How Hypothyroidism Affects Sex Hormones in Men & Women
Hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone, can have negative effects on sex hormone production and regulation in both men and women. It happened to me. I began having thyroid issues at 30 years old and developed constant, heavy menstrual bleeding. The doctor's solution at the time was to patchwork my symptoms with the brith control pill, instead of asking, "Why would a healthy 30-year old women be having hormonal issues?"
Had my doctor been informed, he would have tested my thyroid immediately to see if it was the culprit...but he previously tested my thyroid incorrectly and not comprehensively - and so he was unable to detect my serious hypothyroidism which was the cause of my menstrual irregularities. During my struggle with undiagnosed and untreated hypothyroidism - I was misdiagnosed with PCOS and I developed a polyp and a fibroid in my uterus (the polyp had to be surgically removed). Thanks, hypothyroidism! However, after fixing my thyroid issues, I never had a single hormonal issue (until Perimenopause rolled around - more on that later).
The thyroid is the master gland, and when it’s off - it’s ALL OFF. When it’s fixed - things work the way they should. Thyroid hormones play a critical role in regulating the production and activity of sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. When the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone, it can lead to imbalances in sex hormone levels and function.
In women, hypothyroidism can cause menstrual irregularities, decreased libido, and difficulty getting pregnant (or miscarriages). Thyroid hormones play a role in regulating the menstrual cycle, and low levels can disrupt this process. In men, hypothyroidism can cause decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, and a decrease in sperm count. Thyroid hormones play a role in regulating testosterone levels, and low levels of thyroid can lead to a decrease in testosterone production.
Once you fix the thyroid issue (whether through natural methods or thyroid hormone replacement) sex hormones come back into balance! The exception: If you are a perimenopausal or menopausal woman...this bounce-back is less likely to occur, and in the event the hormones don't come back in ideal amounts, you can choose to begin sex hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Hormone replacement therapy for women in perimenopause and menopause is a treatment that involves supplementing a woman's declining levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone during this stage of life. Some women start with one replacement hormone, some need 2 out of the 3 hormones, some need all of them. It is different for everyone. Let's break down the benefits of the various sex hormones for women.
- Improved bone density: Testosterone can help to increase bone density and reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
- Increased muscle mass and strength: Testosterone can help to improve muscle mass, strength, and exercise performance.
- Improved libido and sexual function: Testosterone can help to increase libido and improve sexual function in women with low testosterone levels.
- Improved mood and well-being: Testosterone can help to improve mood, energy levels, and overall sense of well-being.
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease: Testosterone may help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in women by improving cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, and improving blood vessel function.
- Regulates menstrual cycle: Progesterone helps regulate the menstrual cycle, promotes ovulation, and prepares the uterus for pregnancy.
- Reduces symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS): Progesterone can help alleviate common PMS symptoms, such as bloating, breast tenderness, mood swings, and headaches.
- Supports pregnancy: Progesterone is essential for maintaining a healthy pregnancy as it helps to maintain the uterine lining and prevent premature contractions.
- Helps reduce the risk of uterine cancer: Progesterone helps to balance the effects of estrogen in the body and can reduce the risk of uterine cancer.
- Relieves menopausal symptoms: Progesterone can be used as part of hormone replacement therapy to alleviate menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.
- Reduces the risk of osteoporosis: Progesterone may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis by stimulating the activity of bone-building cells.
- Reduces hot flashes and night sweats: Estrogen therapy can alleviate hot flashes and night sweats, which are common symptoms of menopause.
- Improves vaginal dryness and discomfort: Estrogen can help to improve vaginal dryness, discomfort, and pain during sexual activity.
- Protects bone health: Estrogen therapy can help to maintain bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis in menopausal women.
- Reduces the risk of colon cancer: Estrogen therapy may reduce the risk of colon cancer in postmenopausal women.
- Improves mood and cognitive function: Estrogen can help to improve mood, cognitive function, and memory in menopausal women.
If you are a woman under the age of 50/45 and have hormonal imbalances + untreated hypothyroidism, work with your doctor to correct the thyroid issue first and see if things turn around hormonally once your body has enough thyroid hormones to produce sex hormones. There are cases where women experience menopause earlier than mid-to-late forties and so you might need HRT sooner. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine if HRT is the right choice for you.
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