Hypothyroidism is a leading cause of difficulty in achieving and maintaining pregnancy. Low thyroid function has a negative impact on reproductive health and is more common than most women realize. For women struggling to get pregnant, questioning thyroid health and getting proper testing is a first critical step to a successful outcome. Fortunately for the thousands of women that are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, there are a variety of natural ways to support thyroid health. Along with your doctor monitoring thyroid hormone levels and prescribing thyroid medication, there are specific foods, key nutrients and herbs that can all be used to improve thyroid health.
Get to Know The Thyroid
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland that partially surrounds the wind pipe (a tube-like portion of the respiratory tract that connects the larynx, the voice box, with the lungs.). The thyroid produces thyroid hormones, mainly thyroxine (T4) and small amounts of triiodothyronine (T3). T3 is the more active form of thyroid hormone that tells cells what to do, and T4 is converted into T3 inside the target cells.
What Thyroid Hormones Do
- During pregnancy, fetal growth and development is controlled by maternal thyroid hormone, with help from fetal thyroid hormone later in pregnancy. Growth and development continue to be regulated by the thyroid postpartum.
- Control metabolism by regulating the rate of oxygen consumption and consequent heat production at the cellular level.
- Influence carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism.
- Healthy thyroid function is also required for the activity of other hormones, like growth hormone, for controlling heart rate and blood pressure, and even for proper brain function.
Signs of Low Thyroid Function
If you have more than three of the following signs, consider having your thyroid tested:
- Fatigue, weakness
- Depression, irritability
- Mind fog, memory loss
- Digestive issues – usually constipation/slow food transit
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Dry/rough skin, dry/brittle hair, hair loss
- Shortness of breath
- Cold intolerance
- Low body temperature
- Slow pulse
- Goiter (swollen thyroid)
- Muscle cramps
- Reduced libido
- Menstrual cycle abnormalities
- Difficulty conceiving or carrying pregnancy
Reproductive Hormones & Medications Impact On Thyroid Health
Thyroid function influences reproductive hormone balance and reproductive hormones also influence thyroid function. High levels of estrogen, whether due to estrogen dominance or taking exogenous estrogen, may reduce the amount of active thyroid hormone. This is because excess estrogen increases TBG(Thyroxine-binding globulin), the protein that binds and transports T4 and T3 but also renders them inactive upon binding. In those with normal thyroid function, a compensatory increase in thyroid hormone takes care of this but in hypothyroid women, this compensation doesn’t happen and symptoms of hypothyroidism may worsen in the presence of excess estrogen. Finally, many prescription medications also block thyroid function, including steroids, beta-blockers, barbiturates, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and certain seizure medications. If you are experiencing signs of low thyroid function, be sure to research any medications you are taking to look for impacts on the thyroid.
Hypothyroidism, Fertility and Pregnancy
Fertility & Conception – Conception is more difficult for hypothyroid women due to associated ovarian dysfunction. Both hypo- and hyperthyroidism disrupt reproductive hormone balance and women with thyroid disorders often have menstrual cycle abnormalities such as flooding, scanty periods or irregular cycles. While the precise mechanisms of hormonal disruption have yet to be defined, hypothyroidism has been associated with reduced FSH and LH levels which are needed for egg follicle maturation and ovarian production of estrogen and progesterone. Hypothyroidism has also been linked with the development of ovarian cysts, and such cysts may regress upon thyroid treatment.
Pregnancy – It is not uncommon for thyroid disorders to develop during pregnancy, with incidence ranging from 10-15%. Thyroid hormone is important for both placental and fetal development. Pregnancy can be seen as a “stress test” for the thyroid, in the sense that mother’s thyroid hormone production needs to increase by 20-50% to accommodate the increased metabolic needs of mother and developing fetus. If a woman is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone due to overt (“full blown”) hypothyroidism, or even to subclinical hypothyroidism that becomes a problem under the increased demands of pregnancy, the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, and postnatal developmental issues is higher.
Getting Your Thyroid in Shape for Conception and Pregnancy
With the link between hypothyroidism and reproductive fitness, it’s important to support thyroid health directly and also indirectly through supporting adrenal and immune system health before trying to conceive.
