After working with dozens of clients whose undetected thyroid issue was the missing piece of their health puzzle I cannot state how undervalued the link between your thyroid health and your fertility, pregnancy and post natal health is. In this post I’m sharing the facts about what your thyroid health has to do with your health goals and some common thyroid symptoms to look out for.

What is my thyroid?

Our thyroid glands are a butterfly shaped gland that sits at the base of our neck. It’s a master of our metabolism (the biochemical rate at which you convert energy). Everyone has one (although female thyroid health disturbances are more common than for men and every single cell – yes, EVERY cell – has a thyroid receptor on it. Which means your thyroid speaks to every cell in your body. In practical terms, this means what happens in the thyroid literally does not stay in the thyroid. Those pesky achy joints, the struggle to lose some extra weight around your midriff or your hair falling out? All may indicate a possible thyroid imbalance.

What does a healthy thyroid do?

To understand what a healthy thyroid should do it’s important to understand how it works. Briefly, the pituitary gland in the brain produces Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which tells the thyroid that some action is required. This triggers the thyroid to pump out two main thyroid hormones Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3). T4 is a mostly inactive hormone and made in the follicular cells of the thyroid from tyrosine (an amino acid) and four iodine molecules – hence the name T4. T3 is the active hormone which is made by converting T4 into T3 by detaching an iodine molecule. T3 is about 10x more active in the body than T4 and does about 90% of the thyroid’s work.

“Your thyroid influences every cell of your body”

All being well, the thyroid would send the correct amounts of each hormone around the body to target sites for action at a cellular level causing some kind of change in the body. These include:

  • Basal metabolic rate (the energy exchange rate)
  • Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism (how your body deals with the food you eat)
  • Cardiovascular output (influencing your heart rate)
  • Bone synthesis (how fast or slow your bones can grow)
  • Nervous system development (including your stress response, your reflex speeds and neural development)

Remember that every single cell in the body has a thyroid receptors so your thyroid has the ability to influence every biological system from your stress response to your menstrual cycle.

When your thyroid becomes imbalanced a specific set of symptoms can occur indicating that your thyroid isn’t happy and that you might need further testing and exploration. I’m going to briefly outline them below.

An underactive thyroid

Hypothyroidism – when the thyroid gland is under active – can occur either when the thyroid itself isn’t producing enough thyroid hormones (primary hypothyroidism) or can occur when the pituitary gland isn’t functioning properly (secondary/central hypothyroidism) e.g. not providing sufficient TSH levels.

Sub-clinical hypothyroidism can go undetected and under the radar for months or even years owing to the standard tests in the UK (as at 2022) only testing for two thyroid hormones (TSH and T4). In reality we need to be testing all of the thyroid hormones our bodies produces and antibodies – there will be another post on this next week, stay tuned.

Common symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:

  • Weight gain and stubborn weight loss
  • Sensitivity to cold or temperature change
  • Reduced sweating
  • Hair loss
  • Feeling tired on waking but energy levels getting better throughout the day
  • Swelling of the thyroid gland
  • Low libido
  • Menstrual disturbances such as amenorrhea (absent periods), heavy or irregular and prolonged periods.

Generally an underactive thyroid is associated with the ‘slowing down’ of bodily functions and these symptoms can present themselves for a while before your thyroid hormones drop below what is considered ‘normal’ on a regular blood test.

An overactive thyroid

Hyperthyroidism – when the thyroid gland is OVER active – is also called thyrotoxicosis and happens when the immune system inappropriately stimulates your TSH receptors of the follicle cells in your thyroid, resulting in too much TSH being produced. It’s also linked to thyroiditis when there is inflammation of the thyroid which causes excess thyroid hormone production.

Unlike sub-clinical hypothyroidism clients experiencing hyperthyroidism often notice the symptoms much quicker. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid include:

  • Weight loss but often with an increased appetite
  • Excessive sweating and sensitivity to heat
  • Tiredness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hair loss
  • Some nervousness, anxiety or mental agitation that wasn’t there before
  • Goitre (growth in the neck) and difficulty swallowing
  • Menstrual disturbances such as irregular periods and unexplained infertility

Generally there is a feeling of the body always being ‘on the go’, with some of my clients reporting a feeling of ‘restlessness’.

What causes thyroid disruptions?

Multiple factors affect thyroid health but generally it can be traced back to one or number of the following: inadequate intake of the right nutrients (i.e. a poor diet), a genetic element, a major life change e.g. pregnancy, living in a constant state of stress, inflammation, lack of quality sleep, toxin exposure e.g. smoking and/or alcohol intake.

The thyroid gland has a strong link between the adrenal glands and the ovaries so for fertility, pregnancy and post natal health especially it’s one to keep on top of because of its far reaching effects.

“Sub-optimal thyroid function can go undetected for years”

The links between fertility, pregnancy and post natal health

When you’re trying to conceive an unhappy thyroid can affect your ability to get or stay pregnant. Whether it’s running too fast or too slow and especially if there is an added autoimmune element to it; if your thyroid is not happy it either won’t let you get pregnant or stay pregnant by increasing your infertility and miscarriage risk. Have you ever been told this?

If you are already pregnant your baby can’t make their own thyroid hormones until around 12 weeks gestation. This places additional pressure on your thyroid in the first trimester to create and regulate baby’s thyroid function on top of your own. It’s a lot to ask of your body and if your thyroid already isn’t happy it’s going to struggle. Additionally, if your thyroid was already imbalanced prior to pregnancy, you have a family history of thyroid disease or you have type 1 diabetes you may be advised to have additional thyroid monitoring throughout your pregnancy because you may be more susceptible to developing postpartum thyroiditis.

Postnatally, especially during the fourth trimester, the body is placed under a huge amount of stress. Stress, sleep disturbances, nutrient demands (espeically when breastfeeding) and changes in the immune system during pregnancy and shortly after birth can affect thyroid function. Often temporary post partum hyper or hypothyroidism can occur; but transient thyroid conditions are something I’ve seen in clinic many times and with the appropriate monitoring, dietary support and testing they can be helped back into balance over a number of months.

That concludes the thyroid 101 tour. The next post will look at testing, diagnosis and how what is considered ‘normal’ and ‘optimal’ ranges for thyroid function could mean the difference between you falling pregnant or not. If you enjoyed this post and know someone who might benefit from reading it, please do share the love.

Or if you’re ready for some personalised support to help manage your thyroid why not book in for a free support session HERE. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.