Have you ever wondered how well your thyroid is working? Menopause is a time to be extra vigilant and slightly suspicious.
Look through the below list. If you’re experiencing 3 or more of the below symptoms, start to get suspicious of your thyroid function:
- Fatigue (despite adequate sleep)
- Decreased concentration
- Memory deficit
- Slow thinking
- Cold intolerance
- Decreased sweating
- Muscular weakness
- Poor circulation (cold extremities)
- Reduced appetite
- Constipation and sluggish bowel transit time
- Low libido
- Dry skin and mucus membranes
- Brittle and coarse hair
- Brittle, coarse and thin nails
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
Your thyroid is a vital organ that is located near your voice box, at the front of your neck. When functioning well it plays a large role in your body weight, energy levels, bowel function, moods and motivation, temperature and a whole lot more. Its function can significantly affect your ability to function.
According to the Australian Thyroid Foundation, worldwide, women are 10 times more likely to have a thyroid disorder than men.
Thyroid disorders, particularly an under functioning thyroid, become more common as we grow older.
Pair these two findings together and we can see that women, going through menopause, are vulnerable to thyroid abnormality.
If you read the above list again and slightly change your perspective, you can start to see quite a few symptoms that are classically described as menopausal symptoms. It can be relatively easy to confuse menopause symptoms with thyroid symptoms (and vice vera), and when both are more likely with age, it’s easy to see how some factors (or organs) can be overlooked.
If you are happy to go one step further, I want to highlight the impact one endocrine gland (the ovaries), has over another endocrine gland (the thyroid). Oestrogen, primarily produced by the ovaries, has well-known indirect and known direct effects on thyroid function. This means that oestrogen plays both a direct and indirect role on thyroid function, balance and structure. Perimenopause and menopause mark the times of oestrogen fluctuation and then a permanent oestrogen drop. When the body is used to a regular flow or amount of oestrogen, it is easy to understand why thyroid function is vulnerable to dysfunction when there is no longer the regular, or present oestrogen influence. Take away the oestrogen influence, and the thyroid needs to rebalance and adapt to its new lack of oestrogen influence. If it doesn’t rebalance, it becomes dysfunctional.
Interestingly, if we look at it the other way around (the thyroid’s influence on the ovaries), a decent amount of menopause symptoms could be explained via a disordered thyroid. A 2007 research study found that correcting or treating a dysfunctional thyroid resulted in marked improvement in severe menopause-like symptoms. Similarly, we at the Australian Menopause Centre have noticed the impact a poorly functioning thyroid has on the menopause treatment response. Often once the thyroid has been addressed, the response to menopause treatment is easier.
Is the thyroid the vital, yet often over-looked key to aging well?
Is the thyroid the over-looked key to easing the menopause transition?
For those who answered ‘yes’ to 3 or more of the above symptoms, be proactive and request your thyroid be investigated by your GP so that it can be ruled out, or identified and supported.
Let me highlight three of the main causes of poor thyroid function:
Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of thyroid dysfunction worldwide. A low iodine diet can cause hypothyroidism, an enlarged thyroid gland (goitre) and pregnancy and neurodevelopmental issues. Iodine is most commonly found in seawater and seafood, and unfortunately many people simply don’t eat much, or any seafood. Iodine levels in the soil that our vegetables, grains and livestock graze is very low in Australia. Therefore, it can be easy to see how iodine deficiency is becoming increasingly common in Australia.
Our major source of iodine comes from what we eat and drink. Seafood is the main, natural source of iodine. Dairy, commercial bread, eggs and iodine fortified foods are additional sources of iodine.
The best way to check your iodine levels is via a urine test from your GP. Please do not start an iodine supplement ‘just because’. Too much iodine can cause thyroid inflammation and dysfunction, burning mouth, throat and stomach, fever, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, weak pulse and coma. Balance is key.
Nutrients such as selenium, vitamin C, all of the B vitamins, zinc, tyrosine and vitamin D are needed for thyroid function and health. Eating a healthy diet rich in vitamins, proteins and essential fatty acids is necessary. Enjoy a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, seafood, nuts and protein. Aim for at least 6-8 serves of brightly coloured vegetables, cooked or uncooked, daily.
Familial and/or certain genetic disorders
Autoimmune diseases, particularly thyroid autoimmune diseases can run in the family. If your family has a history of thyroid disease, now is a good time to ensure you are doing everything you can to provide a healthy environment for thyroid function.
Here are my quick top 5 ways to improve thyroid function:
- Eat seafood, a couple of times a week (eat a variety of seafood, not just tinned fish)
- Cook (even if it’s only a light steam) your cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, kale, spinach, Brussel sprouts, radish, broccoli, etc.).
- Eat 2 Brazil nuts daily
- Avoid tinned foods as much as you can, in attempt to reduce toxin exposure (choose jarred or fresh options where possible)
- Pay attention to a possible gluten intolerance – how does your body respond when you eat bread, pasta, or oats? Do you become tired, mentally slow, bloated or get diarrhoea or constipation?
 Santin, A. P., & Furlanetto, T. W. (2011). Role of estrogen in thyroid function and growth regulation. Journal of thyroid research, 2011, 875125. https://doi.org/10.4061/2011/875125
 Badawy, A., et al. (2007). “Can thyroid dysfunction explicate severe menopausal symptoms?” J Obstet Gynaecol 27(5): 503-505.