Here at OvuSense, we want to help bring attention and awareness to thyroid health problems. While you’ve likely heard of the thyroid before, you may not know exactly what it does, or that it can affect your fertility. Continue reading below to learn more about the thyroid, its essential functions, why it might be affecting your fertility, and some tips to prioritize good thyroid health.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a large, butterfly-shaped gland that rests at the base of the front of the neck. It contains two lobes that are bridged together. The thyroid, which is brownish-red in color, is chock-full of blood vessels.
The main function of the thyroid is to secrete thyroid hormones. The hormones, including thyroxine or T4, travel throughout your body and guide growth and development, body temperature, and metabolism. In controlling your metabolism, the thyroid controls the speed at which you burn calories and your heart beats.
How Can my Thyroid Affect my Fertility?
While thyroid problems aren’t an issue for the majority of women, a 2012 study found that 2 to 4 percent of women of childbearing age have low thyroid hormone levels. Why does this matter, and what does it mean for your fertility? Hypothyroidism, a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, can cause fertility problems in women because the low thyroid levels can interfere with ovulation and menstruation. Low levels of T4 can actually lead to elevated prolactin levels, which in turn can cause anovulation and/or irregular ovulation. Additionally, hypothyroidism can shorten the second half of your menstrual cycle, which may prevent a fertilized egg from properly attaching to the womb.
Fortunately, many issues related to the thyroid are treatable. However, before you start baby-making, it’s recommended that you have your thyroid levels checked to know where you stand. Those who have a family history of thyroid problems or an autoimmune disease are known to be at a greater risk.
Hypothyroidism symptoms are similar to that of early pregnancy. Keep an eye out for the following unexplained symptoms:
- Sensitivity to cold temperatures;
- Muscle cramps;
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Extreme tiredness; and
- Weight gain.
If you are concerned you may have hypothyroidism, make an appointment with your doctor. Whether you’re just thinking about baby-making, pregnant with your little bundle of joy, or recently gave birth, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your concerns. Luckily, if you do have an underactive thyroid, treatment options are available.
Tips to Prioritize Good Thyroid Health
Looking ahead, it’s important to prioritize all aspects of your health, including your thyroid. OvuSense’s fertility nurse and certified nutritionist Zermina Akbary weighed in to offer some tips that may help prevent thyroid problems:
Tip #1: Maintain a Healthy Diet
Remember that your thyroid gland is responsible for the regulation of your body's metabolic processes. At a cellular level, nutrients that are absorbed from your foods are then metabolized by your body and used for energy.
If you suspect that you have a thyroid-related issue or have already been diagnosed with a thyroid disease, it is so important that you have a nutrient dense diet, as your body's metabolic processes might have been compromised due to an irregularity with your thyroid hormone production.
A diet composed of whole foods is going to be your best option for a thyroid-supporting diet. Make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (both starchy and non-starchy) and try to get enough protein content for each meal. It would be advised to also avoid dairy and soy products, as they can have a negative effect on your thyroid health by causing intestinal hyperpermeability or "leaky gut" syndrome.
Below are some specific foods to incorporate for a healthy diet:
- Nutrient-dense whole foods - Eat minimally processed foods that look as much like their plant or animal of origin as possible. Incorporate cooked down cruciferous and goitrogenic foods, such as kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli. With hypothyroidism, you tend to be more on the colder side, so it's important to consume more warming foods.
- Homemade broth - This highly nutritious food is also healing to the gut (gut imbalances are a common trigger for thyroid disease).
- Seaweed - It’s high in iodine, an essential nutrient for thyroid hormone production.
- Fermented foods - Try these to promote gut health (your gut is where most of the t4-t3 conversion happens, so if you don't have a healthy gut, you will most likely have challenges making proper amounts of thyroid hormone).
Eating a well-balanced diet is one of the best things you can do to preserve your thyroid health. Since 70% of our immune system is found in our intestines, an immune response can be activated when there is inflammation in the intestinal lining. Studies have shown that this can play a role in developing thyroid disease.
