In ancient times, the thyroid was known as the “third ovary”. Today we understand that as the most important gland in the body, directing the production of a variety of hormones, the thyroid gland has a significant impact on a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle.
In a perfect world, the menstrual cycle occurs every 28 days and lasts around four to five days. Extreme pain, cramping, heavy bleeding and irritability are not part of a normal cycle. However, in the past 30 years, many women will attest to increased problems with their monthly periods and a higher incidence of infertility issues and miscarriage.
Today we recognize that our environment is being bombarded with excessive amounts of estrogen in the food and water we consume, in plastics that hold our food and personal care products, birth control pills and even in the air we breath. John Lee, M.D. is the author of several books, including What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause. Dr. Lee is credited with creating the term “estrogen dominance”, whereby the amount of estrogen is out of balance with the amount of progesterone in the system. Dr. Lee is a strong advocate for the use of progesterone cream to restore hormonal balance to a woman’s system. While the environment plays a key role in creating estrogen dominance, the thyroid is also crucial to maintaining a hormonal balance.
When you combine an increased incidence of thyroid disorders and an over-abundance of estrogen sources in the environment, it is no wonder that menstrual disorders and fertility problems are also on the rise.
Normally, girls begin menstruating around age 12-13. In cases where menstruation begins as early as 10 years old, hypothyroidism may be the cause. Conversely, if a girl is still not menstruating by the age of 15, hyperthyroidism could be causing the delay.
In women suffering with hypothyroidism, it is not uncommon for menses to occur every 21 days and to last for up to seven days. Increased PMS symptoms, extreme pain and excessive heavy bleeding often accompany periods. This in turn can cause anemia and make it very difficult for women to function normally. Unfortunately doctors do not always recognize the connection between frequent, excessive periods and thyroid function. Birth control pills are often suggested as the solution, but this only adds to the hormone imbalance and does not address the underlying problem.
Hyperthyroidism creates a different set of problems. Women who are hyperthyroid often experience a very light and infrequent period, or may even experience no period at all, called amenorrhea.
In both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, fertility can be impaired. If a woman is experiencing difficulty in becoming pregnant, it is important that her doctor consider thyroid testing.
The elimination of as many sources of excess estrogen and bringing the thyroid in balance with diet and medication are vital to restoring a normal menstrual cycle. The use of both iodine and natural progesterone cream may play a beneficial role in normalizing hormone levels.
It is important to note that thyroid dysfunction also affects fertility levels in men. Hyperthyroid men experience increased amounts of testosterone, which affects sperm development. Hypothyroidism decreases overall sperm count. So, if infertility is an issue, please be sure to consider the role the thyroid plays in treating fertility issues in men.
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