Menopause and thyroid dysfunction: one is inevitable for women (if we are lucky to live that long) while the other is common. Both affect millions of women every year.
The thyroid gland, which sits low in the neck, is considered one of the master hormone glands in the body and affects everything from our metabolism, cardiovascular function, the immune system, digestive health, mood and our body’s stress response. The thyroid especially affects our sex hormones.
Menopause typically occurs for most women in their late 40s to early/mid 50s but can also be surgically or medication induced and involves dramatic changes to our sex hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, and cortisol. As these fluctuate many women start to experience symptoms that we commonly associate with menopause: mood swings, hot flashes, irregular or heavy menses, vaginal dryness and changes in hair and skin. Because these symptoms frequently occur, it is easy to confuse “common” with “normal” and chalk it all up the change. Not so fast.
The thyroid gland acts like the thermostat of the body and is particularly vulnerable under times of stress. Major stressors like giving birth and being post-partum, being a student, mid-life, post-illness or surgery often coincide with major hormonal transitions like pregnancy, puberty, and menopause. When our body is under stress our thyroid gland kicks in to either rev us up or slow us down if we are in danger of burning out. Living a fast-paced life, many of us become susceptible to both sex hormone imbalances and thyroid disturbances.
If our sex hormones are imbalanced, our thyroid function will be affected and vise versa. For example, depression, weight gain (particularly around the middle), scalp hair loss, body hair growth, menstrual irregularities, poor concentration, osteoporosis, fatigue, insomnia and low libido are common to both hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and menopause.
Since these patterns tend to be related to stress, it’s crucial to practice stress-reduction techniques and self-care (check out my Calm the F Down Self Care guide here), exercise and eat healthily. More importantly, however, we must determine the cause of these symptoms: poor thyroid function? Sex hormone imbalance? Both? Rather than spending time chasing your tail and taking unnecessary medications, it makes much more sense to determine the root cause of your symptoms.
Getting a proper assessment is critical in establishing YOUR best course of action. In particular, I find the DUTCH Hormone test and a complete thyroid panel especially helpful. You may also want to look into these other tests for fatigue and hormonal imbalance. Often bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can be a game-changer for women throughout the peri-menopausal years and beyond to help restore quality sleep, balance moods and reduce heavy bleeding.
Thyroid and hormone imbalances are common and can be improved when working with a Naturopathic Doctor as part of an individualized treatment plan to age gracefully with plenty of energy as you enter this exciting time of life.
Sound like you? Have questions about your thyroid or hormones? Book a complimentary Health Discovery Session with me to chat more about your options.
It is a persistent ache-in-your-bones feeling, like walking through mud every day and struggling to do the little things. It is the disorientation of not feeling like yourself for the past few weeks, months or years. It clouds your brain, steals your sense of humour and weighs heavily on your relationships. And then there’s the guilt and self-judgement about why you just can’t seem to get it together.
One of the biggest struggles that people with persistent fatigue face is that outwardly they look normal. Coworkers, friends and families may offer “helpful” suggestions about being more organized or going to bed earlier (a great point, but not THE point) or completely fail to understand. Even physicians may struggle to help once the basic blood work comes back “normal”.
Lifestyle factors can and do play a massive role, so it is critical to ensure that you are getting enough good quality sleep, eating well, exercising, managing stress and taking good care of yourself. Working with a therapist, registered massage therapist, personal trainer and your health team can be helpful to make sure you’re covering your bases.
If you are already addressing these areas and still feel like something is missing, Naturopathic Medicine can be a great solution. The next step is digging deeper and doing a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the fatigue and how these factors might be affecting your overall health.
Here are some of the most important lab tests that we run to assess the fatigue you’re experiencing.
Ferritin and iron panel – ferritin, % saturation, serum iron and total iron binding
Thyroid Panel – a full panel includes TSH, free T4, free T3, reverse T3 and anti-TPO
DUTCH Hormone Test
Autoimmune and Inflammatory Markers – hs-CRP, ESR, ANA, rheumatoid factor, tissue transglutaminase IgG and/or IgA
Organic Acids Test
Other factors to consider:
You know yourself best. If you feel that something is off, you are probably right. It is better to know where you stand and choose to work with a health care provider that can offer you the evaluations you need to get to the bottom of things.
A thorough investigation is important, but it is even more important to have a plan in place to address what you find.
Diet and lifestyle factors like how you eat, how you move, how you sleep and managing your stress will ALWAYS need to be a part of any treatment plan you undertake. It can be easy to get caught up in a complicated regimine of supplements and medications, but focusing on a strong foundation is what really determines your outcome.
If you have “tried everything”, have you been consistent enough? Being fatigued IS exhausting and it is only natural to get excited about the next newest thing… but nothing will work if you don’t give it a fair shot.
You need a team. The support of a partner or friend or online community can make a world of difference when you are suffering from an invisible illness. Work together with your health care providers to get the right assessments and guidance to help you recover. If you feel unsupported, unheard or like you are bothering your provider, find another professional to work with that will take your concerns seriously.
Working with a Naturopathic Doctor to address the causes of chronic fatigue can be invaluable to your recovery by helping you systematically address each of the areas above and make a concrete plan based on YOU.
If this sounds like you, I invite you to schedule a complimentary Health Discovery session with me to talk more about your specific concerns. Please share this article with someone you know that is suffering.
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Dr. Keila Roesner is a Naturopathic Doctor. When not treating patients she is also an enthusiastic barefoot-strolling, music-loving, yoga-doing kitchen wiz - who also happens to be a wrestling fan.