Nutrition and Hypothyroidism
Focus on nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory foods, with the majority of the diet being a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits, augmented with a smaller amount of healthy proteins, fats and whole grains. The following are some of the key nutrients important for thyroid health. These can be provided by good quality supplements but you should always strive to get as much as possible from food;
Iodine: Iodine is necessary for the production of thyroid hormone and is important for fetal and early postpartum development. Dietary iodine requirements are higher in pregnancy because the demand for T4/T3 is higher and it’s not unusual for iodine levels to drop through pregnancy. Studies have shown that the children of women with mild-to-moderate iodine deficiency (urinary iodine concentrations between 50-150ml/L) during pregnancy are at increased risk for neurodevelopmental issues. Food sources: Seaweed, seafood, organic dairy, eggs, strawberries.
Selenium: Selenium is important for the function of several enzymes involved in thyroid function. Moreover, selenium has been found to diminish thyroid autoantibody levels. Selenium levels may be low in some pregnant women, and low selenium levels may be a contributing factor to the postpartum thyroid dysfunction that afflicts many women. The RDA(Recommended Daily Allowance) for pregnancy is 60 mcg. There is some evidence that long term supplementation with higher levels (200mcg) may contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. Food sources: Organic lean meat, fish, Brazil nuts, cheese, eggs, nutritional yeast, liver, butter, cold water fish, alliums (onions, garlic, leeks, etc), mushrooms, tomatoes, green vegetables.
Zinc: Zinc may be involved in many aspects of thyroid function and is both influenced by and influences the thyroid. Make sure your whole food multivitamin contains the RDA for pregnancy, which is 11mg. Food sources: Organic lean red meat, cheese, duck, goose, turkey, herring, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, cucumbers, watermelon rind, peas, carrots, beets.
L-Tyrosine: Used in synthesis of thyroid hormone. Don’t over-supplement and talk to your doctor before using as a supplement if taking thyroid hormone. Supportive foods: Eggs, seaweed, fish, organic poultry, organic pork, game meats, beans, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds. This may be best from food.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids: These decrease inflammation and support balanced immune system function. Infants born to women with insufficient omega 3 levels are at increased risk for nerve and vision problems. Fish-derived is more bioavailable than flax-derived. The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids recommends 300mg of DHA daily for pregnancy. DHA is a fish-derived omega 3. Be picky about brand: Poor quality fish oils are actually damaging rather than beneficial. Food sources: Cold water fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, trout. Avoid larger fish like tuna that bio-accumulate high levels of mercury.
Vitamins E, C and A: Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune supporting. Daily recommendations for pregnancy: A (770mcg), C (85mg), E (15mg).
B vitamins: Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in women with hypothyroidism. It is best to get the full range of B vitamins to prevent B vitamin imbalances by taking a vitamin B complex. A good quality fertility-specific, whole foods-based multi will provide the RDA for B complex. Food sources: Organic meat & poultry, fish, brewerʼs yeast, dairy, eggs, nuts (buy in shell, refrigerated), sunflower seeds, sesame seeds whole grains, asparagus, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, bananas, dried apricots, dates, figs, lentils, beans, peas.
Solution To Hypothyroidism
It is absolutely vital for women who have been struggling to conceive, have experienced 2 or more miscarriages or suspect a thyroid issue to get proper testing prior to trying to conceive again. Request that your doctor run a full thyroid hormone panel for proper diagnosis. Support thyroid health and total body wellness through key foods, nutrients and herbs shown to positively impact thyroid health and the entire endocrine system.
Work closely with your doctor to ensure thyroid hormone levels are stable enough to sustain a healthy pregnancy. Continue to have your thyroid levels monitored and adjusted if needed throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.
If you have tried to overcome the challenges of Hypothyroidism without result, have a look at the Hormonal Imbalance Remedy Kit. This Kit has been helpful in regulating reproductive hormones in women and it works.
Read more about the Hormonal Imbalance Remedy Kit here.
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