Thursday, July 8, 2010

Diet and the Thyroid - Fertility Connection, Hypothyroidism

For today's blog, we are honored to have our advisory board member, Karen Reynolds, L.Ac., M.S., R.N., of Balanced Restored Center, write a guest blog for us on the topic of thyroid function, how it impacts fertility, and the healthy, dietary solutions that can make the difference. This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Part 3 will be posted next month:

Part 1: Hashimoto's Disease
Part 2: Hypothyroidism (posted here)
Part 3: Dietary changes and supplements to support women's thyroids

Thyroid hormones literally impact every cell of your body. It is no surprise that then your thyroid gland is stymied, getting pregnant can be more difficult. Unfortunately, thyroid dysfunction is a poorly understood health issue which directly impacts both male and female fertility. This article will give you some basics on the biology of hypothyroidism--the condition in which your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough of certain important hormones--and why it impacts your ability to fall pregnant.

Many women have an understanding that sluggish thyroid function can manifest as extreme fatigue, feeling cold all of the time, and loss of scalp or eyebrow hair. However here are some additional significant signs and symptoms, which are less commonly discussed but are vital to your reproductive health.

Do you have any of these?
  • Heartburn
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Fatigue combined with cravings for starchy goods
  • Mood swings
  • Chronic constipation
  • Slow digestion
  • Diminished libido
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Cholesterol elevations
Male specific signs and symptoms:
  • Impotence
  • Sperm production issues of unknown origin
Female specific signs and symptoms:
  • Headaches, migraines, and/or depression occurring at mid-cycle
  • Heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding
  • Hot flashes/night sweats even though your FSH and Estradiol are within normal limits
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Uterine cysts
Heartburn, bloating, and gas: why do you have these and why does it make a difference in your fertility? The hormone gastrin is necessary to make Hydrochloric acid (HCl) in your stomach. You need HCl in order to kill parasites, prevent food poisoning and prime your lower gastrointestinal tract to complete the digestion of foods. Sometimes women think of stomach acid as a bad thing; but in reality an acidic environment is needed in the stomach for healthy digestion.

If you have hypothyroidism, the amount of gastrin your stomach makes is decreased. This leads to less efficient digestion and can show up as bloating, heartburn and gas.

Without adequate HCl the lower organs of digestion, such as the pancreas and gall bladder, are not adequately signaled to do their jobs. Evacuation of your bowels can slow down and this can lead to overgrowth of yeast and bacteria in your intestinal tract. All of these wrenches in the gears of digestion drastically impair the amount of nutrients absorbed by your body. Mal-absorption can lead to inflammation and infection. Low-grade intestinal infections are typically and easily overlooked. If this sequence of digestive patterns occurs, your body will focus its energies upon survival as opposed to baby making.

At the risk of sounding like biophysiology class topic, let’s talk about how your thyroid and liver function impacts your fertility. The liver is the largest organ of your thorax and is the powerhouse of processing and eliminating hormones, medications, environmental chemicals and food matter.  You may be familiar with some laboratory levels drawn for assessing your thyroid. These can include, but are not limited to, the following: Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4).

Your thyroid makes both T3 and T4. Roughly 93% of the hormones produced by your thyroid are T4. Roughly 7% of the hormones produced by your thyroid are T3.
The clincher is that your optimal cell functioning requires the T3 form. The conversion of T4 into T3 happens primarily in your liver and some conversion occurs in your intestinal tract too.

It makes great sense that if you liver is overwhelmed with other jobs of detoxification, or if your liver is not receiving enough T4 from your thyroid, or if there is an infectious process in your gut, your cells may not be getting the basic levels of thyroid hormones they need for optimal functioning. Remember your body’s rule of thumb is that it is most fertile when all other nutrient and energy producing processes are humming along in perfect order. It’s all connected.

So now that we’ve talked about mechanisms of action in your body, let’s talk about mechanisms of action for you to take to improve your fertility.

Get evaluated.
It is necessary to get a full metabolic blood chemistry panel work up and have it analyzed by a qualified MD, Endocrinologist or an Acupuncturist specializing in endocrine issues. I do such assessments daily in my clinical practice in Mill Valley, CA. Benefits an Acupuncturist can bring to you are multifaceted. For example, I can order lab work at significant discounts compared to unspecialized labs, community hospitals, large corporation labs, or HMO’s. Additionally, acupuncture has the ability to reduce stress hormones, detoxify, improve circulation and reduce inflammation.

Maintain stable blood sugar levels by eating breakfast, eliminating inflammatory foods, and eating every 2-3 hours. This is not just a message for diabetics. Erratic blood sugars cause a cascade of biophysiological events, which ultimately impact your fertility.

Eat breakfast. Your brain needs nutrition even if you do not feel hungry in the morning. If it’s difficult for you to eat in the mornings, begin by taking only several bites at time. It doesn’t matter if you nibble for an hour to get a breakfast portion consumed. An optimal breakfast has a high quality protein, a low-glycemic grain and a small amount of fat. Two fried eggs over quinoa with several slices of avocado is an ideal combination to stabilize blood sugar for hours. Cold, gluten-containing cereal is not your friend in fertility. Cold beverages, juices, and dairy are all items which dampen and challenge digestion.

Eliminate inflammatory food items from your diet-the main one being gluten. Even if you are not gluten sensitive, gluten is a highly inflammatory substance. It is like throwing gasoline on a fire. If you have inflammation in your system, there is already a fire burning. Help quench it by choosing gluten free selections such as rice, quinoa and potatoes.

Eat every 2-3 hours and make sure you have some protein with your snack. Always eat carbohydrates with some protein otherwise you’ll experience a spike in your blood sugar followed by a crash. If you after eating a portion of carbohydrates, you feel drowsy, fatigued, or you crave sweets immediately, you have gone over your personal carbohydrate tolerance. That is a crash. Experiment with smaller portions of carbohydrate and larger portions of protein.

Remember you have a glorious, wise human body and you have the power to educate yourself about your fertility and life choices!

Stay tuned for Part III of the Thyroid Fertility Connection!
Thank you, be well, and Namaste.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at:
Balance Restored Center for Integrative Medicine
600 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Ring: 415.381.8500 Ext. 4
See my blog for additional information: