Low Thyroid Levels May Point To Complex Hormone Imbalances
In my practice as a Naturopathic physician and acupuncturist in Portland, helping patients overcome thyroid issues and other hormone imbalances is one of the areas that I truly enjoy. While there are times when I will prescribe medications such as hormones, I find it much more fulfilling to bring our feminine bodies back into balance using more natural, sustainable methods. In those rare times when I do prescribe medications, I will either be replacing a previous prescription at a reduced dosage or it is a temporary measure as a last resort while we work to restore a more natural balance to the body. The endocrine system (of which the thyroid is part of) is a fascinating labyrinth of interlacing chemical pathways that regulate nearly every function in the body. Many women come to me with symptoms such as weight gain, brain fog, depression or peri-menopausal issues and often cite various “hormone imbalances” as the culprit. With lab test in hand indicating imbalanced thyroid, estrogen or progesterone, the knee-jerk reaction from the medical community is to simply prescribe a drug to either boost or suppress our way back into a healthy hormone balance. However, from my experience in clinical practice, I have had many excellent patient outcomes from using more gentle, natural methods to restore balance to the thyroid, which will in turn, often bring these other important hormones back into balance with the body’s natural rhythm. As we delve deeper into thyroid issues, we begin to uncover some of the more unusual signs and symptoms of underlying problems related to thyroid function.
Properly balanced estrogen can be key in restoring healthy thyroid levels.
In these days of a very well-educated public, you might have heard about the more common signs of thyroid problems such as hair loss or weight gain. However, more tricky signs such as anxiety, depression, irregular menstrual cycles, chronic constipation, blood-sugar imbalances, low libido, insomnia, fertility issues and even muscle pain/weakness may go overlooked. Furthermore, symptoms of early menopause and problems with estrogen or other hormone imbalances may point toward an underlying thyroid issue combined with a pattern of excessive estrogen. Resolving the deep intrigues of the thyroid and estrogen levels often play a role in unraveling many serious health concerns. In this carefully balanced universe that is the endocrine system, what’s most concerning to me is that the basic medical tests for thyroid function won’t signal a problem until the issue is at a serious, even dangerous level. Also, common drugs such as birth control are designed to interfere with the body’s natural estrogen and progesterone which can bring on a host of symptoms including reduced thyroid hormone levels. In summary, many patients will begin to exhibit the above-mentioned harmful symptoms long before basic lab tests will indicate a problem. And, just because a patient shows up with low thyroid levels on a test doesn’t mean we as doctors should automatically start handing out prescriptions for thyroid medications because the real problem could be estrogen dominance.
Now that we’ve blown the lid off the narrow understanding of thyroid symptoms, let’s examine a few of the more mysterious symptoms in greater detail and find out why these issues occur.
Thyroid Problems: Imbalanced Estrogen/Progesterone/Testosterone, Low Libido, Irregular Periods & Infertility
Most of these symptoms can be linked to something in the body called ‘estrogen dominance’. Estrogen dominance is when the body makes too much estrogen, which throws off the balance of other sex hormones such as progesterone and testosterone. As an aside, YES, healthy women do produce a small amount of testosterone just as healthy men produce small amount of estrogen. In cases of estrogen dominance, women may exhibit menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, low libido and problems with fertility. Autoimmune disorders, accelerated aging, tender breasts and/or breast cancer, decreased libido, insomnia, hair loss, fatigue and brain fog are just a few of the symptoms of estrogen dominance. Even some women as young as 30 years old have experienced menopausal symptoms when an estrogen dominance pattern is present. What’s very interesting about estrogen dominance is its profound effects on the thyroid and how it reduces thyroid hormone levels in the body. Applying a one-size-fits-all cure and simply prescribing a women a thyroid drug will do nothing to correct the underlying issue of estrogen dominance that caused the low thyroid levels in the first place.
How Excess Estrogen (Estrogen Dominance) Reduces Thyroid Hormone & Increases Instances of Depression
Estrogen dominance forces the liver to produce more of a hormone called “thyroid binding globulin,” which acts like a sponge soaking up any thyroid hormone it can find. In this way, the often undiagnosed problem of estrogen dominance leads to a huge drop in the amount of thyroid hormone available to be utilized by the body’s cells. There are a number of factors that can contribute to an estrogen dominant pattern such as after child birth, after menopause, in men and women who have excess belly fat, excess alcohol and caffeine consumption, and with women who have been taking birth control regularly for years. Furthermore, reduced levels of thyroid hormone cause the body’s levels of serotonin (the happy hormone) to drop off due to reduced bioavailability of 5HTP, a chemical precursor necessary for the body to produce serotonin. In this way, estrogen dominance can contribute to low thyroid levels, clinical and postpartum depression and a general decline in health and well-being.
* NOTICE: This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. While the information herein is presented by a physician, this article is not a substitute for personalized medical care administered by a licensed professional.