Fertility Challenges & The Thyroid Connection
By the time I was physically, emotionally, and financially ready to have a baby, my body had lived on a heavy diet of cortisol and adrenaline for 5 years after a serious accident with a semi-truck derailed my life.
Looking back on my life, I basically was unknowingly the poster child for Hashimoto’s disease — Type A go-getter with an 80+ work week as a chef, nurturer to everyone but myself plus brain trauma, PTSD and severe anxiety from the accident. And before that, I’d had a heaping of hormone madness with birth control pills for 15 years and ingestion of serious environmental toxins from living right next to LAX for 10 years. It was a recipe for thyroid dysfunction for sure, and one of the first signs should have been that I was not getting pregnant as quickly as I’d liked.
As I was not diagnosed yet, we have no idea if my challenges were due to my thyroid or not, but what I have since learned is that there is a major connection between thyroid, autoimmunity and fertility… and many of the things you would do to heal one will heal the others.
The connection between thyroid, autoimmunity and fertility challenges are complicated, but important. Your thyroid function is critical to your fertility, ability to conceive, and ability to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Not only that, your thyroid hormones are important for your baby’s healthy brain and nervous system development, especially in the first 12 weeks.
So, if you’re hoping to grow your family, it’s vital to understand and get a handle on your thyroid issues ASAP.
How your thyroid affects your fertility
Scientific studies have found that women have challenges getting pregnant or maintaining a pregnancy at higher TSH levels. They’ve also found a connection between thyroid antibody levels and infertility, so it’s important to have your antibodies checked if you are trying to get pregnant.
If you have low levels of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), it can actually interfere with the regular release of eggs from your ovaries, causing infertility. Research has shown that our ovaries are incredibly sensitive to changes in thyroid hormone, and even a slight decrease (still within “normal” ranges) can cause problems. Research also shows that 70 percent of women who suffer from PMS have low thyroid hormone.
In addition, some of the underlying causes of thyroid conditions — including autoimmune disorders or pituitary disorders — can have a negative effect on fertility themselves.
Universal thyroid tests for pregnant women haven’t been recommended yet, but the American Thyroid Society does recommend you have your thyroid function tested if you hope to become pregnant and meet any of the following criteria.
If you are a woman:
- with a personal history of thyroid dysfunction and/or thyroid surgery
- with a family history of thyroid disease
- with a goiter
- with thyroid antibodies
- with symptoms or clinical signs that may suggest hypothyroidism
- with type I diabetes
- with a history of either miscarriage or preterm delivery
- with other autoimmune disorders that are often linked to autoimmune thyroid problems, such as: vitiligo, adrenal insufficiency, hypoparathyroidism, atrophic gastritis, pernicious anemia, systemic sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjogren’s syndrome
- with infertility
- who has previously received radiation to the head or neck area as a cancer treatment, or who have had multiple dental x-rays
- who are morbidly obese, which is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of over 40, or a body weight that is 20% or more over ideal body weight
- who are age 30 or older
- who has been treated with amiodarone (Cordarone) for heart rhythm irregularities
- who has been treated with lithium
- who, in the previous six weeks, has been exposed to iodine in a medical test contrast agent.
Many of the standard thyroid tests are not sensitive enough to detect low ovarian thyroid hormones, so be sure to work with a doctor who understands that specialized testing may be necessary.
Something that’s overlooked is that infertility can also be linked to energetic problems. Your 2nd chakra, known as the sacral chakra and located two fingers below your belly button, is the energetic center associated with creativity and fertility. When your energy is blocked here, it can result not just in emotional and spiritual problems, but physical problems as well — especially including problems with our reproductive cycle and organs.
In her book, Anatomy of the Spirit, The Seven Stages of Power and Healing author and medical intuitive Carolyn Myss, Ph.D., theorizes that many women’s reproductive problems can be associated with second chakra issues. “Problems with menstruation, cramps and PMS are classic indications that she is in some kind of conflict with being a woman…,” she says. In addition, Myss’ writes that infertility can be similarly associated with energetic and emotional issues, with the flow of eggs blocked by negative energy and emotions.
