Struggling with Fatigue, Weight & Mood Swings?
Here’s how the thyroid affects female health
If you’ve been struggling with fatigue, fluctuating weight, mood swings or digestive issues, it could be a sign that your thyroid may not be functioning efficiently.
Lorna Driver-Davies is a Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist who specialises in women’s hormones and gynaecological health and nutrition. She has spent a significant part of her clinical career working with women who have thyroid conditions and sharing her knowledge on thyroid health prevention to fellow professionals and the public. Lorna’s work on thyroid and hormone health has also been featured in an evidence-based peer-reviewed textbook on functional medicine.
We sat down with Lorna get the lowdown on thyroid health and find out why the thyroid gland is essential for good health.
How important is the thyroid for female health?
Very important indeed. Your thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system and it plays an integral role in hormone production, regulation and distribution. It is also essential for female gynaecological function and reproduction. In fact, your thyroid gland is absolutely critical for the whole body to function biologically and physiologically. Every cell in your body communicates with your thyroid like a sophisticated radio transmission. In simple terms, without a healthy functioning thyroid, it’s a challenge to achieve optimal female health.
What are some examples of how the thyroid affects female health?
Irregular menstruation is very common when the thyroid isn’t working properly. Expect late or early periods, an inconsistent cycle and symptoms such as heavy bleeding or a very light period. Ovulation is affected too, negatively impacting hormone balance overall.
An under-functioning thyroid can also affect fertility; for those undergoing assisted fertility, such as IVF, patients will require medical intervention for the thyroid to achieve a successful IVF cycle. Major sex hormones like oestrogen and progesterone have a tight-knit relationship with the thyroid. The female brain, heart, metabolism, mood and bone health rely on the thyroid gland to function efficiently.
In the early weeks of pregnancy, the foetus is solely reliant on the mother carrying the child’s thyroid until it can grow and develop its own little thyroid. Without a healthy thyroid, the baby cannot continue to grow. Research and clinical experience have shown that adolescent females should have their development nurtured to avoid thyroid issues developing in their teens and 20’s.
In perimenopause, the thyroid can become particularly delicate and it’s a common time for thyroid issues to develop, often following a woman into her full menopause. In female health, if you want energy and vitality – then you need to love your thyroid and take care of it.
What are the most common thyroid issues you see in clinic?
The two most common issues are a slow running thyroid (hypothyroidism) and thyroid autoimmunity. Firstly, most people think that an underactive thyroid needs to be ‘pathological’ – meaning it’s already in a disease state to warrant paying any attention to it. But there is something called ‘subclinical’ thyroid function. This means the woman’s thyroid results are either in range (but at the lower or higher ends of the test parameters) or she is exhibiting symptoms that have not yet manifested in her test results. The thyroid can be teetering on the edge of disease or something may have happened to compromise thyroid health in the shorter term.
The second most common issue is thyroid autoimmunity where the immune system creates antibodies that damage the thyroid gland. Hashimoto’s is one form of thyroid autoimmunity disease that I see a lot. Hashimoto’s often develops as a comorbidity in PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and endometriosis, and is also commonly detected in those with fertility issues. Quite often, if you can fix the thyroid and the immune system, these conditions resolve or at least subdue.
Is thyroid testing important?
100%. I consider it as basic as checking iron or vitamin D status and therefore carry out a full thyroid check for most of my clients as part of their initial blood testing. I also track their thyroid health over time. I’m quite insistent on checking the thyroid as it’s often overlooked until the symptoms are so intense and severe. Think of your thyroid like running a car – you will start to see issues with the engine (warning signs) before you break down on the side of the road. Only caring for the thyroid once it’s in a very poor state is reactionary medicine.
NHS thyroid tests don’t cover all the thyroid markers (usually only TSH and T4) and the details of thyroid hormone results can be overlooked. This is why I recommend working with a naturopath or nutritional therapist who is trained to examine thyroid results and explain what the results mean. They will also be able to recommend dietary and lifestyle changes to improve thyroid function.
Can you share any clinical thyroid case studies?
Yes absolutely. This story is actually a true example that I have seen repeated time and time again. A woman in menopause came to see me and she was presenting with heart palpitations and flutters. Her GP found nothing seriously wrong but wanted to prescribe heart medication. The client came to see me as she wanted to find another (more natural) approach. When I said we needed to check her thyroid, she was surprised as her GP had already completed a test some months before we met. Her GP results showed that she was at the bottom of the normal range. This range was even wider as it was taken in Scotland where the parameters of normal meant her bottom range result was even lower than in the rest of the UK.
I checked her thyroid again but this time included more thyroid markers; similar poor results came back. I then put the client on a thyroid nutrition plan and within weeks, her thyroid started to recover and the heart palpitations and flutters went away and stayed away. This is because the heart and thyroid have a symbiotic relationship. I also supported the client’s oestrogen levels to help her heart because the thyroid requires normal oestrogen levels to function properly.
To learn more about thyroid health and supporting your thyroid gland naturally using diet, lifestyle and nutritional medicine, attend CNM’s upcoming Underactive Thyroid Talk.