Eating your recommended daily dose of fruits and vegetables can help keep inflammation under control. Lean proteins and fatty fish, like herring, salmon, mackerel, and anchovies can also reduce inflammation. Other anti-inflammatory foods include healthy fats, such as coconut oil, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, nut butters, sunflower oil, expeller-pressed organic canola oil, and safflower oil.
Tip #2: Avoid Environmental Toxins
Lengthened exposure to chemicals that interfere with your body’s endocrine system can trigger endocrine problems, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Some environmental toxins that have been linked to thyroid disease to avoid include:
- Flame-resistant and waterproof clothing;
- Perfluorinated chemicals (found in some carpets); and
- Non-stick cookware.
Additionally, phthalates, which are found in soft plastics and fragranced products, and Bisphenol-A, which is found in canned food linings and some hard plastics, have also been linked to causing disruptions in thyroid levels. Luckily, many manufacturers are now removing these two chemicals, but as with anything, it’s always good to read the fine print!
Tip #3: Seek Proper Testing for Thyroid Disorders
If you suspect that you might have a thyroid problem, but your doctor has indicated to you that your labs have come back completely fine, I encourage you to dig a little deeper. Find out what specifically your doctor ran tests for. Most doctors will usually just run a TSH test but will not run tests on your T3 and T4 hormone levels. There is a possibility that there is an irregularity with your T3 or T4 hormones, which won't be reflected on your TSH hormone test. This is often the reason that so many thyroid disorders go undiagnosed.
Other beneficial tests that would help in determining whether or not you have a thyroid problem would include two types of different antibody tests: Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb) and Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb). Testing for these specific thyroid antibodies is particularly helpful in diagnosing autoimmune thyroid diseases such as Hashimoto's and Graves.
A full panel would include the following:
- Free T4;
- Free T3;
- Reverse T3;
- TPO Antibodies; and
- TG Antibodies.
There are also additional nutrient tests that should be checked to accurately assess your thyroid functioning. These tests include:
- Iron + Ferritin - Ferritin is an important protein that is used in your body to store iron. If you’re deficient in it, then you might be experiencing symptoms like hair loss, fatigue, and poor thyroid function. The optimal ferritin level for thyroid function is above 50.
- Selenium and Vitamins A + D - Selenium and Vitamin D are major players in immune system balance. Hashimoto’s Disease patients often have very low vitamin D (levels should be between 60 and 80 for optimal thyroid receptor and immune system function).
- Iodine - It is important to make sure that your Iodine levels are at an optimal range. Your thyroid gland secretes hormones T4 (containing 4 iodine molecules) and T3 (containing 3 iodine molecules), so it is so essential to support their secretion with adequate iodine levels. Iodine is not the only nutrient required to make T4. There’s a mechanism inside your thyroid gland that helps to draw iodine into the thyroid gland. That mechanism is a little kind of doorway called a symporter and it requires Vitamin B2 and Vitamin C. That symporter won’t work to bring iodine into the thyroid gland unless you have these two nutrients in place to run that symporter pump.
- Zinc - There is also an enzyme that converts t4 to t3 and that enzyme is driven by selenium and zinc. Now that T3 has to activate the nuclear receptor of the cell. That requires Vitamin D and Vitamin A. So Vitamin A and D deficiency can also stop T3 from activating your cell to increase your metabolic rate and increase your energy.
- Cortisol - It's also important to test for Cortisol. Treating hypothyroidism without treating the adrenals is one of the biggest reasons people continue to feel exhausted despite receiving treatment with thyroid hormones/medications.
- Saliva (or urine) - The best way to test cortisol is by a 4 point saliva or urine test.
- Vitamin B12.
The additional labs listed above should be routinely checked by your doctor. Any signs of deficiencies could mean that there is a need for further investigation into your thyroid health by looking at supporting micronutrients that are important for thyroid function.