Recently, I discovered Kim Anami’s Vaginal Kung Fu program — as an answer to my mild incontinence problems caused by a weakened pelvic floor — and I was surprised and very pleased to discover that going through her program and exercises also had the effect of opening up my 2nd chakra energy. I highly recommend giving it a try if you think energetic problems might be a contributing factor to your infertility.
How to increase your fertility + my favorite resources
The good news is that everything you’re doing to support and heal your thyroid will also bring your body back into balance and support your fertility. If you’re looking for a plan to get on the right track, my Thyroid Fix in Six program is a wonderful, gentle place to start healing your whole body, and Kim’s Vaginal Kung Fu is a more, um, “hands-on” approach to healing your physical and energetic body around your reproductive system and 2nd chakra.
In addition to supporting your thyroid generally, there are a few things you can do to support your fertility more specifically:
- Avoid trans fats and too much animal protein. Too much of these is linked to higher ovulation problems. Avoid trans fats altogether and switch one serving of animal protein per day to a vegetable source, like beans or nuts (if they don’t cause problems for you).
- Enjoy one serving of full-fat dairy every day. The more low-fat dairy you eat, the higher your risk of ovulation problems. Switching even one serving a day helps combat that problem.
- Take your vitamins. Take a multivitamin that contains iron and folic acid, with your healthcare provider’s go-ahead. You can also eat more iron and folic-acid rich foods, like leafy greens.
- Watch your supplements. Talk with your healthcare provider about the supplements you’re taking. Some can interfere with fertility including licorice, sassafras, ginseng, and St. John’s wort.
- Avoid raw fish and mercury. Adopt the same rules for fish that you would while pregnant and avoid raw fish, sushi, and large fish that have high mercury levels.
- Cut down on toxins in your environment. Even small amounts of toxins can be devastating to our fertility and a growing foetus. Switch out personal care products, cleaning products, and air fresheners for natural alternatives.
- Check for MTHFR. The MTHFR gene mutation can cause higher incidents of fertility problems and miscarriage. The good news is that understanding which of the mutations you carry (if any) can help you treat the problem.
What I did to get my baby made
When my husband and I realized that we were having trouble getting pregnant, I started to educate myself and change my lifestyle and diet to support my fertility.
Here’s what I did to support my fertility:
1. Read and followed, Take Control of Your Fertility, which helps you to understand your body’s fertility signs and use them to predict fertility.
2. Eliminated gluten and started a nourishing meal plan such as Nourishing Traditions. There’s some evidence to suggest that a subset of women with otherwise unexplained infertility may have their fertility affected by gluten.
3. Eliminated Soy—The phytoestrogens in soy can knock out of whack the delicate hormonal balance our bodies need to conceive.
4. Reduced Stress—There’s lots of anecdotal evidence that stress is an enemy to fertility. It’s definitely an enemy of your thyroid, so it’s a good idea to reduce stress regardless.
Once I started applying these tactics, I was able to get pregnant within a month. Of course, everyone’s body and situation is different, but these are all healthy ways to bring your body back into balance and get it ready to support the miracle of life!
I wish I’d had Kim’s Vaginal Kung Fu program back then to add to my fertility plan — but now I recommend it my clients who are struggling with infertility as another tool in their toolbox to return to optimal whole body health.
If you’re interested in learning more about Kim’s program, check out this short podcast interview we did below, or watch her free video series.
A quick warning: I know we’re all adults here, but Kim uses very adult language and humor in her programs and brand. Rather than worrying about the kind of language she uses, though, I hope you’ll dive right in and realize that she is an incredible warrior for all women and that her site and programs are a safe space for us to heal and be our real selves.
If you’d like to listen to Part 1 of my interview series with Kim, click here.
And, check out Kim’s free video series on her website. I learned so much from them before I enrolled in her courses. I’ve now taken 3 of her courses (this one, this one and this one). Powerful stuff, friends.