How Your Female Hormones Affect Your Thyroid
Do you suspect thyroid issues are behind your health concerns?
You couldn’t survive without your thyroid gland, so it’s worth looking after. It can be affected by many lifestyle factors– nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, stress and lack of sleep, as well as exposure to toxic metals and pollutants. But one unsuspected cause of thyroid issues can be an imbalance in female hormones.
How does your thyroid work?
The thyroid produces thyroxine, literally controlling how quickly your cells produce energy. Not enough thyroxine and the brakes are applied to your metabolism and everything becomes sluggish.
Your thyroid is asked to make thyroxine by your brain’s pituitary gland. This constantly measures the amount of thyroxine in your blood and sends a message to your thyroid to make more when levels drop. It’s a well-ordered system, but it’s not infallible.
Symptoms of low thyroid
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Feeling the cold
Because the gland affects every cell in your body, if it is not functioning well, it may cause a huge array of other symptoms. Some of these are very similar to those caused by female hormone imbalances, like irregular or heavy periods.
Oestrogen, Progesterone and Thyroxine
Inside your body, your hormones are constantly talking to and influencing one another, so if something affects one hormone, it will affect the others too. Your female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone have a particularly close link with your thyroid, and they all affect each other.
Thyroid health can be affected when oestrogen becomes excessively high compared to progesterone. Oestrogen tends to increase the levels of a protein-binding thyroxine, making it less accessible to cells and therefore less able to influence them. High oestrogen levels increase inflammation, impairing thyroid function, encourage antibodies to be produced against your thyroid and block the messages coming from your pituitary gland.
Progesterone on the other hand increases the availability of thyroxine by making sure it’s not bound up with protein.
Too much oestrogen relative to progesterone is called oestrogen dominance. This situation is very widespread, particularly in perimenopause, the period running up to menopause. At this stage in your life, you often won’t ovulate every month. If ovulation doesn’t happen, no progesterone is released in the second half of the month. Because progesterone prevents oestrogen levels from climbing too high, there’s then nothing to oppose oestrogen.
Environmental factors: the environment is awash with synthetic chemicals able to mimic oestrogen by latching onto cells’ oestrogen receptors and fooling them into thinking they’re your body’s oestrogen. These substances, found in plastics, personal care products and pollutants are considerably stronger than your natural oestrogen.
Stress: anxiety and tension can make oestrogen dominance worse because it steals progesterone, dominating oestrogen. An unhealthy gastro microbiome also tends to increase oestrogen levels because good gut bacteria can play an important role in excreting unwanted oestrogen. In a vicious cycle, when your thyroid is struggling you can’t process oestrogen well in your liver and gut, making oestrogen dominance worse.
Even though you don’t make as much oestrogen after menopause, it can still remain high relative to progesterone, especially if you’re stressed. Progesterone is made in your stress glands after menopause, and they won’t prioritise making it if they’re busy making stress hormones.
Your GP may test your blood thyroid hormones, but these tests don’t always measure how much of the hormones are in an active form. So, it’s impossible to tell whether your hormones are affecting your cells in the way nature intended. Because not all thyroid issues show up on a GP’s blood test, it might look like there’s nothing wrong even though your symptoms shout otherwise.
To look at the whole picture, functional tests examine the levels of both your female hormones and your thyroid hormones and reveal the quantities of active and inactive hormones you’re producing.
Combine these test results with an in-depth consultation examining your nutritional status, lifestyle and health history and it becomes much clearer what’s behind your health issues. Only by understanding the route cause, we can make appropriate strategies to put things right.