At Renew Youth, we have been specializing in the treatment of age-related hormone imbalance since 1999. While many of our clients come to us understanding that they may need more estrogen (for menopause treatment) or more testosterone (for andropause treatment), many of our new clients have not considered that they may be suffering from thyropause as well.
Thyropause is a colloquial term for low thyroid or hypothyroidism. Thyroid imbalances are common, yet notoriously undiagnosed. Roughly 30 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid imbalance, and The American Thyroid Association estimates that 60 percent of these individuals are unaware of it.
Thyroid imbalances are more common as people age—hence the term “thyropause”. An estimated 45 percent of individuals over 50 have some degree of thyroid inflammation, which is considered a precursor to thyroid imbalance.
How Low Thyroid Affects the Body
Sometimes called the “traffic control hormone,” thyroid plays an essential role in the endocrine system, helping to ensure the balance of other vital hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. Thyroid also helps regulate metabolic processes within every tissue of the body and drives the production of important neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
When the thyroid gland stops producing sufficient hormone, it can have far-reaching effects on many different systems in the body. However, the most common symptoms include:
- Weight Gain
- Hair Loss
- Brain Fog
- Memory Problems
- Dry Skin
Note that these symptoms are also commonly associated with menopause and andropause. Often, low testosterone, low estrogen, or low thyroid are not solely responsible for of any one of these symptoms. Instead, symptoms can be caused by a combination of imbalances in these and other hormones. This is why simply replacing testosterone or estrogen—without addressing thyroid—may not be enough to provide optimal relief.
Understanding Thyroid Function
To properly diagnose and treat thyropause, it’s important to understand how thyroid hormones are produced in the body.
The process begins with the production of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) in the pituitary. As TSH levels increase, it acts as a signal to the thyroid gland that it needs to produce more of a thyroid hormone called T4. This process can only occur if there is enough iodine available in the body, since all thyroid hormones contain iodine atoms.
Ultimately, T4 has to be broken down into another thyroid hormone called T3, which in turn gets broken down into T3 Free. T3 Free is the most bioavailable version of thyroid, and accounts for more than 80 percent of thyroid function. T4 is converted into T3 and T3 Free by way of various enzymes that remove iodine atoms from the T4. This forms not only T3 but also thyroid metabolites that help to recycle iodine within the body and regulate thyroid bioavailability.
For T3 to actually do its work, it has to get into the cells that need it. This is where thyroid receptors come in. For optimal receptor response, levels of Vitamin D and cortisol must also be within healthy ranges.
Optimally, the roles of TSH, T3, T4, related enzymes, and the nutrients required to produce, transport, and metabolize them should all be considered when evaluating thyroid function.
Thyropause is Increasingly Common
Despite being underdiagnosed, experts believe thyropause is becoming increasingly common within the population. Why? Because thyroid function is diminished by poor nutrition, stress, and environmental toxins—three problems that have been growing in recent decades.
The Role of Nutrition
Depending on what you eat, your diet can help or hurt thyroid function. The following nutrients are vital for proper thyroid metabolism:
- Iodine: As noted above, iodine is a key building block of thyroid hormones.
- Selenium: This mineral is needed to produce the enzymes that perform important tasks related to thyroid metabolism. The body cannot convert T4 to T3 without selenium. This mineral is also used to produce a protein that protects the thyroid from damage from the free radicals that are naturally produced during thyroid hormone synthesis.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin—it’s a hormone. Receptors for this hormone are found within the thyroid gland, and Vitamin D also affects the function of receptors for thyroid hormones in other parts of the body. Low Vitamin D is associated with certain thyroid diseases, perhaps in part because Vitamin D protects against inflammation, and inflammation can reduce levels of circulating thyroid hormones. Most of the body’s stores of this nutrient are produced in response to sun exposure.
- Iron: A blood cell protein called ferritin plays an important role in transporting T3 to the cells where it will be used. Ferritin can’t be made without healthy levels of iron.
