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Hypothyroidism in Menopause

Hypothyroidism in menopause — a whole-body perspective

If you suffer from hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, it’s easy to attribute your frustrating symptoms of weight gain, fatigue, poor concentration, and hair loss to menopause — without realizing that maybe something else is going on.

And hypothyroidism may “sneak up on you” even if you’ve been taking good care of yourself. That’s because the reproductive hormone changes that naturally take place in your body during menopause are accompanied by changes to thyroid function. If left unaddressed this can lead to thyroid imbalances, hypothyroidism, or even lifelong medication.

What is hypothyroidism?

Your thyroid plays a key role in helping you metabolize food, store and use energy, manage your weight and heat control, think, talk, sleep, and reproduce. Hypothyroidism is characterized by an underproduction of the hormones needed to support your activity on a daily basis. As a result, you may feel like a computer with a very bad internet connection – working, but certainly not at top speed.

Overlapping symptoms of hypothyroidism and menopause

We see many women develop subclinical or overt hypothyroidism in menopause. Here is one scenario depicting hormonal changes that can prompt symptoms.

Overlapping symptoms of hypothyroidism and menopause

Normally, your brain and thyroid communicate with your body to maintain optimal balance of these hormones. In this healthy state, the brain produces thyrotropin-releasing hormone(TRH) and thyroid-stimulating hormone(TSH). These hormones then prompt your thyroid gland to produce the active thyroid hormones called T4 (thyroxine) and T3 and (triiodothyronine) whenever levels are low. Ultimately, the body works to convert T4 into T3, the form our cells recognize best and use most effectively.

This dynamic system is designed to adjust itself from moment to moment to meet your body’s continually changing needs. So as long as things haven’t gotten too far out of synch, this system will always move toward balance — provided you support it.

Is it menopause, hypothyroidism — or what?

When we talk with a woman who complains of fatigue, weight gain, low sex drive, hair loss and depression, we often find she is in perimenopause or menopause. But she may also have some degree of thyroid imbalance or even hypothyroidism. Symptoms overlap because our thyroid and reproductive hormones axes are so closely interconnected.

In menopause, our bodies naturally produce fewer reproductive hormones because we need fewer of them during the second half of our lives. But estrogen enhances the ability of TRH to do its job so that means as you begin to produce less estrogen, your thyroid function can slow down a bit, too — especially if the drop in estrogen is a sudden or dramatic one (see illustration).

Menopause can “tip the scale” to hypothyroidism

You may have lived your entire life without realizing you were vulnerable to thyroid imbalance. Ideally, the body’s checks and balances smooth out the major transitions women experience across their lifespans. But lots of factors — especially stress, environmental exposures, suboptimal nutrition, or simply our genetic blueprint — predispose us toward a bumpier ride. Add reproductive flux to the mix — menstruation, birth control, childbearing, perimenopause, menopause, HRT — and it shows why we’re more prone to thyroid disorders than men!

When the complex feedback loops of the endocrine system veer off-center, hormonal imbalances such as thyroid dysfunction commonly result. And with suboptimal levels of thyroid hormones, your cells cannot produce healthy biological responses, and you begin to experience symptoms. This can be especially frustrating for women who have been extremely health conscious.

Sometimes the origins of thyroid imbalance don’t lie within the thyroid gland itself, but rather in other parts of the endocrine system. The thyroid is constantly engaged with other endocrine glands in a series of complex feedback loops. For example, when your adrenal glands don’t work well, your thyroid is also affected.

Why a “normal” thyroid can still cause symptoms in menopause

If you are experiencing symptoms, your healthcare practitioner may run a test to measure your TSH levels. The test will show higher levels of TSH if your T4 and T3 are low. This indicates that your pituitary gland is working hard to produce enough TSH to stimulate production of T4 and T3, as well as convert T4 to T3.

While the “normal range” for labs that test TSH may be as high as 4.0mlU/L, we generally like to see TSH blood level tests come closer to 2.0 mlU/L.

Why the difference? In our experience, there is a very real difference between what some practitioners accept as normal and what’s truly ideal for you as an individual. In fact, at the Saylor Medical Group Clinic we use a broader thyroid panel as a screener for women with menopause symptoms. While about 20% of women are within the “normal” range, we see another 35% with subclinical hypothyroidism according to their test results!

We also look at changes that take place over time, patterns, and trends — as well as all the other factors known to influence your hormonal health. This is especially important during menopause, when even small changes can be part of a very real hormonal imbalance. That way, you can begin a program to provide support naturally — before more severe symptoms develop.

Here are the test ranges that conventional medical practitioners see as normal. Remember, if you have symptoms or test results showing a trend upward, we feel it is important to have your thyroid function thoroughly evaluated by an experienced practitioner, regardless of initial test results.

  • T4: 4.8–13.2 mcg/dL
  • Free T4: 0.9–2 ng/dL
  • T3: 80–200 ng/dL
  • TSH:0.4–4.0 mIU/L (if you have no hypothyroid or hyperthyroid symptoms) 0.3–3.0 mIU/L (if you’re being treated)[Most Fuctional Endocrinologist feel that these "normal limits are too great"]

Making thyroid health a priority is especially important during menopause, because with all the changes going on in your body and brain, even small adjustments can make a significant difference in relieving frustrating symptoms.

When your thyroid needs more support

The best way to nourish your thyroid function (and your general health) is through sound nutrition, including daily supplementation with a medical-grade multivitamin-mineral complex.

Regular screening and wellness exams are also great preventatives. If you have a family history of thyroid conditions, be sure to inform your healthcare provider and ask for thorough testing if you notice symptoms.

Our experience at the Saylor Medical Group Clinic has shown us that starting with a gentle, natural approach often restores normal thyroid function and decreases any symptoms that overlap with menopause symptoms. We add prescription drugs only if necessary favoring naturally-sourced thyroid medications.

Look for a connection

Remember, even though we know hormonal changes in menopause can unmask an underlying thyroid problem or trigger one, millions of women in menopause may still be suffering from undiagnosed thyroid disease. By paying careful attention to your symptoms, you can make the connection, understand the approaches to resolve underlying issues, and see how much better you can feel.

Our Thyroid Support Program 

Natural relief for thyroid issues like low energy, unusual weight gain, and skin issues.

Our unique combination approach can restore thyroid balance to relieve the symptoms that are interrupting your life. Women have come to us since 1994 for answers to their thyroid issues — loss of energy, fuzzy thinking, muscle aches, difficulty tolerating the cold, hair and skin changes, and more. You get natural medicines, exclusive supplements, thyroid-specific lifestyle and diet guidance, and support you can count on.

Call us to talk over your thyroid health concerns — 1-727-938-9966. We can help.