Thyroid Health Part-2: Stress, Cycles & the Pill

 In Part-1 of this thyroid health series, we discussed the basics of thyroid health.  We covered what the thyroid is, how it works, and why you should care.  In part-2, I will provide insight into how stress, your menstrual cycle, and birth control pills impact your thyroid health.

How does stress impact thyroid function?

If you look at the stress response and how the thyroid works, you can see they are in the same loop!  The adrenals and thyroid are both controlled by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, in the brain.  So, it makes sense that the adrenals have a big impact on thyroid function.  The main way they impact the thyroid is through cortisol, our stress hormone.

If we have too much cortisol, it can disrupt the loop and inhibit thyroid function.  Excess cortisol lowers thyroid-stimulating hormone production (TSH) and can even inhibit the conversion of the inactive form of thyroid hormone (T4) to the active form (T3) (see Part-1 for more on T3 conversion).  This is why chronic stress can lead to an underachieving thyroid and why it can exacerbate conditions like hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.  When your body is under chronic stress it responds by dialing down thyroid function.  If you are dealing with thyroid issues or suspect them, first look for possible stressor(s).

Contributors to Chronic Stress:

  • Inadequate sleep
  • Prescription medications
  • Imbalances and dysfunction in the gut
  • Poor digestion and absorption of food
  • Mental/emotional stress
  • Undereating 
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Inflammation
  • Toxic exposure

…to name a few!

Thyroid Health & Menstrual Cycles:

Are you dealing with irregular cycles, amenorrhea, short luteal phase, heavy or really light periods?  If you answered yes, it’s worth looking into your thyroid function.  Low thyroid function is what I deal with most commonly in the clients I work with.  

How does thyroid function impact your hormones/cycle?

  1. Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone (TRH) directly impacts the ovaries.  If we have an increase in this hormone due to low function, it can increase prolactin causing amenorrhea.
  2. Low thyroid function can alter Steroid Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) and Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone, which impact ovarian function and disrupts the adrenals, which impacts thyroid health too.
  3. Low thyroid function can delay ovulation, which is how we make progesterone.  Low progesterone levels can lead to heavy periods and anxiety.

 You will notice that the symptoms of under or overactive thyroid can be similar.  That’s why it’s always best to test and not guess.  You will need a full panel: TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and both antibodies.  

How does the pill impact the thyroid?

I’ve done lots of Instagram posts on the pill and so, I couldn’t leave it out of the thyroid series because it can have a huge impact on thyroid health.  Listed below are ways in which the pill affects your thyroid: 

  • Increases in Binding Proteins.  The pill increases a protein called Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG), which binds to thyroid hormone making it inactive.  Leading to less thyroid hormone available for the body and creates more work for your thyroid.  Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG), another protein that is increased while on the pill, can also bind to thyroid hormone.
  • Nutrient depletion.  The pill depletes many nutrients, but the most important nutrients for your thyroid include selenium, zinc, and B vitamins.  Selenium and zinc are especially important for taking the inactive form of thyroid hormone (T4) and converting it to the active form (T3).  B vitamins are used when making the thyroid hormone in the body (plus the hundreds of other functions in the body).
  • Inflammation.  The pill can increase CRP, an inflammatory marker, by 39%.  The iconic low-grade inflammation creates a stress response in the body.  Over time, this negatively impacts the adrenals, which negatively impact thyroid function.
  • Gut dysbiosis.  The pill can cause an imbalance in bacteria, which creates an environment conducive to overgrowth, pathogens, parasites, and yeast.  The dysbiosis is seen as a stressor in the body and can increase inflammation.  Another added stressor can impact thyroid function.

 It is important to be aware of these impacts if you have a history of thyroid issues or suspect that you might.  There are non-hormonal options that you can choose from.  Check out my Instagram for more information.

 What chemicals disrupt the thyroid? 

Certain chemicals, in specific, those chemicals from the halogen group, compete with iodine, which is also a halogen.  Why?  They have similar chemical structures and this allows them to interfere with thyroid function since we NEED iodine (see Part-1).

The Halogen Group:

  • Chlorine- found in drinking water, pools, spas, bleach, and cleaning products
  • Fluorine/Fluoride- found in toothpaste, prescription medications, Teflon, and non-stick cookware.  Up until the 1950s, fluoride was used to treat hyperthyroidism–that tells you a lot about how it impacts your thyroid.
  • Bromine- found in flour products, baked goods, bread, sugary beverages, and flame retardants.  

What are some changes to consider if you are struggling with thyroid health?

  1. Get a vitamin C shower filter to block chlorine–we absorb a TON of chlorine from showers and baths.
  2. Take a look at your toothpaste.  Struggling with oral problems?  Fluoride isn’t always the answer.  @primallifeorg has free resources to learn how to remineralize your teeth and support oral health naturally.
  3. Switch to stainless steel or ceramic pans.

Remember, the amount of exposure you have to these chemicals matters. Don’t stress about swimming in a pool every once in a while if you have a shower filter. If you’re minimizing exposure in most areas, you’re supporting thyroid health. Reducing your stressors and evaluating your menstrual cycles are essential to balancing thyroid hormones. Speak with your doctor about alternative non-hormonal pill options. If you missed Part-1 of this series, you can check it out here. Also, be sure to come back for Part-3; we’ll be discussing the impact of gut health, treatment plans, and nutrition-related care. 

Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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