Unfortunately, deficiencies in these thyroid-supportive nutrients are common. Many people simply don’t eat a balanced diet that naturally provides enough of these nutrients. Another issue is that the food we eat may not contain as much of these desired nutrients as we expect. After years of intensive farming, many of the world’s soils are now depleted. As a result, our food supply contains lower levels of trace minerals like iodine and selenium. Low Vitamin D is common because many people don’t get enough sun exposure.
Aside from seeking out thyroid-supportive nutrients, it’s important to avoid foods that can impair thyroid function. This includes anything that can contribute to chronic inflammation—such as sugary and highly processed foods—because inflammation can interfere with circulating thyroid hormones. A sugary diet can also cause insulin spikes, which are damaging to thyroid function.
Toxic Exposure Impairs Thyroid Function
Environmental contamination is another growing problem in today’s world. Heavy metals, industrial chemicals, and pesticides are found in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the products we use in our homes on a daily basis. Some of the most damaging substances for thyroid function include:
Bromine: Because bromine is chemically very similar to iodine, it competes with iodine within the thyroid gland. If there is too much bromine in the body, the thyroid will use bromine instead of iodine to produce inactive thyroid hormones. High levels of bromine can come from food additives and from the environment. Perhaps the most common source of bromine exposure is a flame retardant called polybrominated diphenyl ether or PBDE, which is commonly used on mattresses, car seats, and carpets.
Mercury & Arsenic: Both of these heavy metals can form tight complexes with selenium, leaving less selenium available to create the enzymes needed to properly activate and metabolize thyroid hormones. The most common source of arsenic exposure is fish, shellfish, and seaweed taken from contaminated waters. Exposure to mercury typically comes from industrial activities or everyday items like lightbulbs, paint, and silver amalgam dental fillings.
Cadmium: Rated the fourth most toxic heavy metal, cadmium can build up in the thyroid to where it damages the gland and interferes with thyroid hormone production and metabolism. Sources of cadmium exposure include air pollution from industrial smelting, fossil fuels, and waste incineration, as well as tobacco smoke.
Perchlorate: Like bromine, perchlorate can block iodine absorption in the thyroid. Perchlorate performs this task so well it was once used to treat individuals who produced too much thyroid—until it was discovered to cause toxic side effects. Perchlorate is used to produce rocket fuel, fertilizer, and fireworks, and runoff containing this chemical contaminated many local water supplies before the EPA started regulating it in 2011.
Nitrates: Nitrates are yet another substance that can compete with iodine and reduce thyroid hormone production. Nitrates are not only linked to increased risk of hypothyroidism (low thyroid) but also to increased risk of thyroid cancer. They are commonly used as a preservative in processed meats like hot dogs and bacon.
Stress and Thyropause
Stress is a chronic issue for many people in our modern-day world. While a little stress is OK, chronic stress can be extremely damaging to the body.
In response to stress, the adrenal glands release cortisol, which triggers the fight or flight response in the form of adrenaline. Simultaneously, thyroid hormone will be produced, telling the cells to burn energy. From there, complex feedback loops involving the adrenals and the thyroid let the body know when the threat has passed and the adrenals can reset.
When stress is ongoing, cortisol is overproduced. Eventually, the adrenal glands may become worn out and may be unable to produce the small amounts of cortisol that the body needs to function optimally.
Whether cortisol is too high from chronic stress or too low from adrenal fatigue, thyroid function can suffer. T3 receptors involved in the adrenal-thyroid feedback loop can become less sensitive, TSH production can be blocked, and the conversion of T4 to T3 can be impaired.
Why Most Doctors Don’t Diagnose Thyropause
Unfortunately, many doctors follow outdated protocols for menopause and andropause treatment that do not call for testing or treating thyroid imbalances. Even among doctors who do test for thyroid, the testing is often done incorrectly.
Most doctors rely on two tests for diagnosing low thyroid: TSH and T4. The problem with this approach is that having optimal TSH and T4 doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have adequate levels of T3 and T3 Free. In fact, it’s quite common for individuals to have normal TSH and T4, and still suffer from symptoms of thyropause.
Another problem is that many doctors diagnose thyroid function based upon the “normal” lab tested range for thyroid hormones, rather than the “optimal” range. Thyroid experts indicate that individuals who test in the bottom half of the “normal” range can still show clinical signs of hypothyroidism. In other words, the top half of the “normal” lab tested range is considered “optimal.” Individuals who do not fall into this range should be provided with options for improving thyroid function.
Common Thyropause Treatment Mistakes
Even if you find a doctor who recognizes that you are suffering from thyropause, you may not get the treatment you need due to one or more of the following:
Synthetic T4 only: Many doctors prescribe a synthetic version of T4. While this will raise T4 levels, it may not help as it should if you’re one of many people who don’t efficiently break T4 down into T3.
Low dosages: Many doctors will not give you the amount of thyroid hormone you need to feel your best and may only boost levels to the low end of the normal range—not the optimal range.
High dosages: When treatment involves too much T4 or T3, it can create a negative feedback loop that can cause the pituitary to reduce TSH production.
Ignoring stress: Many doctors don’t consider the impact that cortisol can have on T3 levels. High cortisol will block T3 production, while low cortisol from adrenal fatigue will interfere with thyroid receptor function. For some patients, it’s necessary to test cortisol levels and address adrenal dysfunction in addition to thyroid.
Overlooking nutrition: Without the key nutrients necessary to support thyroid function, supplementing T4 or T3 may not be as effective as it should be. Doctors should always make sure patients are aware of the importance of getting enough iodine, selenium, iron, and vitamin D. It may even be necessary to run tests to check for any nutritional deficiencies that may compromise the effectiveness of thyropause treatment.
How to Conquer Thyropause
If you’re suffering from fatigue, weight gain, depression, and other issues that characterize thyropause, remember that these symptoms often overlap with common andropause and menopause symptoms. Therefore, you cannot expect to fully conquer your symptoms by addressing thyroid alone. Instead, all hormones that become unbalanced with age should be tested and treated for optimal relief.
In addition to ensuring your hormones are balanced, you can support thyroid function by doing the following:
Eat Right: Getting enough iodine and selenium is particularly important. Cutting down on inflammatory foods and eating more antioxidant-rich ones will also help support thyroid function.
Protect Against Toxicity: A number of toxins can build up in your body and in the thyroid gland itself. Protect yourself by avoiding contaminants in the environment and in your diet as much as you can. Also ensure your body’s natural detoxification system is supported. Eat plenty of liver-friendly nutrients like zinc, B-vitamins, and antioxidants, and consider exercising to build more lean muscle, since muscle tissue plays a role in clearing toxins from the body.
Care for Your Adrenals: Since adrenal fatigue can have a negative impact on thyroid function, it’s important to care for your adrenals. Get tested to see where your adrenal function stands. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques can all help you to de-stress and protect your adrenals from becoming fatigued. If adrenal fatigue has already set in, consider treatments such as supplementing pregnenolone, which is a precursor to cortisol.
Get Comprehensive Treatment at Renew Youth™
At Renew Youth, we offer comprehensive hormone replacement therapy that can help you to conquer the overlapping symptoms of thyropause and menopause or andropause. We start with lab tests to check levels of all relevant hormones—including the right set of thyroid hormones (not just TSH). We also carefully evaluate your symptoms. From there, we create a personalized treatment program designed to help you look and feel your best. If replacing thyroid is called for, we will use enough bioidentical hormone to raise your levels of both T4 and T3 into the “optimal” range. We can also provide supplements that will help your body to use thyroid and other hormones efficiently to maximize symptom relief.
If you would like to learn more about treating thyropause with Renew Youth, please contact us today.