When you think of “women’s health” and “hormones,” you probably think of estrogen and progesterone, the main female sex hormones, which affect everything from puberty to pregnancy to menopause as well as mood, energy level, and more.
They’re not the only hormones that are important to women’s health issues, though. Did you know that thyroid hormones also play an important role in fertility and postpartum health? That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Thyroid hormones, fertility, and miscarriages
Two-time Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan revealed this week that she had 6 miscarriages in 8 years after having her first son in 1996. Many women who are trying to have a child can relate to her. “It was devastating,” said Kerrigan. “My body was failing and I don’t know why.”
There are many causes of infertility, but one I see with regularity at the Wellness Center is an issue with thyroid hormones. Not many people know that to support the baby’s growth and development during pregnancy, a woman’s body requires approximately 50% more thyroid production. (1) If the body doesn’t have what it needs, conception and carrying a baby to term become difficult or impossible. Unfortunately, miscarriage can also be a consequence of low thyroid production or utilization.
Miscarriages have been shown to be higher in certain women with autoimmune thyroiditis, which is when the immune system makes antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. One study showed that miscarriages were 50% higher in women who had these antibodies than those who didn’t – even though their thyroid hormone blood work came back normal. On the positive side, another study showed that women with thyroid antibodies who took supplemental thyroid hormone during the early stages of pregnancy had a reduced chance of miscarrying. (2)
Prevalence of autoimmune thyroiditis, or Hashimoto’s, is significantly higher among infertile women than among fertile women, especially among those whose infertility is caused by endometriosis or ovarian dysfunction. Presence of thyroid autoimmunity does not interfere with normal embryo implantation, but the risk of early miscarriage is substantially increased. Hypothyroidism is associated with increased risk of pregnancy-related morbidity, for which thyroxine therapy can be beneficial. Systematic screening for thyroid disorders in pregnant women might be advantageous in women at high risk, particularly infertile women. (3)
Most doctors don’t routinely test for thyroid antibodies during pregnancy, so make sure to ask for it.
Hypothyroidism, estrogen, and progesterone
We discuss hormones separately because it’s more convenient to do so, but it’s not reflective of how they work in the body. They are interacting with and affecting each other in a myriad of ways, so it’s impossible to fully separate one from the other.
This is true when it comes to thyroid hormones, estrogen, and progesterone. For instance, progesterone is essential for the production of thyroid hormone. It stimulates thyroperoxidase, an enzyme in the thyroid gland, which leads to the production of the two thyroid hormones, T3 (the active molecule) and T4 (the inactive molecule). Progesterone might also make it easier for thyroid hormone to be assimilated, as it appears to enhance thyroid receptors on the cells.
Another factor is estrogen dominance – where progesterone levels have dropped, leaving estrogen and progesterone out of balance with each other – which can lead to hypothyroidism. Estrogen dominance causes the liver to produce higher and higher levels of TBG, or thyroid-binding globulin. As the name says, it binds thyroid hormones, making them unavailable to create energy.
This leads to fatigue and low energy and may be especially common right after childbirth or during and after menopause, when estrogen dominance is most likely. In this case, although the cause of low energy is low thyroid function, the solution is to take supplemental bioidentical progesterone. Progesterone balances out the estrogen and reduces or eliminates the symptoms due to estrogen dominance.
Hypothyroidism and postpartum depression
Postpartum depression can be debilitating for a mother, making it difficult to care for her child and be fully present. Well-meaning friends and family may encourage a mom with the “baby blues” to take antidepressants, not knowing any better. But low thyroid function in the first year after giving birth may be the culprit. Depending on the cause of hypothyroidism, you may want to talk with your doctor about taking desiccated thyroid alone or in combination with bioidentical progesterone.
One thing I dislike about conventional medicine is how quick doctors are to suggest surgery. Rather than look at the root cause of the problem and address it, many doctors want to remove the affected organ instead. I believe this line of thinking has led to many unnecessary hysterectomies over the years.
One researcher, Dr. Barnes, has studied this topic and found that women who took desiccated thyroid for hypothyroidism had fewer hysterectomies. These women also experienced fewer associated symptoms like ovarian cysts and excessive menstrual flow. They were able to avoid the pain and inconvenience of surgery because they found a doctor willing to look at the problem rather than just treat the symptoms.
Desiccated thyroid for hypothyroidism
As you can tell, I am a believer in desiccated thyroid to treat many issues that come from hypothyroidism, and I have had great success with bioidentical progesterone, too. I encourage you to find a doctor you trust who will talk to you about these alternatives so you can avoid synthetic medicine and unnecessary surgery.
If you want to learn more, contact us at the Hotze Health & Wellness Center by calling 281-698-8698 or by visiting our website. We want to partner with you in good health so you can feel vibrant at every stage of life!
1. Hypothyroidism in Pregnancy
2. Levothyroxine Treatment in Euthyroid Pregnant Women with Autoimmune Thyroid Disease: Effects on Obstetrical Complications
3. The Role of Thyroid Autoimmunity in Fertility and Pregnancy