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This article discusses how hypothyroidism and fertility are related and some strategies for addressing it naturally.
What’s a thyroid gland and how’s it connected to your fertility?
The thyroid gland is one of the seven endocrine glands, and it’s located at the base of your throat (behind Adam’s apple). Your thyroid gland is in charge of metabolism and energy production in the body. A bit like an electricity generator. In your early life and in utero it was involved in your brain development and organ differentiation. Later in your life it took control of your metabolism.
What body functions are affected by your thyroid gland?
– Heart beat
– Blood flow to the hands and feet
– Glucose production
– Production of cholesterol
– Fat burning
– Production of heat
– Activation and secretion of steroid hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone to name a few)
– Rate at which you use oxygen
– Cell proliferation
– Intestinal integrity
– Kidney function
– And many more
How does your thyroid regulate your metabolism?
It either gives your cellular energy generators – aka – mitochondria a nudge to make more energy or instructs brown fatty tissue to release heat or it increases the activity of enzymes in charge of energy production.
Your thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones T3 and T4. T4 is a precursor to T3 and is 20 fold more abundant than the more potent T3. To convert T3 into T4 your body needs one very important mineral – iodine.
Thyroid function and infertility
About 25% of female infertility cases and 15% of menstrual cycle disorder cases result from thyroid dysfunction. Especially subclinical hypothyroidism has a high prevalence in the population. Therefore thyroid function and the risk of hypothyroidism must be examined in all women with infertility and / or menstrual disturbances and irregularities.
Hypothyroidism & getting pregnant: the thyroid and the ovaries are related
Apart from being endocrine glands, these two are known as sister organs! Immunologically they are like two sisters. Therefore abnormal autoimmune function of the ovary is closely related to the autoimmune function of the thyroid.
Thyroid hormones impact the action and secretion of steroid hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone). Ovaries have thyroid hormone receptors, where thyroid hormones interact with and have a direct effect on ovarian hormone production.
In the case of thyroid hormone deficiency your ovary will not be able to produce sufficient amounts of hormones required for optimal fertility and a healthy pregnancy, leading to an ovulation, predisposition to PCOS, endometriosis and miscarriages.
Thyroid function is linked to PCOS and Endometriosis
Studies have found that infertile women have a significantly higher prevalence of autoimmune thyroid disease when compared to fertile women. This is especially the case in women with endometriosis and PCOS.
Another study found that 44% of infertile women with autoimmune thyroid disease had endometriosis, compared with only 9% of infertile women without autoimmune thyroid disease.
Women with autoimmune thyroid disease have an increased risk of miscarriage. Which is why this is one of the tests that should be preformed as early as possible.
Poor thyroid function can result in
– Abnormal neuronal and placental development resulting in malformations and miscarriage.
– Deficiency of thyroid hormones during brain development in utero and early post partum period can result in brain damage leading to mental retardation, decreased intellectual capacity, psychomotor delay and deafness.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
Take a look at the following 22 symptoms of hypothyroidism
– Weight gain
– Intolerance to cold
– Hair loss
– Dry skin
– Menstrual abnormalities
– Recurrent miscarriages
– Fibrocystic breasts
– Poor concentration
– Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
– Sleep apnea
– Dysmenorrhea – painful periods
– Menorrhagia – heavy periods
– Facial puffiness
– Loss of libido
Pregnancy and thyroid function
Already from the fifth week of pregnancy there is an increased demand for thyroid hormone. But the problem and the catch 22 is that during pregnancy there is also an increased blood flow through the kidneys where iodine is filtered out of the blood and lost in the urine.
Studies have shown that even a very short 3 day deficiency of thyroid hormone during pregnancy can result in brain alterations in the baby similar to those in autism. One in 20 newborns has potential brain alterations as a result of insufficient thyroid hormone during pregnancy.
