by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN, NP
Sometimes when women experience problems like increased fatigue, loss of concentration and weight gain, the first thing that comes to mind as the cause is “it must be my thyroid.”
The thyroid gland regulates your metabolism, which has a huge impact on your weight, your energy levels, and your moods. When stress hormones go out of balance, your thyroid is often affected, too, which in turn triggers PMS, menstrual and perimenopausal symptoms and other health issues. This is a much overlooked issue as the adrenals have much to do with this reaction. Thyroid-induced symptoms include weight gain, constipation, hair loss, sluggishness, fatigue, depression, and mood swings.
Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid levels, sometimes shows up despite your best attempts to establish a healthy lifestyle. This is because the hormonal changes that occur with menopause can sometimes be accompanied by fluctuations in thyroid functioning. If untreated, this leads to thyroid imbalances, hypothyroidism, or the need to rely on medication indefinitely.
What is hypothyroidism?
A healthy thyroid is crucial to helping you metabolize food, manage your weight, keep your internal thermostat functioning efficiently, using and storing energy, reproduction, sleeping and even talking!
When your body underproduces thyroid hormones, the condition is known as hypothyroidism. When this occurs, you feel like you just aren’t functioning like your normal self. You may remember the old days when things were firing properly, and now they just are not. Women report a multitude of symptoms, and many of them are due to an under-functioning thyroid.
Your brain and your thyroid usually communicate with your body to maintain optimal balance of these hormones. In this healthy state, the brain produces thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). These hormones then prompt your thyroid gland to produce the active thyroid hormones called T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine) whenever levels are low. Ultimately, the body works to convert T4 into T3, the form our cells recognize best and use most effectively.
To meet your body’s continually changing needs, this active system is designed to adjust itself from moment to moment. This system will always move toward balance as long as things haven’t gotten too far out of sync.
Is It Menopause Or Is It My Thyroid?
When patients report symptoms of energy loss, unusual weight gain, lowered sexual desire, changes in their skin and hair and depression, we sometimes discover they are entering menopause or perimenopause. However, it’s not uncommon for them to also have evidence of thyroid imbalance. The symptoms are closely related, due to the thyroid hormones and the sexual hormones axes being so closely connected.
During menopause, less sexual hormones are produced because less of them are required during the second half of life. However, estrogen helps TRH to perform its job. This means that as less estrogen is produced, thyroid function slows down also, especially if the decrease in estrogen is sudden or dramatic.
Maybe you have been prone to thyroid imbalance throughout your life without being aware of your predisposition to the disorder. When everything is working exactly as designed, you are able to effectively cope with changes you experience. There are many variables though, that affects our abilities and makes us vulnerable to imbalance. Some of these factors include stress, our environment, genetics and nutrition. Reproductive factors also impact our predisposition, which explains why women are more likely than men to suffer from thyroid disorders.
Hormonal imbalances such as thyroid dysfunction commonly result when the endocrine system veers off-center. With suboptimal levels of thyroid hormones, your cells simply cannot produce healthy biological responses and you begin to experience symptoms. For women who have been extremely health conscious through their life, this can be particularly frustrating for them.
Thyroid imbalance origins sometimes don’t lie within the thyroid, but rather in the roots of the gland itself or in other parts of the endocrine system. The thyroid is constantly engaged with other endocrine glands in a series of complex feedback loops. For example, when your adrenal glands don’t work well, your thyroid is also affected.