The thyroid is a fascinating gland, and the hormones it produces (T3 and T4) helps to regulate the body’s metabolism, sleep patterns, libido, and much more. Furthermore, thyroid hormone receptors, or the molecules that let hormones into cells, may be partially regulated by estrogen, according to a study by Santin and Furlanetto. When you consider the connection between estrogen and thyroid hormones, the fact that estrogen drops during menopause, and the overlapping symptoms of hypothyroidism and menopause, the role of the thyroid in menopausal women becomes much clearer.
Does Hypothyroidism Make Symptoms of Menopause Worse?
Yes, low thyroid function, or hypothyroidism, has been linked to more severe menopause symptoms. In 2017, the University of Maryland released a study showing that women with clinically diagnosed hypothyroidism had stronger menopause symptoms than those who did not . A menopausal woman is already dealing with significant disruption of estrogen production, and a low-performing thyroid further exacerbates this problem.
Low Thyroid “Piles On” To Existing Symptoms
Women who suffer from an underperforming thyroid (even prior to menopause) may experience severe mood swings, depression, low metabolism, menstrual irregularities and infertility (because without proper thyroid function, the body cannot ovulate), sleeplessness, and more. These symptoms all overlap with the symptoms of menopause. Therefore, research has shown that women experiencing both hypothyroidism and menopause have the heaviest symptoms.
The Crossover Starts Up To 10 Years Prior to Menopause
Perimenopause, or the years-long phase before the onset of menopause, can happen for up to a decade. Women’s cycles will begin to change, ovulation occurs less frequently, and the irregularities may bring on pre-menopausal symptoms if underlying thyroid problems are not addressed. This can often be considered a valuable learning phase – you will have time to understand how the thyroid works and how to optimize it before menopause begins.
Weight Gain is a Recurring Theme
Both hypothyroidism and menopause bring about low metabolic function, which in turn makes it harder to lose weight. When the two conditions coincide, weight gain can be substantial – and weight gain only adds to the mental weight (and sometimes depression) associated with menopause. To keep weight in check, it is crucial that women speak with a naturopathic doctor to create a strategy that will keep thyroid function humming along.
Increased Risk of Osteoporosis
Lower bone density and the risk of osteoporosis are well-known side effects of menopause. But in an interesting twist, hyperthyroidism (and overactive thyroid) also increases the risk of osteoporosis. So why does this matter?
If women are on thyroid medication to counteract hypothyroidism during menopause (a common phenomenon), they may inadvertently push their thyroid beyond normal limits. The ensuing hyperthyroidism can lower bone mineral density, thereby increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
How To Optimize Thyroid Performance To Offset Menopause
The best way to keep menopausal symptoms at bay and keep your thyroid healthy is to pursue a lifestyle of holistic health. Functional medicine, which stresses natural remedies and lifestyle factors, has led the charge for women seeking medication-free ways to improve symptoms and quality of life.
Keep Your Liver Healthy
Many patients are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, when in fact they simply have a fatty liver. That’s because most of the body’s T4, or the thyroid’s pre-hormone, is converted to T3 in the liver. If a patient’s diet is poor, if they drink too much, or have some other chronic condition limiting liver function, the body will exhibit symptoms of hypothyroidism. And because thyroid hormones are not properly doing their jobs, the symptoms of menopause will be worse.
Improve Gut Health
Increases in gut permeability, or a “leaky gut,” allow particles to pass through the intestinal lining and enter other tissue and the bloodstream. This can cause severe immune responses in some patients, and many auto-immune conditions are worsened (or brought on) by poor gut health. One damaging auto-immune response is an attack on the thyroid, and this is more common than people realize. As you can imagine, you need to stop your body’s immune system from attacking your thyroid and other tissues in the body. Eliminating trigger foods (gluten for some people, for instance) can help, as does eating a diet complete with cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and bok choy.
Decrease Stress and Improve Sleep
Low thyroid function and menstrual irregularities often occur in women following a major stress event. The same can apply on a chronic level due to ongoing stress and sleep deprivation. Speak with your doctor about how you can improve sleep, decrease stress, and improve your body’s overall hormonal balance. This will improve both the symptoms of hypothyroidism and menopause.
Diet Rich in Nutrients
The thyroid requires iodine first and foremost, but that is almost never a concern in developed countries. Selenium is another critical mineral for thyroid performance, and you can get it from fish, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, eggs, and other healthy foods. Zinc and iron are two more important nutrients, and if you include protein-rich meats, spinach, bananas, and lentils in your diet, you will get what you need. Antioxidant rich berries, fatty-acids from seafood, and other wholesome foods will also support thyroid health.
As always, if you have any concerns about your thyroid or its impact on your menopause journey, speak with either your primary care physician or a local naturopathic doctor. Both will have a comprehensive understanding of how nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle factor can influence your health.
 University of Maryland. (2017). Hypothyroidism and menopausal symptom severity.
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