Reviewed by Lisa Blohm, PhD, MSN, RN
You can’t see it and you normally can’t feel it, but this tiny organ is doing more for you than you probably know! The thyroid is located inside your neck, and it’s regulating your metabolism, heartbeat, energy levels, body temperature, and even your mood — all as we speak! When it comes to women’s thyroid health, there is an almost staggering amount of information to sift through.
Why? Because unfortunately, thyroid problems are very common. Nearly 20 million Americans have thyroid problems, but women are five to eight times more likely to develop a problem than men, and the risk only increases with age.1
If you’re concerned for your own thyroid, curious how you can protect it, and looking for supportive supplements, this article has all the information you need to assist you in your journey towards a healthier thyroid!
What does the thyroid gland do in the body?
It’s not uncommon to know very little about your thyroid — for all that this small, butterfly-shaped organ does, it doesn’t get much love! Inside your neck, it surrounds your trachea and sits just below your Adam’s apple. If you put your thumbs together in the shape of a V, that’s about the size of a normal thyroid!2
But don’t let its small size fool you. The thyroid plays a mighty role inside your body! In fact, your metabolism relies directly on the function of your thyroid. How does that work?
The thyroid produces three major hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) and calcitonin. These hormones travel through the bloodstream to all parts of the body, regulating the rate at which your body works. This process is known as metabolism, and it affects everything from your heartbeat to digestion, body temperature, calcium levels, mood, and more. And especially your body’s energy levels!
What causes thyroid problems in women?
Why women are more commonly afflicted with thyroid problems than men is not entirely understood, but it could have something to do with the intense hormonal changes that many women go through during their lifetime.
The thyroid produces hormones that make their way throughout the entire body, impacting many of your bodily processes. Even reproductive function is affected by thyroid hormones! In fact, the thyroid and reproductive cells regularly interact. This could mean that during periods of hormonal unrest, such as pregnancy and menopause, the thyroid is compensating for the intense hormonal changes and, sometimes, it can’t keep up.
Your body works in amazing ways, though, and most often knows how to pick up where another organ left off! This is the case for the pituitary gland. When the thyroid isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone, the pituitary gland sends thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH) so it knows to produce more. Similarly, when it’s producing too much, the pituitary gland sends less TSH to even it out.
Now, where can things go wrong?
In individuals with a thyroid condition, the thyroid will either produce too much or not enough thyroid hormone, causing irregular energy levels and weight changes, among other symptoms. This can be the result of either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism Vs. Hyperthyroidism
There are two types of thyroid disease; hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. While these disorders affect the body in opposite ways, they can occur out of similar causes, including:
- Family history has a strong impact on thyroid health, so it’s important to monitor your own if you know multiple family members who have struggled with thyroid problems.
- Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system mistakes healthy cells for invaders. They can cause an over or underproduction of thyroid hormone.
- Thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid gland. This disorder inhibits the function of the thyroid and disrupts it from producing the right amount of hormones.
- A damaged pituitary gland can produce the wrong amount of TSH, misleading the thyroid’s production of thyroid hormone.
- Pregnancy causes many hormonal changes throughout the body, including in the thyroid. Iodine levels during pregnancy are much lower than normal, as well.
Now let’s jump into the specifics of each disorder, so we know what we can look out for!
Hypothyroidism Causes and Symptoms
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid is underactive. This means it is not producing enough thyroid hormone that your body needs in order to regulate a normal metabolism. It’s the most common type of thyroid condition in both men and women, though women are 10 times more likely to develop hypothyroidism than men.3
Causes of Hypothyroidism
- Aging has an impact on hormonal levels and can alter how the thyroid functions. Women over the age of 60 have the greatest risk of developing hypothyroidism.
- Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid gland, preventing it from producing enough thyroid hormone.
- Radiation treatment on the head and the neck often leads to hypothyroidism — in fact, 50% of people treated with head/neck radiation develop hypothyroidism. This is because the radiation can attack healthy tissue along with the cancer cells.
- Lack of iodine disrupts thyroid hormone production. The thyroid relies on iodine for normal function, so it has to compensate when there is an insufficient amount in your diet.
