Women's thyroid health is closely connected to their reproductive hormones, and women are more prone to thyroid conditions than men.
When it comes to women’s hormones, we can’t overlook the importance of thyroid health. All hormone systems are connected; if thyroid hormones are out of balance, they can affect sex hormones, adrenal hormones, and more. In addition, women are almost twice as likely to have a thyroid condition as men, suggesting a complex interplay between thyroid and female hormones.
Today’s article will dive into thyroid health for women and why women are more prone to thyroid conditions, especially during times of transition. Keep reading to learn more about this crucial and fascinating topic, including:
- What is the thyroid?
- What can go wrong with the thyroid?
- What are the links between thyroid health and reproductive hormones?
- How to support thyroid health from an integrative medicine perspective
Let’s dive in!
The thyroid gland is butterfly-shaped and sits at the front of the throat. It’s part of the endocrine system, and its main function is to produce thyroid hormones in response to thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) signals from the brain.
The thyroid gland primarily releases thyroxine, also known as T4, since it includes four iodine molecules. Thyroxine is inactive and converts to the active hormone triiodothyronine, also called T3, since it contains three iodine molecules. T3 binds to every cell in the body to influence metabolic rate and function.
Thyroid Conditions in Women
Thyroid conditions affect women up to 5 to 8 times more than men. Here are some of the most common thyroid conditions women may face:
- Hypothyroidism – Up to 10% of adults have hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid where the thyroid isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone. Low thyroid hormones means a lower metabolic rate, causing weight gain, constipation, fatigue, and other symptoms.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – Hashimoto’s is autoimmune hypothyroidism and the most common form of hypothyroidism women experience. In Hashimoto’s, the reason for low thyroid hormone production is immune system destruction of the thyroid gland.
- Hyperthyroidism – Hyperthyroidism is less common than hypothyroidism. It involves an overactive thyroid gland and high output of thyroid hormones. Symptoms may include weight loss, rapid heart rate, insomnia, increased hunger, and other signs of a fast metabolic rate.
- Graves’ disease – Graves’ is the autoimmune version of hyperthyroidism, driven by immune dysregulation.
- Postpartum thyroiditis – This thyroid condition occurs in the first year after having a baby and may present as hyperthyroidism followed by hypothyroidism.
Thyroid and Women’s Hormones
One reason women are more likely to develop thyroid conditions may be due to the influence of estrogen on thyroid and immune health. The thyroid gland and immune cells have estrogen receptors and are influenced by estrogen levels. This relationship may also explain why women are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases than men.
It’s more common for women to receive a thyroid diagnosis or flare of a previous condition during hormonal transitions, including puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, and perimenopause. Many thyroid symptoms like weight gain and insomnia can overlap with symptoms of perimenopause.
The reverse is also true: underlying thyroid conditions can affect women’s hormones and reproduction, showing up as menstrual cycle concerns, fertility issues, miscarriage, and early menopause. For patients with concerns about their sex hormones, it’s critical to look at thyroid health in conjunction.
An Integrative Approach to Thyroid Health
If you have a thyroid diagnosis, you may need medication. For example, the treatment for hypothyroidism is thyroid hormone replacement. However, in conjunction with medication, you can also support thyroid health with integrative approaches, including:
- Proper testing – Many doctors will only order TSH and call your thyroid good if it’s within the wide lab range. In our practice, we look at a full thyroid panel and often use tighter, more optimal ranges when evaluating hormones. A complete thyroid panel includes:
- Total and free T4
- Total and free T3
- Reverse T3
- Thyroid antibodies
- Food as medicine for thyroid health – The thyroid system requires a lot of nutrition for proper function. Thyroid-supportive nutrients and sources include:
- Tyrosine (an amino acid in protein) – meat, poultry, fish, nuts, legumes
- Selenium – Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, fish, oats, brown rice
- Iron – red meat, shellfish, lentils, leafy greens, dulse
- Zinc – meat, oysters, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, cashews, peanuts
- Vitamin A – eggs, organ meats, grass-fed dairy
- Vitamin D – eggs, grass-fed dairy, mushrooms, sun exposure
- Iodine – Iodized salt and seaweed (please note that extra iodine intake may be contraindicated with some thyroid conditions)
- Toxin reduction – Many environmental toxins are endocrine disruptors and contribute to thyroid imbalances. It’s essential to reduce exposure to toxins and, if needed, work with your integrative team for detoxification support. Toxins that disrupt thyroid health include:
- Halogenated chemicals that contain fluorine, bromine, or chlorine
- Heavy metals
- Bisphenol A (BPA)
- Gut health – Poor gut health and imbalances in the microbiome influence thyroid health. When the gut is inflamed or “leaky,” food proteins can enter the body and trigger the immune system. Gluten, the protein component of wheat, is a common trigger for autoimmune thyroid disease. Therefore, identifying gut imbalances and food sensitivities is a key part of your thyroid health plan.
- Manage stress – Stress and changes in adrenal hormones can trigger or exacerbate imbalances with thyroid hormones. It makes sense if you think about it: when the body is under stress, it will turn down metabolism (thyroid hormone production) to conserve energy. A solid self-care practice and social support are essential for preventing thyroid conditions and managing them.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid condition but still have symptoms or are ready for a comprehensive hormone workup, please reach out. At TaraMD, we can help you manage your medications (if needed) and layer on integrative approaches to your care plan, so you start feeling better soon. Please reach out to learn more about how we can help you!