Menopause Effect on the Thyroid

The Complex Connection Between Menopause And Thyroid Function, Plus Some Tips To Keep Your Energy Up And Your Weight Down

Being a woman means you are bound to go through menopause at some point in your life, with the average woman experiencing this change by the age of 511.

During menopause, women often experience varying symptoms, which may range from irregular periods and vaginal dryness, to mood swings, insomnia, and hot flashes2.

Both physiological and psychological symptoms tend to present themselves when a woman enters perimenopause, and continues to remain present until the woman has reached the state of menopause – sometimes even longer. While menopause is associated with a number of symptoms and known to occur in every woman at some point, healthcare providers are advised not to overlook the fact that Thyroid disorders can cause symptoms that are similar to menopause.

The consideration that Thyroid problems may be to blame for symptoms a woman is experiencing, or, in some cases, a clue behind why a particular female patient is experiencing exceptionally severe symptoms of menopause, can help to provide the patient with a more successful outlook.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the complex connection that exists between menopause and Thyroid dysfunction, and consider how symptoms can be alleviated when the right treatment protocol is provided to a patient.

Hypothyroidism – A Deficiency In Thyroid Hormones

Every cell in the human body has a receptor that only responds to the hormones that are produced by the Thyroid gland.

These hormones include thyroxine, or T4, and triiodothyronine, or T33. The Thyroid gland utilizes a combination of tyrosine and iodine to produce these hormones, which is then secreted into your blood circulatory system and transported to every single cell in your body.

The Thyroid gland responds to another hormone, known as Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, or TSH, which signals the gland to produce more T3 and T4 hormones.

In some people, the Thyroid gland becomes affected by inflammation and other particular issues, resulting in a reduced ability to produce Thyroid hormones.

If the T3 and T4 hormones circulating in your bloodstream is found to be insufficient, then you are diagnosed with a condition known as Hypothyroidism, which refers to an underactive Thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism is known to cause several unwanted symptoms in an affected patient. Symptoms tend to vary from patient to patient, depending on how low the particular patient’s Thyroid hormone levels are. Some possible symptoms4 that may be experienced when there is a deficiency of Thyroid hormones in the body include:

  • Fatigue and feeling tired constantly.
  • Weight gain.
  • Sensitivity to cold.
  • Signs of depression, including sadness and unpleasant thoughts.
  • Muscle cramps, weakness and aches.
  • Brittle nails and thin hair.
  • Dry skin, which may also become scaly.
  • A noticeable reduction in sex drive.
  • Problems with thought processing, as well as additional cognitive impairment symptoms.
  • A higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Heavy periods and, in some cases, irregular periods.

The Effects Of Menopause On Hormone Production

At some point in a woman’s life, she will go through a phase that medical professionals refer to as menopause.

Menopause marks the phase in a woman’s life where she will stop having menstruation cycles.

In most cases, the term “menopause” is used to refer to the numerous changes that occur in a woman’s body during the time when her menstruation cycles come to an end. As the woman stops experiencing menstruation cycles, so does her reproductive abilities come to an end.

During menopause, the production of certain hormones is affected, and the body’s ability to respond to some hormones also becomes impaired.

In particular, Follicle-Stimulating Hormone and Luteinizing Hormone, two hormones that stimulate the ovaries to produce other hormones, are no longer responded to as before menopause5.

In turn, this leads to a reduced production of certain hormones, including testosterone, progesterone and, of course, estrogen.

Estrogen, as well as some of the other hormones affected during menopause, are important for the maintenance of a healthy body, and assists with numerous bodily functions. For this reason, a number of systems in the body can be adversely affected by this reduced availability of estrogen in the blood circulatory system.

