anxiety, difficulty sleeping, fewer or lighter menstrual cycles, and increased sweating and heat intolerance.
In healthy, reproductive-aged women, luteinizing hormone (LH) peaks mid-cycle and signals the ovaries to release an egg, i.e. ovulation. But when the body produces too many thyroid hormones, LH can remain elevated during the entire cycle. With these chronically increased levels of LH, the "peak" is not drastic enough to signal the ovaries to ovulate. In other words, it confuses the body. An unusual ovulatory function can often lead to irregular or absent menstrual cycles. If no ovulation, we can't get pregnant naturally —ovaries do not release an egg that can get fertilized by a sperm.
But hey, not to fear. With proper treatment, regular monthly periods as a result of thyroid issues can often be restored. Treatment of hyperthyroidism varies depending on the severity and provider preference. Many cases can be treated with certain medications only.
An Underactive Thyroid
Hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormones) is more common than hyperthyroidism in women. Some common symptoms seen in hypothyroidism are weight gain, fatigue, constipation, feeling cold, thinning hair, pale skin, and increased or heavier menstrual bleeding.
When we have low levels of thyroid hormones, the body does not produce enough LH. Lower LH levels can inhibit that mid-cycle surge. As a result, your thyroid won't signal to the ovaries that it's time to release an egg. Without this signal, ovulation does not occur regularly, making conception difficult. In one study of a group of almost 400 women suffering from infertility, 24 per cent of them were found to have hypothyroidism. Within a year of treatment for hypothyroidism, 76 per cent were able to conceive.
Speaking of treatment, it typically involves a daily medication that supplies our body with the rest of the thyroid hormone it needs. However, treatment will vary from person to person, depending on severity. Typically, patients will be under close surveillance with initial treatment (labs were drawn every six weeks to a few months) until a proper maintenance dose can be picked. Once a patient has a maintenance dose, thyroid labs will still need to be checked on a yearly basis. Overtreatment of the thyroid can occasionally cause something called "thyroid storm," which can be dangerous. Treatment and management must be done by a provider who is super familiar with the thyroid.
Is there any link between thyroid dysfunction and PCOS?
Thyroid hormone imbalance and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) often mimic each other in symptoms. PCOS is believed to be rooted in hormonal imbalance, too, but primarily insulin and androgens (male hormones like testosterone). Symptoms can include ovarian cysts, absent or irregular menstruation, and excess hair growth in unusual places like the face, toes, neck, or chest.
While it has been found that women suffering from PCOS may have a higher risk of thyroid dysfunction, the exact reason behind this remains unknown. But because of the similarity in symptoms, providers will often check thyroid hormones when evaluating patients for PCOS, and vice versa.
Thyroid Problems While Pregnancy
During pregnancy, increasing demands from a developing baby can occasionally cause new-onset or worsening hypothyroidism for the mother. Additionally, impaired thyroid function prior to and during conception can impact healthy brain development in the fetus, while regular screening of thyroid levels prior to pregnancy or early in pregnancy is provider and practice-specific. This is because current national guidelines on universal screening are inconclusive. If we have a family history of thyroid dysfunction, a personal or familial history of autoimmune disease (which can be related to thyroid function), or are suffering from symptoms of hypothyroidism, testing of the thyroid is important.
Nutrition for a Happy Thyroid
Though some cases of thyroid dysfunction are out totally of our control, maintaining a healthy diet that contains vitamins and minerals to support your thyroid can be beneficial. Studies have shown that iodine, selenium, iron, vitamin A, and zinc are all crucial to keeping the thyroid happy and healthy for both pregnant and non-pregnant women alike. Eggs, prunes, and lima beans are rich in iodine, while brazil nuts, chicken, brown rice, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, oatmeal, spinach, and bananas are fantastic sources of selenium.
For hypothyroidism specifically, stick to a low-salt, low-calorie diet with foods rich in iodine and antioxidants, as well as seafood. For those suffering from hyperthyroidism, an ideal diet contains foods that counteract thyroid hormone production, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and radish. Due to an increase in metabolism in hyperthyroidism, it is also recommended to consume nutrient-dense foods and avoid any low-calorie diets.
Last but not least: Thyroid levels are very important for normal ovulatory function and foetal brain development, too, so this endocrine gland has to be kept in normal mode for proper reproductive functioning.
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