Assisted Reproductive Technology Infertility treatments can cause temporary hypothyroidism
Controlled ovarian hyperstimulation is used to harvest the eggs for IVF or some other form of ART (assisted reproductive technology). This places an enormous strain on the thyroid gland to produce huge amounts of thyroid hormones. If adequate nutrients for optimal thyroid function are not present during and after IVF, the risk of miscarriages and malformations increases.
Postpartum Thyroiditis: Maternity blues
Postpartum (after birth) thyroiditis is one of the most common endocrinological disorders affecting millions of women world-wide. And it seems to affect women in the first year after delivery. Hypothyroidism is also associated with post partum depression or maternity blues. This doesn’t come as a surprise given how taxing pregnancy is on thyroid hormones.
What to do about hypothyroidism?
- Don’t drink unfiltered tap water – fluoride in tap water interferes with healthy thyroid function. Poor thyroid function is linked to hypothyroidism and subclinical hypothyroidism which can lead to infertility. I personally use and recommend the Aquasana drinking water system and this shower filter.
- Take a regular iodine supplement. Iodine is an essential mineral for healthy thyroid function and for development of nervous tissue and the brain in foetus. Deficiency in pregnancy can lead to retardation. Women wanting to conceive as well as pregnant and lactating women should receive 200 micrograms of iodine daily. You can get iodine from marine fish, seaweed, kelp and eggs.
- Another cheaper option which also works is an iodine disinfectant solution applied topically on the skin. You can buy it at any chemist or pharmacy. It’s a brown red disinfectant liquid in spray or dispensing bottle. All you need is a few drops on the inside of the wrist. Allow the liquid to be absorbed by the skin, and don’t wash it off until the remaining yellow stain is dry.
- Eliminate Brassica family vegetables from your diet. They include broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. These vegetables contain chemicals called goitrogens. Goitrogens interfere with thyroxin (hormone produced by thyroid gland) production and utilization in the body. Steaming and cooking may deactivate goitrogens partially, but these vegetables are best avoided for the time being in order to decrease the risk of hypothyroidism.
- Start exercising in the morning as this will increase your metabolic rate and leave it at a high level for the rest of the day. The same applies for breakfast. Skipping breakfast in the morning will cause your metabolic rate to be set at a lower level, which will make you tired and lethargic as well as, most of the food your eat that day will be converted into fat as the body thinks it is in starvation mode.
- Take a good quality multi-vitamin supplement containing Zinc and selenium as they are important nutrients for healthy thyroid function and prevention of hypothyroidism.
- Have your thyroid hormone levels and thyroid function checked by your doctor. Your tests results may come back as normal (within normal ranges) but you still may have hypothyroidism. Studies have shown that subclinical hypothyroidism often goes undetected. Therefore insist on having TSH, T3 and T4 tested, to see how much of the T4 you are converting to T3. So if your results are in the low ranges of normal and you are displaying the symptoms of hypothyroidism be sure to take the steps to boost your thyroid function.
- Do yoga. Viparita Karani – is a yogic posture which improves pelvic circulation and the functioning of adrenal, pituitary and thyroid glands. What you need: a yoga mat and a folded blanket or another folded yoga mat. How to do the posture? Place your blanket (folded second yoga mat) onto the yoga mat. Lie on the mat with your arms on the floor alongside your torso, then bend your knees and place your feet on the mat with your heels close to your sitting bones. Exhale, press your arms against the mat and push your feet away from the mat, drawing your thighs into the torso. Bend your elbows and draw them toward each other. Lay the backs of your upper arms on the mat and spread your palms against the back of your torso. Raise your pelvis and keeping the elbows at shoulder width support your hips with your hands. Inhale and lift your bent knees toward the ceiling, straighten the knees, pressing the heels up toward the ceiling. Stay in the pose for about 30 seconds gradually adding 5 to 10 seconds every day until you can comfortably hold the pose for 5 minutes. Exhale, bend your knees into your torso and slowly roll your back onto the mat keeping the back of your head on the floor. Contraindications: Do NOT do this posture if you are menstruating or have glaucoma. More information on this pose can be found here.
I hope this has given you some insight into the connection between hypothyroidism and fertility. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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