Updated: Nov 8
Thyroid and menopause can indeed have overlapping symptoms, which can sometimes lead to confusion.
Let’s look at the thyroid.
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck, just below the Adam's apple. It plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism – the process by which the body converts food into energy. It also controls how sensitive the body is to other hormones. The thyroid gland produces and secretes hormones that influence many functions throughout the body.
The two main hormones produced by the thyroid gland are:
T3: this is the active form of thyroid hormone and potentiates the body's metabolism.
T4: this is the inactive form of thyroid hormone. It is converted to T3 in the body's tissues and organs. The majority of thyroid hormone produced in the thyroid gland is in the form of T4.
Two areas in the brain control the release of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland, the hypothalamus, and the pituitary gland. The production of T3 and T4 regulates how much more stimulation is required, so, in theory, this is a tightly controlled process.
Thyroid hormones have a wide range of effects on the body, including:
Regulating metabolism: They control how the body uses energy, affecting processes such as calorie burning, weight management, and heat production.
Growth and Development: Thyroid hormones are essential for proper growth and development in children, including brain development and skeletal growth.
Heart and Nervous system function: They influence heart rate, blood pressure, and the function of the nervous system.
Thyroid disorders can occur when the thyroid gland produces too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism) hormones.
Key signs of an under active thyroid
Weight is easy to gain and hard to lose
Brain 'fog' and forgetfulness
Cold extremities and intolerance
Dry skin and hair
Heavy or irregular periods
Key signs of an over active thyroid
In case case you haven't noticed, many thyroid disorder symptoms resemble menopause symptoms.
Since many of the symptoms are non-specific and overlapping, it is essential to have your thyroid checked. The risk of developing a thyroid disorder in women, including an autoimmune condition (Hashimoto's thyroiditis), increases with age. However, there is no evidence to say that menopause causes a thyroid disorder or vice versa.
Testing for thyroid problems involves a simple blood test and can avoid further complications later down the line. I recommend that a full thyroid test is done, where antibodies are also tested for, although most GPs are reluctant to do this.
In the autoimmune condition, the body produces antibodies that attack and damage the thyroid gland, so impairing its ability to function. An over or under active thyroid can affect ovulation.
Premature Ovarian Insufficiency is strongly linked to autoimmune thyroiditis, so it is vital to test for thyroid antibodies if this is being considered.
What can affect the thyroid? How can I support it?
The thyroid gland is super sensitive to both diet and lifestyle factors.
1. Stress- reduce your stress levels. High cortisol reduces thyroid activity in several ways. It reduces the signal from the pituitary gland to the thyroid gland and the conversion from inactive T4 to the active form T3. If you are chronically super stressed – consider supplementing with magnesium and B vitamins alongside the usual stress reduction practices.
2. An assortment of essential vitamins (especially C, D, A, E, and B12) and minerals are required to ensure optimum thyroid functioning, so a varied diet is critical.
Selenium (Brazil and walnuts, avocados, mushrooms, fish, and cereals)
and zinc (red meat, fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, and lentils) helps the conversion of T4-T3.
Essential fats in the form of omega 3 (olive oil, flaxseed, nuts, seeds, avocados) – help cells take up thyroid hormone and reduce inflammation.
Iodine and iron – are needed for the synthesis of thyroid hormones.
3. Balance your hormones. High estrogen and low progesterone can suppress the activation of thyroid hormones. Oestrogen has a direct and indirect effect on the thyroid gland and thyroid hormone metabolism- as well as affecting auto-immunity.
4. Look after your liver and support detoxification. The liver is involved in activating, transporting, and metabolizing thyroid hormones; it needs some TLC. This is especially important now that there are more toxins in our environment that need eliminating. Foods such as garlic, onions, and beetroot are helpful.
5. Avoid EDC (endocrine-disrupting chemicals) such as bisphenol A and phthalates where possible. These are found in foods, food packaging, water, and personal care products. They can affect hormone operating systems and oestrogen balance.
6. As always, support gut health. Gut health can impact autoimmunity thyroiditis, conversion of T4 to T3, and the removal of other hormones such as oestrogen, which can upset the thyroid, and you need to be able to absorb the essential nutrients.
7. Smooth out your blood sugar levels. High glucose can stimulate cortisol.
8. Reduce alcohol. Alcohol can have several effects on your thyroid, liver, and oestrogen levels – it's not good on several fronts.
9. Exercise – regular physical activity may help stimulate the thyroid and improve tissue sensitivity. It can certainly help manage the symptoms.
Finally, as a foot note. There is a connection between the thyroid gland and both osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. These are two illnesses that increase in women after menopause. It is essential to check your thyroid to ensure you are looking after yourself as proactively as possible.
Thyroid and menopause symptoms are confusing.
Have you had your thyroid checked?
Do you think that it needs checking?
It is good to understand what is happening. Menopause is bad enough, without having to battle something else on top.
If you have any questions, as always, please schedule a call, or consult a healthcare professional.