Are you concerned your thyroid is having an impact on your fertility? Solving thyroid problems before conceiving is more important than you think! The thyroid is an important gland for fertility. Hormonal imbalance can act as a trigger for thyroid problems. Before we begin to learn different ways thyroid issues may affect your fertility, it is important to know how the thyroid functions.
The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland. It is located just below the larynx, in the lower part of the neck. The purpose of the thyroid gland is to take iodine from foods we consume and convert them into thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid cells are the only cells in the body which can absorb iodine. The thyroid combines iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make T4 and T3. T4 and T3, once released into the blood stream control our metabolism.
The thyroid is also responsible for proper growth, development and repair of the body. It is extremely important for the development of the central nervous system. The metabolism of every single cell in our body is dependent on thyroid hormones. The thyroid produces about 80% T4 and 20% T3, but T3 has four times the strength of T4.
The thyroid is controlled by the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is controlled by the hypothalamus. When thyroid hormones drop too low, the pituitary gland releases Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). The release of TSH stimulates the thyroid to release more T3 and T4. Healthy regulatory release of T3 & T4 signal the pituitary to decrease the release of TSH. The hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland to release TSH through the release of Thyroid Releasing Hormone (TRH).
All of this can be confusing. To break it down into simpler terms, imagine it like Endocrinology fellow at the University of Chicago Robert M. Sargis MD, PhD explains it: “One can imagine the thyroid gland as a furnace and the pituitary gland as the thermostat. Thyroid hormones are like heat. When the heat [thyroid hormones] gets back to the thermostat [pituitary], it turns the thermostat [pituitary] off. As the room cools (the thyroid hormone levels drop), the thermostat [pituitary] turns back on (TSH increases) and the furnace produces more heat (thyroid hormones).”
[green_box title=”Video: Thyroid Problems and How They Affect Fertility”][/green_box]
Thyroid Disease and Fertility
Whether you suspect a thyroid problem or know you already have a thyroid issue, there are some significant symptoms associated with fertility. Below I have listed those symptoms in relation to fertility only. There are many other signs and symptoms associated with the below thyroid diseases. If you suspect a thyroid issue, please research each pattern of disease more and discuss it with your doctor.
Overactive tissue in the thyroid gland that leads to overproduction of thyroid hormones. This is most commonly caused by inflammation of the thyroid, called thyroiditis. This can be caused by a variety of reasons and may lead to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis .
Fertility Signs and Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism for Women
- Loss of libido
- Amenorrhea (Absent Period)
- Postpartum thyroiditis, occurs in 7% of women within the first year after childbirth
Fertility Signs and Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism for Men
- Abnormal enlargement of the mammary glands in males
- Loss of libido
This is when the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones. This commonly happens when there is iodine deficiency. Hypothyroidism happens in women more often than men.
Fertility Signs and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism for Women
- Female infertility
- Any type of problem with the menstrual cycle
- Hyperprolactenimia (elevated prolactin hormone)
- Galactorrhea (flow of milk in the absence of pregnancy or childbirth)
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Low Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
For Men, uncommon signs that show up affecting fertility:
- Decreased libido in men; creates impairment of testicular testosterone synthesis
- Abnormal enlargement of the mammary glands in males
Untreated, or poorly treated hypothyroidism may cause serious complications for pregnancy, in both the mother and the baby. Because Hashimoto’s thyroiditis may lead to hypothyroidism, these risks for complications fall under that thyroid problem as well. (Office of Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health a& Human Services).
Complications for the mother:
- Anemia (iron deficiency)
- Placental abruption (placenta detaches from wall of uterus pre-term)
- Postpartum hemorrhage
Complications for the baby:
- Preterm birth
- Low birth weight
- Thyroid Problems
- Birth defects
This thyroid disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder. The thyroid gland is destroyed by cellular and antibody immune response. As the thyroid gland is attacked, the thyroid function decreases, less and less thyroid hormones are released which leads to Hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s main fertility symptom is infertility. Hashimoto’s is 7 times more common in women than men.
Some women experience thyroid issues after pregnancy, around 7%. 20% of those women that experience hyperthyroidism will develop Hashimoto’s thyroditis. For these women, the thyroid becomes overactive due to inflammation and then this triggers an immune response. The immune response attacks the thyroid, which eventually decreases its function and leads to hypothyroidism. Doctors still do not know why autoimmune diseases happen.
Treating Thyroid Problems Naturally
Thyroid function must be controlled before you get pregnant!
