By Christine Sullivan, Naturopath + Natural Fertility Consultant
You may have achieved many goals in your life. Alas when it comes to falling pregnant it seems this treasured goal remains frustratingly out of reach.
You are not alone as many couples now experience the disappointment and heartache associated with fertility problems.
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive within one year of actively trying for a baby. There can be a wide range of reasons why you are experiencing problems.
Is it possible your thyroid health is a factor? Is a thyroid disorder preventing your ability to achieve a much longed for pregnancy? Could this be the ‘missing link’?
Thyroid Health And Problems With Conception
If you suspect your thyroid may be hindering your chances of conception it’s a good idea to discuss performing comprehensive thyroid testing with your healthcare practitioner. In fact, I believe this should be routine with any preconception assessment.
In my clinical practice I find a very high proportion of my clients that have problems with falling pregnant are also experiencing many of the signs and symptoms of a low thyroid.
This is especially common in individuals who have been advised they have an ‘unexplained fertility disorder’.
Proper thyroid testing should be done by all women before falling pregnant. This advice is even more important if there is a family history of thyroid health issues, a miscarriage has occurred previously, the menstrual cycle is irregular, or conception has not taken place after six months of actively trying.
What Every Woman Needs To Know About Thyroid Health And Pregnancy
The thyroid gland is located at the front of the throat alongside the voice box. It plays an important role in overall health as every cell in the body depends upon the thyroid hormones to regulate a wide range of metabolic processes.
If your thyroid slows down your metabolism slows down. This makes you feel tired, you put weight on more easily and your body temperature feels colder than normal.
Thyroid health is dependent on key thyroid hormone activity. Thyroid releasing hormone (TRH) is released from the hypothalamus located within the brain. TRH stimulates the pituitary gland at the base of the brain to release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which in turn stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
The majority of T4 is converted to more active T3 in the liver. Thyroid hormones are manufactured using iodine and the amino acid tyrosine which the body sources from dietary protein. T4 to T3 conversion is assisted by adequate dietary intake of two critical minerals zinc and selenium.
Two key things you need to know about thyroid health and pregnancy:
+ Your thyroid is central to a healthy and happy pregnancy.
A drop in thyroid hormone activity during pregnancy can make you more prone to fatigue, hair loss, mood changes, morning sickness, and pregnancy complications.
+ A healthy thyroid aids normal growth and development of the unborn baby.
The thyroid hormones fuel healthy nervous system development. In fact, low thyroid hormone activity is linked to intellectual delays in infants and children.
What Factors Impact Your Thyroid Health?
These are the main factors that put you at risk of developing a thyroid problem;
- Exposure to environmental toxins. This includes pesticides and industrial chemicals.
- Heavy metal toxicity. Sources include mercury from dental fillings and lead from older paint.
- Genetic susceptibility. Thyroid disorders tend to run in families.
- Persistent and high levels of stress.
- Specific nutrient deficiencies. This includes low body stores of iodine, zinc and selenium.
- Past infections and illness.
- Exposure to low level electromagnetic radiation (EMR).
- Acute exposure to radiation or radioactive fallout.
- Hormone imbalances.
How Does Low Thyroid Health Affect Couples Wishing To Have A Baby?
The menstrual cycle is much more complex than you might imagine. It’s a carefully orchestrated process that provides a small window of opportunity for an egg to be fertilised by sperm each month.
Thyroid problems can interrupt this complex process which may result in an irregular menstrual cycle, even the absence of menstruation which is referred to as amenorrhea.
There are typically three phases in your monthly menstrual cycle which are controlled by two chief hormones follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH).
Anovulatory cycles is a technical term that indicates there is a lack of ovulation. When this occurs your body is not releasing an egg which means fertilisation cannot take place. The hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH) has the essential task of stimulating the ovary to release an egg each month.
When thyroid hormone levels are not ideal they cannot support the release of LH. Menstruation still takes place however you may not be aware that ovulation has failed to occur.
Luteal Phase Problems
The luteal phase refers to the second half of the menstrual cycle. If this luteal phase is too short a fertilised egg fails to implant in the lining of the uterus as it takes 13 to 15 days for a fertilised egg to mature.
Eventually the fertilised egg ends up leaving the body at the same time that menstruation normally occurs. This is in fact an early miscarriage event and is often missed along with menstruation.
Low Body Temperature
Normally a woman’s body temperature rises slightly prior to ovulation. However low thyroid health is linked to lower than normal body temperature throughout the menstrual cycle.
Low body temperature can also affect the foetus as the rapidly dividing cells of the developing baby require a precise temperature range for ongoing division to take place. When your body temperature is too low the developing baby may be unable to continue to grow. This also increases the risk of early miscarriage.
High Prolactin Levels
Elevated levels of thyroid releasing hormone (TRH) and low levels of thyroxine (T4) together can result in excess production of prolactin. This hormone is normally produced by the pituitary within the brain to promote lactation during breast feeding.
High levels will impede fertility by preventing ovulation. Furthermore, too much prolactin can affect normal menstruation.
Other Hormonal Imbalances
For women trying to fall pregnant an underlying hormone imbalance can affect the natural rhythm of their menstrual cycle. Your cycle can become irregular, or even cease completely if the balance of estrogen and progesterone is disturbed.
Your Libido Can Affect Fertility
A woman’s sex drive is influenced by a number of physical and emotional factors. Hormones can have a powerful effect on your sexual desire.
Low libido is commonly accompanied by other symptoms of a hormonal imbalance such as premenstrual syndrome, fatigue, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.
When a hormone imbalance is combined with the fatigue and mood changes associated with a thyroid disorder it really can dampen sexual desire. But there is good news. When women get their hormones back in balance including their thyroid hormones they often regain their sexual drive.
How Can Men Prepare For a Healthy Pregnancy?
You may already know it’s just as important for men to prepare for a healthy pregnancy. There are many lifestyle factors that mess with the quality of the sperm a man produces which in turn affects their partner’s chances of falling pregnant.
Smoking, too much alcohol, exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace, recreational drug use and a poor diet can affect sperm quality.
When it comes to thyroid health this can also impact on male reproductive health and fertility. Thyroid hormone activity can affect sperm production as a large number of thyroid hormone receptors are present on the steroli cells of the testes. These cells are responsible for nurturing healthy sperm.
Low thyroid health in fathers to be can also result in reduced testosterone production, a lower libido, erectile dysfunction, poor testicular function and reduced sperm numbers and activity.
Christine Sullivan is a highly qualified Naturopath & Natural Fertility Consultant based in Brisbane, Australia. www.naturalfertilitysupport.com