- Congenital hypothyroidism affects newborn babies and is a lifelong condition. Congenital hypothyroidism can be related to maternal iodine intake, but it can also occur even if the mother is healthy. All babies born in the US at a hospital are tested as it can cause major problems with growth and development if it goes undiagnosed.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
- Feeling fatigued or sluggish
- Weight gain
- Feeling cold
- Dry skin
- Brittle hair
- Slow heart rate
Hyperthyroidism Causes and Symptoms
Hyperthyroidism is the opposite of hypothyroidism, which means the thyroid is overactive. When this is the case, the thyroid is producing an excessive amount of thyroid hormone, leading to a quick metabolic rate. Though it is much less common, hyperthyroidism still affects 1.2% of the U.S. population.4
Causes of Hyperthyroidism
- Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects over 70% of people with hyperthyroidism.5 This disorder creates antibodies that latch onto healthy thyroid cells and causes an overproduction of thyroid hormone.
- Thyroid nodules are lumps in the thyroid. Normally, they are harmless but they can grow too large and cause the thyroid to produce too much thyroid hormone.
- Too much iodine also affects thyroid hormone production. If you’re getting more iodine than you need, your thyroid might produce more thyroid hormone than necessary.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Weight loss
- Goiter (enlarged thyroid)
- Rapid heartbeat
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Feeling hot
The effects of both hypo- and hyperthyroidism are significant in a woman’s health. Both diseases can result in infertility, miscarriage, irregular menstrual cycles, menopausal difficulties, and low libidos. Because the health of the thyroid impacts and is impacted by reproductive function, it’s important that we help our bodies maintain health throughout our entire systems.
If you are worried you have a thyroid problem, check your family history and look out for symptoms — before you self-diagnose, consult with your naturopath or doctor. A blood test will be necessary to determine thyroid function. In the meantime, be sure to support the health of your thyroid by following these tips below!
How to Heal Your Thyroid Naturally
Your metabolism is out of whack, your weight is unmanageable, your stress levels are spiked — and your thyroid is at the center of it all. Your entire body relies on the health of your thyroid for many more reasons than the ones we’ve already mentioned! Now, how can we heal such a vital organ?
Achieving a healthy thyroid is doable, even if you already struggle with thyroid problems! With the right diet, enough exercise, and helpful supplements, you may be able to help your thyroid recover and rebalance. For those with more complex thyroid issues, these things can still prove to be significant in your recovery journey, so speak with your medical doctor about incorporating them into your daily life.
Eating Healthy for Your Thyroid
If you didn’t know that what you eat is affecting the function of your thyroid, you’re definitely not alone. Before you have to take drastic steps in protecting your thyroid health, make sure you’re supporting it with the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones. Let’s take a look at how we can change our diets for a healthier thyroid!
If You Have Hypothyroidism, Eat Foods Rich in:
- Iodine: As we mentioned earlier, iodine is essential to the production of thyroid hormones so try eating more fish, seaweed, dairy, and eggs!
- Selenium: This mineral helps activate the thyroid hormone and can be found in foods like Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pinto beans, and salmon!
- Zinc: Like selenium, this mineral supports thyroid hormone production and even helps to balance thyroid hormones within the body. Foods rich in zinc include meat, shellfish, legumes, and whole grains!
If You Have Hypothyroidism, Avoid Foods That Contain:
- Goitrogens: These are substances found in foods that can prevent the thyroid from producing enough thyroid hormone for regular metabolism. People with hypothyroidism will be more affected by these substances and, therefore, should avoid foods that contain goitrogens such as tofu, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and soybeans.
- Gluten: Gluten can inhibit the function of your thyroid, but only if you have a gluten sensitivity! If you’re unsure, you can determine this by a blood test or you can try to eliminate gluten for a short period of time to see if any symptoms improve.
If You Have Hyperthyroidism, Include These Nutrients in Your Diet:
- L-Carnitine: This amino acid helps reduce the symptoms of an overactive thyroid. If you suffer from insomnia, tremors, or nervousness related to hyperthyroidism, try adding this nutrient into your diet.
- Vitamin B12: Although B12 deficiency might not cause hyperthyroidism, deficiency could be a result of this condition. Fatigue, weakness, and dizziness can all be symptoms of low B12, so be sure to include a B-complex supplement to avoid these symptoms.
- Lemon Balm: This naturally calming herb may offer support to an overactive thyroid by soothing the mind and common stressors with hyperthyroidism. Try it in supplement form or as an herbal tea to bring your body a calming balance that’s not always easy to achieve.