It is important to treat thyroid problems right away if you are wanting to have a baby. Preconception planning is essential to a healthy pregnancy for women with thyroid problems. Women with untreated or neglected thyroid problems may affect their baby’s growth and brain development. Untreated thyroid problems may also lead to infertility, miscarriage, or a baby born with birth defects. According the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, “In a study published in 2004, the median urinary iodine concentration of 100 healthy pregnant women in Boston [Massachusetts] was 149 mcg/L and 49% of the women had values below the WHO [World Health Organization] cutoff for sufficiency.”
It is important to see a doctor about thyroid issues. Make a plan with your doctor. If you desire natural treatments it is important to speak with your doctor to see if that is a possibility for you. Below are some ways to supplement and support proper thyroid function. If you are interested in any of these, talk to your doctor about the possibility of adding them to your natural health plan. If you already take medications and are wondering if any of these supplements are safe for use with your medication, please speak with your doctor first, prior to using them.
Iodine Rich Food Sources
A diet rich in whole foods should always be the first way to support overall health, including thyroid health. Poor diet and nutritional deficiency are a few of the top reasons for thyroid problems. Choose organic foods when possible, as the thyroid is very sensitive to environmental toxins. Too much iodine can also cause goiter, so do not go overboard. More is not always better, it is about balance. It is important to get a balanced amount of iodine in the diet. People with hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency may benefit from increasing the recommended daily allowance of iodine-rich foods.
- Raw cranberry
- Whole fat yogurt
- Raw dairy products
- Navy Beans
- Potatoes with skin left on
- Himalayan Crystal Salt (table salt is often enriched with iodine, but this salt has naturally occurring iodine)
Maca Supports Thyroid Health
Maca has a balancing effect on the hypothalamus, which controls, stimulates and balances the other endocrine glands: pituitary, adrenals, ovaries, testes, thyroid and pancreas, therefore Maca may actually help thyroid issues by nourishing the hypothalamus which controls the thyroid’s function.
Since the first report in 1961 [Univ. Natl. Mayo de San Marcos] of the medicinal properties of Maca root, “it has been generally accepted and confirmed in number of studies, that this plant doesn’t contain plant estrogens or any other phytohormones, but through plant sterols, stimulate endocrine system helping to maintain hormonal balance… these sterols are used by the body with the help of the pituitary to improve adrenal function, ovarian and testicular function, as well as the functioning of the thyroid and the pancreas, and the pineal gland….” share Australian and Polish researchers whose work was published in 2006 in the International Journal of Biomedical Science.
Under section 6 of the DSHEA (Dietary Supplemental Health and Education Act) the following statement is listed for Maca: Supports the Thyroid.
Some people have written us stating that other websites say that maca is bad for people with thyroid problems. The maca we use is Lepidium meyenii, which is golden in color. There are other varieties of maca that have a variety of other colors; red, purple and black. The darker varieties red, purple and black do contain higher amounts of iodine, which may not be good for some thyroid problems; this has not been linked to the golden variety. On the flip side, some thyroid problems are linked to low iodine levels in the diet, so those other varieties may be helpful in those situations. As always it would be best to talk to your health care provider about looking into using the darker varieties of maca for thyroid health. The darker varieties have also been linked, when consumed in very high amounts to potentially causing goiters.
Systemic Enzyme Therapy
Systemic enzymes have proven very effective in supporting proper immune function and response in people with autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Systemic Enzyme Therapy also may be worth considering if you have Hyperthyroidism. The chronic inflammatory state of that condition may be greatly improved by systemic enzyme blends. The systemic enzyme blend works as a biological response modifier; working with the body’s own immune defense system to moderate inflammatory response. Systemic enzymes break down the proteins in the blood that cause inflammation. The reduction in inflammation, increase in proper blood formation, increase in proper circulation hinders scar tissue and adhesion formation, which may prevent permanent damage to the thyroid gland.\
Supplementation for Thyroid Support
There are key nutrients to support the thyroid including vitamins, minerals and herbs. Thyroid hormones are made from iodine and tyrosine.
- Zinc, with vitamins E and A function together in the manufacture of thyroid hormone.
- Selected B vitamins and Vitamin C are also necessary for normal thyroid hormone production.
- Zinc, copper and selenium are required co-factors for normal blood levels of thyroid hormones and normalization of thyroid activity.
- Ashwagandha and rhodiola are two key herbs that may support the thyroid gland, as well as the rest of the endocrine system.
