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Weight gain, hair thinning, and fatigue are symptoms that women may experience in both menopause and hypothyroidism. Both conditions can strike at around the same time, in middle age women, with 51 being the average age of onset for menopause in North America.

Although menopause and hypothyroidism can often occur around the same time, it is important to be mindful of the overlapping symptoms; to consider blood work to check your thyroid function and to consider the lifestyle and dietary factors that may help maintain a healthy thyroid as you enter middle age.

What is the Definition of Menopause?

Menopause is defined as the absence of a menstrual period for 12 months. This occurs due to a decline in the function of the ovaries which leads to a cessation of ovulation and a decrease in the primary sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone.

The phase leading up to menopause is called perimenopause. During this transitional period you may begin to experience your first symptoms as your hormones shift commencing with irregular periods and hot flashes. During this time, the function of the thyroid gland may begin to decline.

Your Thyroid: The Master Controller

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located in your neck. It is also known as the master controller of the body as the hormones it releases into the bloodstream influence the function of many key organs including your heart, kidneys, digestive tract, muscles, metabolism and the regulation of your core body temperature.

The ovaries and the thyroid both make up essential parts of your body’s endocrine or hormonal systems. A 2011 study determined that estrogen binds to the thyroid gland to influence its function. This may explain the reason for hypothyroidism to be commonly diagnosed during perimenopause and in post-menopausal women; both are times in life when estrogen is at its lowest concentrations in your blood.

The Common Symptoms of Menopause and Hypothyroidism

Many of the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism and menopause overlap which can make it difficult to determine if you are suffering from hypothyroidism or from menopause based on just the symptoms alone. Some of these overlapping symptoms include: memory loss, fatigue and weight gain, hair thinning, night sweats, vaginal dryness, low libido, mood swings, depression and insomnia.

To determine whether the symptoms you are experiencing are due to low thyroid function, your doctor may test the hormones of the thyroid including TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). These blood tests form the basics of a thyroid panel and an elevated TSH value is indicative of hypothyroidism. If you are suffering from the above symptoms and think you could also be in menopause or perimenopause, speak to your doctor. You may also be suffering from undiagnosed hypothyroidism.

The Role of Exercise

Both cardiovascular and weight bearing exercise are vital parts of any lifestyle plan to maintain strong bones, as well as to maintain good balance and coordination which often decline with age.

A study published in the journal, Neuroendocrinology Letters examined the role of cardiovascular exercise on the circulating levels of thyroid hormone and found that the highest level of exercise performed by the cycling subjects resulted in a higher amount of circulating thyroid hormone. Therefore, incorporating high intensity cardiovascular exercise into your weekly routine such as interval training or spinning may support the healthy function of your thyroid gland as you age.

The Role of Iodine 

Your thyroid gland relies on the adequate intake of iodine in order to make the inactive thyroid hormone T4 which converts to the active thyroid hormone T3 once in your blood stream. Iodine is a trace element and the 4 and 3 actually represent the number of iodine components attached to each molecule. Iodine deficiency is a common cause of hypothyroidism worldwide; the thyroid simply cannot function without it.

Iodine can be found in some beans such as navy beans, eggs and seafood such as oysters and seaweed. Many people in my naturopathic practice have reduced the intake of iodized salt which may be a contributing factor in thyroid dysfunction disorders. You may not require an iodine supplement to maintain a healthy thyroid, however, be mindful of your food sources and make sure that you are taking in enough.

The role of estrogen in the function of your thyroid gland is complex. It is very common to see hypothyroidism along with menopause. However, remember that maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle throughout middle age may ease the transition and hopefully prevent the onset of thyroid disease in menopause. Speak with your health care provider to consider the blood work to monitor your thyroid and the lifestyle and dietary changes suitable for your case.

Dr. Olivia Rose
About the Author

Dr. Olivia Rose graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Nutritional and Nutraceutical Sciences and in 2006, she graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.

In addition to her private practice, Dr. Rose is the director of Fertility Acupuncture Services, a mobile service that brings acupuncture to couples undergoing in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination at Toronto fertility clinics. Her special areas of interest include infertility; children and teen health; stress management; weight loss; heart disease; digestive and immune health; skin rejuvenation and pain management. She is a birth doula and has additional training in cosmetic acupuncture and needle-less therapies for skin rejuvenation and joint pain.

Dr. Rose is a sought-after lecturer for community organizations; a freelance writer and mentor to new graduates. She has been interviewed by various media outlets including Global Toronto’s, “The Morning Show”, “News at Noon” and “News Hour”. In her free time, she unplugs at the spa and she enjoys spending quality time with her husband, son and tea-cup Yorkie. For more information on Dr. Rose's practice and special events, please visit - www.oroseND.com