Some ways that low estrogen levels can affect the female body:

  • Fluctuations in brain biochemical may occur, leading to memory loss, irritability, mental fatigue, anxiety, depression, stress and mood swings.
  • A woman develops a higher risk of developing heart disease, as well as suffering from a heart attack or stroke.
  • Since the body is unable to produce new bone tissue fast enough to support bone loss, the risk of developing osteoporosis and osteopenia increases considerably.
  • Reductions in estrogen levels cause the skin to suffer from poor elasticity and the inability to maintain hydration levels. This might lead to sagging, dry skin, and the development of wrinkles.
  • Energy levels may become adversely affected, causing a woman to feel tired all the time and constantly being faced with fatigue-related symptoms.

How Estrogen Secretion Affects Thyroid Hormones

As science advances, more data is becoming available to help the healthcare industry better understand how the Thyroid gland may be affected by hormones, chemicals and other substances that were not previously discussed in relation to the function of this gland.

Estrogen is an interesting topic when we look at the Thyroid, with breakthroughs only made within the last few decades. A review paper6 published in the Journal of Thyroid Research explains that estrogen hormones bind toward intracellular nuclear receptors, which may include an estrogen receptor alpha or an estrogen receptor beta.

The presence of these receptors within the Thyroid gland’s tissue was first described in 1981, but it wasn’t until 1996 that both alpha and beta receptors were discovered to be present in the tissue of the Thyroid gland.

The discovery of estrogen receptors in the Thyroid gland has led to further research, and the conclusion that estrogen hormones play a role in growth regulation, as well as overall function, of the Thyroid gland.

With these findings in mind, it becomes clear that the depletion of estrogen levels in women who are entering their menopausal phase of life may become problematic – not only for the heart and the brain, but also for the wellbeing and the regulation of the Thyroid gland.

The Bi-Directional Connection Between Hypothyroidism And Menopause

We have touched the topics of both hypothyroidism and menopause in this post, and described the particular physiological reactions of both conditions, accompanied by the particular symptoms that a woman may experience with each.

The reason for describing each topic separately is to come to a conclusion that both of these conditions have an adverse effect on the other, which is an important factor that the healthcare industry needs to take into consideration when a woman visits a physician’s office and complains about obvious symptoms that may represent both of these conditions.

The depletion of estrogen in the blood system leads to the development of both mental and physical symptoms, which may include fatigue, tiredness, poor cognitive function, poor heart health, weak bones and more. At the same time, the reduced levels of Thyroid hormones can lead to the development of similar symptoms.

This causes quite a complication for a healthcare professional dealing with a female patient over 40 years of age, as the cause of the symptoms she is experiencing might be contributed to due to low estrogen levels, as a result of menopause, or it may be caused by poor Thyroid function, as is the case with Hypothyroidism.

In some cases, both conditions may be present at once, which leads to the conclusion that one condition is worsening the symptoms of the other condition.

Physicians who do not conduct an extensive range of tests on a woman experiencing these symptoms could administer the wrong types of medication, as well as an incorrect dosage, to the female patient. This may, in turn, cause the development of additional complications.

To better understand our meaning behind this statement, we want to refer to a study7 provided by the Watson Laboratories in Salt Lake City, USA.

The study concluded that approximately 5% of postmenopausal women are being treated with both estrogen therapy and synthetic Thyroid hormones, due to the presence of both estrogen depletion and reduced Thyroid function.

The study also describes that the usage of estrogen replacement therapy causes an increase in thyroxine-binding globulin levels, a substance that binds to thyroxine.

The result is a reduction in circulation, or bioavailable, thyroxine levels in the patient’s body; thus leading to aggravated symptoms of Hypothyroidism and the need for a higher dosage of synthetic Thyroid hormones in order to restore normal thyroxine levels.

Administering An Adequate Treatment Protocol

Estrogen replacement therapy is known to cause a number of adverse side-effects in women. Bloating, nausea, leg cramps, breast tenderness, swollen breasts, swollen body parts, headaches, vaginal bleeding and indigestion are only some of the possible side-effects that may develop8.

At the same time, the administration of Levothyroxine, a synthetic replacement for Thyroid hormones, might also cause a patient to experience certain side-effects, including headaches, increased perspiration, an increase in their appetite, hyperactivity, anxiety, sensitivity to heat, and weight loss9.

With both treatment options causing unwanted adverse reactions, it becomes obvious that a patient would not want to be at a double risk for suffering complications due to drugs being administered to them. For this reason, reaching a conclusion that a single treatment protocol might assist with alleviating symptoms, or at least reduce the severity of symptoms, may be beneficial and avoid the need for treating a patient with both treatment options.

A study10 published by the Mansoura University Hospitals in Egypt monitored the effects of Hypothyroidism medication in a group of 350 women – with each participant complaining about obvious symptoms related to menopause. Not all women were treated with Hypothyroidism medication.

After T3, T4 and TSH levels were tested through blood samples, 6% of women were diagnosed with Hypothyroidism and 5.1% of women were diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism.

Women not diagnosed with a Thyroid disorder were given standard estrogen replacement drugs, while the participants with a Thyroid disorder were instead given appropriate drugs to assist with their Thyroid problem. No additional synthetic estrogen was provided to the participants with Thyroid disorders.

The study concluded that a treatment approach to addressing low or high Thyroid hormones, including TSH, T4 and T3, may offer women in their menopausal years a relief of some symptoms, without putting the woman at risk of the side-effects associated with the use of estrogen replacement therapy – which includes an increased risk for osteoporosis and heart attacks.

When a woman in her 40’s or early 50’s experience symptoms that obviously signals menopause, physicians should not only rely on tests reporting circulating estrogen levels. While these tests may provide an overview of the woman’s menopausal status, the fact that symptoms may be aggravated by Thyroid dysfunction need to be considered.

Additional tests for Thyroid hormones circulating in the bloodstream may help to identify another approach to treating the symptoms, with a lower risk profile when compared to estrogen replacement therapy.

Conclusion

Menopause is a phase every woman goes through during her middle-ages and can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms.

When estrogen levels decrease, Thyroid function may also be affected, as confirmed by recent scientific studies.

With Thyroid dysfunction, or Hypothyroidism, causing symptoms that mimic those of menopause, women should be wary of their Thyroid during menopause, and healthcare providers need to avoid diagnosing an underactive Thyroid as menopause.

Blood tests can reveal the most critical information regarding estrogen and Thyroid hormone levels in the patient’s body, enabling the healthcare provider to make a more accurate diagnosis and offer the patient a more effective treatment approach.

References

1 Melissa Conrad Stoppler. Menopause (Symptoms, Remedies, and Treatment Medications). eMedicine Health. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/menopause/article_em.htm

2 Are We There Yet? Navigate Now With Our Guided Menopause Tour. The North American Menopause Society. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/menopause-symptoms-and-treatments/are-we-there-yet-navigate-now-with-our-guided-menopause-tour

3 Robert M. Sargis. How Your Thyroid Works. Endocrine Web. https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/thyroid/how-your-thyroid-works

4 Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) – Symptoms. NHS UK. 11 May 2015. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/underactive-thyroid-hypothyroidism/symptoms/

5 How Hormone Depletion Affects You. Women’s Health Research Institute, Northwestern University. http://menopause.northwestern.edu/content/how-hormone-depletion-affects-you

6 Ana Paula Santin and Tania Weber Furlanetto. Role of Estrogen in Thyroid Function and Growth Regulation. Journal of Thyroid Research. 4 May 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3113168/

7 Mazer N.A. Interaction of estrogen therapy and thyroid hormone replacement in postmenopausal women. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2004. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15142374

8 Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – Side effects. NHS UK. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hormone-replacement-therapy-hrt/side-effects/

9 Levothyroxine, Oral Tablet. Healthline. 11 January 2018. https://www.healthline.com/health/levothyroxine-oral-tablet

10 Badawy A., State O., Sherief S. Can thyroid dysfunction explicate severe menopausal symptoms? U.S. National Library of Medicine. 27 July 2007. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17701801

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