As you grow older, many of your hormones can become less efficient at doing their job. One of the most sensitive glands is your thyroid and when it is out of balance, so are you! It can mimic many symptoms which are similar to those reported during the menopause transition. And for this reason, a diagnosis of a thyroid issue is often missed.
Women are particularly at risk of thyroid issues. This risk increases as you age and if you are experiencing other hormonal issues which are common during the perimenopause.
So, let’s have a look at the thyroid and the role it plays in your body
Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped organ which sits above your collarbone in the front of your neck. It produces hormones which control your metabolism. And this means that it has an impact on your weight, your ability to burn fat and of course your energy levels.
In fact, your thyroid is involved in every physiological process and function in your body. And the hormones which it produces interact with all your other hormones including your sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone), your stress hormone cortisol and your fat storage hormone insulin. So, you can see why a sub optimal thyroid function can have far reaching consequences on the rest of your health.
What happens when it does not function as it should?
When it does not function in the way that it should, it can result in two conditions – hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid and in this case the thyroid is not producing enough hormones, and everything becomes a little sluggish. Common symptoms include:
- Fatigue – the type where you are so tired that exercising becomes impossible and you fall asleep as soon as you sit down
- Weight gain which is stubborn and difficult to lose even when you are exercising and following a healthy eating plan
- Unexplained hair loss
- Intolerance to cold
- Mood swings
- Dry skin which doesn’t improve with moisturisers
Hyperthyroidism is the opposite and occurs when the thyroid produces too many hormones, and this can result in the following:
- Hot flushes
- Poor sleep and insomnia
- Feeling restless and irritable
- Lack of menstrual periods
- Difficulty concentrating
So, you can see that symptoms from these two conditions can be similar to many peri and menopause symptoms and it is therefore important to make the distinction.
Thyroid issues can creep up over a long period of time
Thyroid issues can creep up over a long period of time and may be accepted by women as part of the ageing process.
But if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s certainly worth getting your thyroid hormones tested to understand if they are contributing to some of the issues you may be experiencing during your menopause transition.
A comprehensive thyroid test is what you need as it reports on the following hormones
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). This is released from your pituitary gland in your brain and its role is to stimulate the production of T3 and T4 thyroid hormones. The first sign that something is not quite right is if levels of TSH are high. This may be an indication that your thyroid is struggling – it is as if your brain is telling your thyroid to work harder!
- T4 and T3. T4 is mainly inactive and converts to the active form T3. You require optimum levels of both of these hormones for your thyroid to be working properly. Be mindful of reference ranges here. They can be fairly large, and you really need to be in the optimum and not just normal range to feel good.
- Thyroid antibodies. If you have high levels of antibodies, it shows that there is an autoimmune attack going on in your body against the thyroid. This condition is called Hashimotos. And interestingly, although it is the most common cause of an under active thyroid, antibodies are rarely tested as part of the GP thyroid panel.
So how can you support your thyroid function naturally?
The most important thing to do is to ensure that your diet includes all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients it needs to make your thyroid hormones.
Iodine (from seafood, shellfish and seaweed)
Selenium (brazil nuts, fish and eggs)
Zinc (oysters, lamb, nuts and ginger)
Vitamin D (predominately from the sunshine)
Vitamin A and C (colourful fruit and vegetables)
Magnesium (dark leafy green vegetables, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds)
B vitamins (meat, dairy, whole grains)
Protein. Protein breaks down to amino acids and one of these is tyrosine which is needed to make thyroid hormone. Good sources include eggs, fish, turkey, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes.
Omega 3 fats (oily fish, flaxseeds and walnuts)
Remove gluten and soy from your diet
When it comes to food sensitivities, some of the main contributing factors of Hashimotos are gluten and soy. And it is very common for gluten and soy to cause autoimmune reactions in the body. So, steer clear of gluten and soy-containing food and drinks.
Try and reduce stress in your life as much as possible
When stressed, you produce cortisol which can negatively impact your thyroid function. So, try and prioritise some self-care into your day. Even some deep breathing exercises will help considerably.
Limit your exposure to toxins and hormone disrupting chemicals
Choose organic food where you can and avoid processed foods. Pesticides and food additives can all take their toll on thyroid function.
Do exercise regularly
This will stimulate the production of thyroid hormones and increases the sensitivity of your tissues to your thyroid hormone. Best forms include weights, resistance training, walking and yoga.
Cut back on the sugar
If you overload on sugary snacks, you will produce high levels of insulin. And this can supress your thyroid function. So, ditch the refined carbs in favour of complex carbs and make sure you include protein and healthy fats in every meal.
If you are interested in understanding if your thyroid function may be contributing to some of your symptoms, then do drop me a line to get more information on the testing options available.