Hypothyroidism and the Menstrual Cycle: How Thyroid Hormone Affects Your Period

Hypothyroidism and the menstrual cycle are intimately tied. While thyroid hormone isn't a sex hormone, it does play a role in keeping your period regular.

What Is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid) occurs when your body is not producing enough thyroid hormone, you’re unable to convert it to its active form, or the cell is unable to use it. Women are five to eight times more likely to have some form of thyroid disease.

Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is the pituitary (brain) hormone that tells the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormone. The thyroid then secretes T4 (inactive hormone) and a small amount of T3 (active hormone).

Because T4 is considered inactive, it has to travel to other parts of the body (like the gut, liver, and kidneys) in order to be converted to T3. T3 has a whole host of important jobs: It is responsible for your mood, energy, metabolism, menses, and ability to keep warm.

So, anything that inhibits TSH secretion, T4 production, conversion to T3, or the cells’ ability to use thyroid hormone can cause hypothyroid symptoms.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dry skin
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Infertility
  • Hair loss
  • Joint pain
  • Constipation
  • High cholesterol

And there are trickier ways hypothyroidism can show up. I share with you the 7 common hypothyroid symptoms most people don't know about in this article.

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

Autoimmunity

Most commonly, hypothyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s. When you have an autoimmune disease, your body begins attacking itself, which results in the destruction of tissue. So Hashimoto’s causes your body to start destroying the thyroid gland, which leads to its inability to produce adequate hormones.

Nutrient Deficiency

Nutrient deficiencies, like those caused by birth control pills and other medications or poor dietary choices, can affect thyroid function.

Zinc and selenium are two minerals vital to the thyroid. They help the thyroid to produce T4 and to convert it to T3. Zinc also helps thyroid hormone communicate with cell receptors. Without these key nutrients, your thyroid’s ability to function can be severely compromised.

B vitamins are required for the body to synthesize thyroid hormone. If you’re deficient in these, you will not produce enough thyroid hormone.

There are many more thyroid supportive nutrients, like iodine, that can help you thyroid function at its best. You can read more about thyroid foods in this article.

Surgical Removal

If you have your thyroid surgically removed, your body will be unable to produce any thyroid hormone by itself, thus making you hypothyroid.

Does Hypothyroidism Cause Irregular Periods?

Hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone) and hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone) can both contribute to irregular periods, missing periods and a whole host of period problems as I explain in Beyond the Pill.

Every cell in your body needs thyroid hormone, including your brain and ovaries. Thyroid hormone is essential for follicle development in the ovary (a necessary step in ovulation). It is also involved in brain hormone signaling to the ovaries, which is essential to a healthy menstrual cycle. If brain-ovarian communication is interrupted, or the ovaries are unable to ovulate, then your cycles may become irregular.

Period Issues Caused by Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism often goes hand in hand with period problems.

Inadequate thyroid hormone can lead to:

  • Anovulatory cycles (no ovulation)  
  • Miscarriages
  • Infertility
  • Long periods
  • Heavy periods
  • Irregular periods

How is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?

Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed with a full thyroid panel. While running TSH only is common in many doctor’s offices, it’s important to know that it’s not enough. Yes, an abnormal level of TSH is a good indication that something is wrong with the thyroid, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Since autoimmunity is found in about 90% of thyroid patients, a full thyroid panel is vital for finding and diagnosing the possible autoimmune disease early.

A complete thyroid panel should include the following blood tests:

  • TSH
  • Total T4
  • Free T4
  • Total T3
  • Free T3
  • Reverse T3
  • Anti-TPO Antibodies
  • Anti-Thyroglobulin Antibodies

How to Heal Your Thyroid Naturally

There are many natural ways to support thyroid health and reverse some of the underlying causes of hypothyroidism discussed previously.

Is Thyroid Medication Necessary?

I am often asked if it’s a good idea to transition off thyroid medication. The thing to understand is you can't live without thyroid hormone. It’s non-negotiable.

Thyroid medication is a hormone replacement therapy. It’s not like, say, Tylenol. Your body does not need Tylenol, but it does need thyroid hormone to thrive. So it's not necessarily a good idea to transition off of thyroid medication. And this should certainly only be done with the help of your prescribing practitioner.

On or off thyroid medication, there are some great natural ways to help your thyroid heal.

Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet

Eating a nutrient-dense whole-foods diet is an important step in managing thyroid disease. A few key nutrients that support the thyroid are:

  • Selenium
  • Iodine
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Essential fatty acids
  • Iron
  • Vitamin A

Figuring out how to eat with a thyroid condition can be confusing. That’s why I created my free Hormone Balancing Starter Kit to help you. You’ll get a seven-day meal plan, a hormone-balancing recipe guide, and much more! Click here to get your starter kit!

Heal Your Gut

As I mentioned before, most cases of hypothyroidism are caused by the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s. And if you have an autoimmune disease, you know that your immune system is not behaving normally. What you might not know is that between 70% and 80% of your immune system resides in your gut!

Unfortunately, many of us have guts that aren’t in optimal shape. Leaky gut (or increased intestinal permeability) occurs when harmful proteins are able to pass through the intestinal mucosa, causing inflammation. Birth control pills, low-fiber diets, chronic stress, and regular long-term use of NSAIDs are just some contributors to leaky gut.

The gut is also responsible for about 20% of the conversion of T4 to T3, so we really need a well-functioning gut in order to help the thyroid.

I typically recommend the the following to heal the gut:

  1. Nourish. In addition to eating a whole foods diet, using curcumin extract, ginger root, L-glutamine, zinc carnosine, marshmallow root, and aloe vera can help be beneficial. Gut Rebuild is a combination formula to support the health your gut.
  2. Eliminate. Remove potential food triggers, unnecessary medications, life stressors, bacteria, yeast, and parasites.
  3. Absorb. Incorporating digestive enzymes, bile acid and Betaine HCl can help your gut absorb the nutrients your body needs. Digest is a comprehensive digestive support formula with HCl, pancreatic enzymes and bile acid.
  4. Terrain. Creating a healthy terrain ad bringing in quality probiotics with fermented vegetables and probiotic supplements will help your gut thrive. I typically use MegaSporeBiotic as a starting place in my clinic.

Ditch Hormonal Birth Control

Well it is common for doctors to prescribe hormonal birth control to “regulate” a woman's period, it is important to understand that this doesn't address why you have menstrual irregularities. If your period problems are because of hypothyroidism, using hormonal birth control can make the situation worse.

The birth control pill can sabotage thyroid health by:

  • Causing nutrient deficiencies by depleting vitamins and minerals crucial to thyroid function (like zinc, selenium, and B vitamins)
  • Elevating Thyroid Binding Globulin, a protein that holds onto your thyroid hormone (and once thyroid hormone is bound, it cannot be used by cells)
  • Causing inflammation – We know inflammation is bad, but did you know that inflammation can cause T4 to be converted to Reverse T3 (RT3) instead of T3? I call RT3 the hibernation hormone because it’s designed to store fat and make you want to sleep.

Consider Supplements to Support Thyroid Function

My Thyroid Support Kit contains all you need to help optimize thyroid function. Thyroid Support was formulated to supply the nutrients needed to make thyroid hormone and support its conversion to the active form (T3). Adrenal Support was created to optimize stress hormone production and energy, while balancing cortisol. When cortisol goes high we can find many hormone imbalances follow. Omega Plus contains 1,000 mg EPA per serving, which supports cellular health, inflammation, and immune system balance.

It is important to note that supplements are not a replacement for thyroid medication. They can help with optimal thyroid function and support your body in using thyroid hormone efficiently, which is why I often partner thyroid medication with supplements for my patients.

I sincerely hope this article helps you have a better understanding of your thyroid health and provides you with some support on your journey. Don't forget to grab my free Hormone Balancing Starter Kit to help you balance your hormones with food. You’ll get a seven-day meal plan, a hormone-balancing recipe guide, and much more! Click here to get your starter kit!

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is one of the leading experts in women’s medicine and is a pioneer in her exploration of the far-reaching impact of hormonal birth control and the little known side effects that impact health in a large way. In her best selling book, Beyond the Pill, she shares her clinical protocols aimed at supporting women struggling with symptoms of hormone imbalance, including Post-Birth Control Pill Syndrome and birth control related side effects. A trained nutritional biochemist and Naturopathic Physician, Dr. Brighten is the founder and Clinic Director at Rubus Health, an integrative women’s medicine clinic. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and has been featured in prominent media outlets such as Forbes, Cosmopolitan, ABC news, and the New York Post. Read more about me here.