Seaweed for Protection and Healing of the Thyroid
The thyroid is very sensitive to poor diet and environmental toxins. It plays a key role in our body’s metabolism. Hypothyroidism associated with iodine deficiency may be treated with simple iodine supplementation. Adequate amounts of iodine rich foods in the diet have been found to protect the thyroid. One great source of iodine is seaweed. I have seen many people successfully heal thyroid issues by consuming more iodine rich foods such as seaweed. It is also just as important to limit how much seaweed you eat; too much iodine may be damaging. 2-3 servings a week should be adequate.
Marine Biologist and Seafood enthusiast Paul O’Connor of This is Seaweed shares, “The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) daily recommended intake for adults is 150mcg… Boiling is a great way to eliminate a seaweeds’ iodine content. If you boil Kelp in water for 15 minutes, it can lose up to 99% of its initial iodine levels. Good news, because Kelp is a real iodine bomb: 1g of raw Kelp contains 1,800mcg – 2,500mcg of iodine, which is above the daily recommended intake. So don’t use the delicious sea-vegetable straight from the package! Instead, boil it before you create your super-food. 1g of raw Dulse contains 72mcg iodine. If you want to snack raw Dulse, just take one or two leaves equivalent to 2g. Again, it’s better to boil this species.”
Reduce Stress, Support the Adrenal Glands
How does stress play a role in thyroid function? We live in a time where there is more chronic stress than ever. Our adrenal glands can handle acute stressful situations with no problem, but they cannot handle chronic stress. Chronic stress taxes our adrenals. When our adrenals have a lot of stress placed on them it puts our body into a state of catabolism. Catabolism is the break-down of our bodies; destructive metabolism. Over time the body will slow down the thyroid as a protective measure. Many natural health care practitioners will agree that in order to treat the thyroid effectively, you must first address stress reduction and adrenal support. Adrenal fatigue may lead to not only thyroid issues, but a compromised immune system as well.
If you are a person that has a stressful life, have been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, or have found your body is not responding as well as you thought to thyroid medications or natural supplements; consider supporting your adrenal glands as well!
In order to fully support your body through stressful times, you must also learn methods of coping with stress in a health and positive way!
“Thyroid disease is a disorder that, left untreated, can exact pronounced consequences on health and quality of life…Long-term, untreated thyroid conditions significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, reproductive cancer, and multisystem failure.” – Mary Bove, Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health
The key to getting pregnant and carrying to term successfully, in the best health, is to address thyroid issues prior to conception. Prepare your body today! Research signs and symptoms of thyroid problems, to help you determine if you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of a thyroid issue for you, or your male partner. Ask your doctor about testing for thyroid function if you have been trying to get pregnant for a year or more. Be sure to exercise regularly, eat a whole food diet, while working to keep stress at bay to protect your body from thyroid problems!
To learn more about related subjects covered in this article, please visit the following links:
- Romm, Aviva. M.D. (2010). Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. St. Louis, Missouri: Churchill Livingstone.
- Van De Graaff, Kent M., Fox, S., LaFluer, K.M. (1997). Synopsis of Human Anatomy & Physiology. WCB Publishers.
- Sargis, Robert M., M.D., Ph.D. (n.d.). How Your Thyroid Works – Controlling hormones essential to your metabolism. Retrieved from: http://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/thyroid/how-your-thyroid-works
- Venes, D. (2017). Tabers cyclopedic medical dictionary. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.
- Women’s Health.gov. Hashimoto’s disease fact sheet. Retrieved from: https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/hashimotos-disease
- Iodine. (September 26, 2018 ). Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/
- Group, Edward, D.C., N.P., DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM. (1/18/2011). 7 Food Rich in Iodine. Retrieved from: https://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/iodine-foods/
- Meissner, H.O., Reich-Bilinska, H., Mscisz, A., and Kedzia, B. (2006 June) Therapeutic Effects of Pre-Gelatinized Maca (Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon) used as a Non-Hormonal Alternative to HRT in Perimenopausal Women – Clinical Pilot Study. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006 Jun; 2(2): 143–159. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614596/#R3
- O’Connor, P. (n.d.). How Much Should You Eat. Retreived from https://thisisseaweed.com/pages/how-much-should-you-eat
- How Chronic Stress Can Cause a Thyroid Condition. Retrieved from: https://www.naturalendocrinesolutions.com/articles/chronic-stress-thyroid-condition/