If You Have Hypothyroidism, Avoid These Nutrients:
Hyperthyroidism works in an inverse way from hypothyroidism, so it makes sense that individuals with hyperthyroidism avoid the nutrients that support hypothyroidism. People with hyperthyroidism should avoid iodine because it stimulates thyroid hormone production — the opposite of what you need. Avoid eating these foods, which are commonly high in iodine:
- Iodized salt
- Egg yolks
- Dairy products
- High amounts of poultry, beef, or grain products
Destressing and Detoxifying Your Thyroid
High stress and excessive toxins can negatively impact your body in a variety of ways, including how your thyroid functions. Luckily, we can find ways to avoid toxins and relieve stress for optimal thyroid health! Let’s see what we can do!
High cortisol levels have been linked to changes in thyroid hormone levels within the body. My question is…what doesn’t stress affect?! When thyroid hormone levels are impacted, the thyroid has to work harder to make up for the changes. At the same time, your body is already trying to make up for the high-stress levels. This can overload your adrenal and thyroid glands and even suppress your immune system!
You can help your thyroid by relieving the unnecessary stress that is plaguing your system. Try getting at least seven hours of sleep each night and set aside time in your day for relaxing! If you can’t cut out all the stressors in your daily life, try a stress-reducing supplement that supports your adrenal function!
Regular exercise can be an answer to many problems, and both hypo- and hyperthyroidism can benefit from a consistent sweat session! While working out may seem like the last thing you want to do when you’re already fatigued, it could bring you more energy than it’s taking away. In fact, moderate aerobic exercise has been shown to improve thyroid hormone production!6
Great ways to exercise for your thyroid health involve getting your heart rate up and a lot of sweating! Completing aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week will help pump your thyroid hormones throughout your body for better utilization! Try walking, running, hiking, and swimming! Not to mention, sweating is great for ridding your body of the dangerous toxins that can be harming your thyroid!
Whether we like to admit it or not, toxins are everywhere and they can be toying with thyroid health. From the air we breathe to the water we drink to the cleaners we use in our homes, toxins are reaching our thyroids. These toxins cause damage to thyroid function by altering thyroid hormone structure, inhibiting iodine uptake, and disrupting thyroid hormone secretion — and the greatest impact has been on pregnant women.7
How can we eliminate dangerous toxins from our daily lives? It’s nearly impossible to avoid all sources of toxicity, but we can still try to avoid most with simple changes! Toxins can be found in many forms including pesticides, BPA, and fluoride. Try to limit your toxin exposure by eating organic foods, updating your cleaning products and cosmetics to non-toxic alternatives, using less plastic, and drinking filtered water! For extra help detoxifying your system, introduce a strong antioxidant supplement to your diet!
Best Supplements for Thyroid Health
Best Supplements for Thyroid Health
A healthy thyroid often needs support alongside a better diet and regular exercise. That’s where helpful supplements come in handy! Here are two great supplements to get your thyroid functioning like new!
This supplement provides your thyroid with the TLC it needs with five powerful ingredients! These are:
- Iodine is an essential mineral that is needed by the thyroid to produce thyroid hormone*
- Selenium plays a major role in helping the thyroid produce thyroid hormone and it also supports iodine absorption*
- L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that aids in the function of the thyroid, boosts energy levels, and even helps to produce adrenal hormones*
- Holy Basil is an adaptogenic herb that helps lower stress levels and brings balance back to an unhealthy thyroid*
- Guggul Extract supports the uptake of iodine while promoting thyroid function*
Thyroid TLC perfectly blends together each of these nutrients to bring balance back to your metabolism, simplicity back to weight management, and life back to your hair, skin, and nails!
This supplement provides your body with three forms of iodine that are essential to thyroid health! Potassium iodide, sodium iodide, and molecular iodine all work together to strengthen and nourish the thyroid by helping balance hormones and optimize thyroid function!*
This B-complex vitamin offers support that an overactive thyroid needs. Its rich array of B vitamins powerfully enhances energy levels while maintaining a healthy stress response and calming occasional anxiety.
L-carnitine is an amino acid that may help reduce the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. It works by inhibiting thyroid hormones to enter certain cells. This easily absorbed supplement also promotes higher energy levels and a healthy heart rate, which are often impacted by hyperthyroidism.
Important Note: If you have not been diagnosed with a thyroid problem, do not take supplements that stimulate thyroid hormone production. Taking an extra amount of iodine than your body needs may result in supplement-induced hyperthyroidism. Be sure to consult with your doctor or naturopath for more information specific to your health.
Learn More About Thyroid Health For Women
If you would like more information on how you can better support the health of your thyroid, contact us!
Whatever questions you might still have about thyroid health, our certified Wellness Consultants are happy to help! Click the Live Chat button in the lower right corner of your screen, or send us an email!