The thyroid gland produces a hormone – the thyroid hormone, which controls many bodily activities in humans, including burning calories and heartbeats. When the thyroid is diseased, it can make too much or too little of the thyroid hormone, which usually results in hyperactivity or constant tiredness, weight gain, or obvious weight loss – which usually has to do with how much or how little hormone the diseased thyroid makes.
Women are more likely than men to have thyroid diseases; according to a report, about one woman in eight women will develop thyroid problems during their lifetime, especially right after pregnancy and menopause.
In women, thyroid diseases can cause:
- Menstrual period irregularities: the thyroid helps control the menstrual cycle, and thus, thyroid diseases that could cause – too much or too little thyroid hormone can make the periods irregular, very light, or heavy.
A diseased thyroid can also cause amenorrhea – a condition where the menstrual period to ceases for several months or longer. In a situation where the body’s immune system is the cause of the thyroid disease, other glands, including the ovaries, may be involved and can result in early menopause – before the age of 40.
- Infertility: thyroid disease affects the menstrual cycle, which also affects ovulation – the inability of the ovaries to release mature eggs. This thyroid can pose certain difficulties for a woman trying to get pregnant.
- Complications during pregnancy: – Thyroid during pregnancy can cause health problems for the mother and baby, leading to poor fetal development, which usually results in congenital disabilities, especially heart and brain development.
Why are menopausal women likely to have thyroid problems?
Often, menopausal symptoms and symptoms of thyroid problems are closely associated, and both conditions can be mistaken for each other. Thyroid disease, especially low thyroid (hypothyroidism), is more likely to develop after menopause.
Menopause affects thyroid functions with its usual significant drop in estrogen levels and associated symptoms. According to research, a drop in estrogen level significantly impacts the abundance and functions of thyroid receptors – the molecules that allow thyroid hormones to enter into cells.
This effect on thyroid function due to a drop in estrogen level leads to thyroid disorders – mostly hypothyroidism, as there is less thyroid hormone uptake by cells due to a drop in the hormone receptors despite being released by the thyroid gland.
Studies have shown that hypothyroidism usually worsens symptoms of menopause, suggesting that treating thyroid disorders can help manage menopause symptoms. This further explains the overlap in the symptoms of hypothyroidism and menopause and why having both conditions usually increase the risk and severity of these overlapping symptoms.
One of the most common overlapping complications of menopause and thyroid disorder (hypothyroidism) is osteoporosis or loss of bone density. Another common complication of menopause is an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases; low levels of thyroid hormones also increase the risk of heart disorders like atherosclerosis, hypertension, stroke, etc.
The Difference between thyroid problems and adrenal problems
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue and low thyroid conditions can mirror each other —but there are distinct differences.
Adrenal fatigue – is a condition that occurs when the adrenal glands are forced to stop producing the stress hormone – cortisol or when the adrenal receptors are occupied by other proteins like the cortisol binding globulin (CBG) in the bid to halt the pro-aging effect of too much cortisol usually as a result of chronic stress other than cortisol; It is a total dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis) – a complex system that regulates and controls the body stress response.
In this pathway, the hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which then signals the adrenal glands to release cortisol – a stress hormone that helps the body to respond to mental, physical and emotional stress; and when cortisol is on continuous release due to chronic stress, the brain and body are thrown into exhaustion – adrenal fatigue as a result of the dysregulation on the brain (hypothalamus) and adrenal communication pathway.
Low thyroid, or hypothyroid, also manifests as fatigue because the thyroid is not functioning optimally. The thyroid is the body’s metabolic thermostat, controlling weight, heart rate, metabolism, and temperature. It also significantly affects women’s menstrual cycle regulation and fertility.
In hypothyroidism (low thyroid), It is either the body does not make enough thyroid (little amount) to meet the body’s needs, as in the case of primary hypothyroidism, or the body cannot convert the available thyroid into active forms.
In women, hypothyroidism is usually caused by an autoimmune condition where the body attacks and destroys the thyroid cells resulting in a condition known as Hashimotos.
Both adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism conditions can be improved through lifestyle changes like adequate sleep, stress management, iodine supplements, and proper diet in synergy with their separate clinical treatments as low thyroid may require medication to stimulate the thyroid gland into bringing hormone levels back to normal while, adrenal fatigue may only require a supportive supplement in severe case or can easily resolve on its own.
It is advised that women undergoing menopausal transition undergo medical tests to check for either condition as they worsen symptoms of menopause; it is also advised that lifestyle changes be made, especially in a situation where age or hormonal imbalances usually accompanying menopause are factors triggering any of them or both conditions.
Differentiating adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism can be tricky but possible, especially since they can go together. While lifestyle changes are essential for managing both, the treatments differ. Most symptoms mirror themselves and can also be attributed to other health conditions, especially in the early stages.
Thus, the symptoms below should not be used for self-diagnosis but to serve as an indicator that there is a need for urgent medical attention to correctly ascertain which condition is happening and the required medication to take.
The signs and symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue include exhaustion, insomnia, low libido, Feeling “wired but tired,” unexplainable mental stress, blood sugar dysregulation, anxiety, irregular menstruation, lightheadedness, low blood pressure, relapse after exercise, poor concentration, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, etc.
The signs and symptoms of Low Thyroid Functioning include dry skin, always feeling cold, anxiety or depression, constipation, weight gain, weak nail, fatigue, irregular menstruation, infertility, low heart rate, brain fog, stiff or weak joints and muscles, high cholesterol, thinning eyebrow, and hair, etc.
Why iodine is essential in thyroid support
Iodine is a dietary mineral found naturally in the earth’s soil and ocean waters. It is also abundant in many kinds of seafood and plant-based foods. Iodine is commercially available in iodized salt.
Just like other essential minerals, iodine plays a vital role in different biological processes, and thus, its deficiency poses serious health challenges. It is particularly important for women as its role continually resurfaces at every stage of a woman’s lifetime, starting from puberty, characterized by the development of secondary sexual characteristics like menstruation to pregnancy and childbearing stage and menopause transition stage.
Iodine plays various roles in biological processes in humans; one of the prominent ones is its role in thyroid health and production:-
The vital role of iodine in thyroid health support
Iodine plays an important role in thyroid health. The thyroid gland inside the thyroid – a butterfly-like organ located at the base of the front of the neck- helps regulate hormone production, especially growth and reproductive hormones. These hormones control metabolism, heart health, and many other biological processes, including developing secondary sexual characteristics, especially in females.
So, iodine is a vital requirement for the production of thyroid hormones by the thyroid. Since the body does not make iodine, it must be obtained from dietary sources, and striking a balance is key. Inadequate levels or overconsumption of iodine can lead to or worsen thyroid disease and cause other significant health concerns.
The Interplay of iodine consumption and the promotion of thyroid hormone production
Upon consumption of iodine, it is quickly absorbed and enters into the bloodstream to the thyroid, which has tiny cells that takes up the circulating iodine; the iodine molecules (iodide) are taken in and become oxidized and are used to synthesize triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)—thyroid hormones which are used throughout the body to regulate metabolism and promote healthy functioning of the heart, brain, and other organs.
While most digested iodine molecules are concentrated in the thyroid gland, non-hormonal iodides are found in various body tissues, including the cervix, eyes, mammary glands, salivary glands, and gastric mucosa.
The levels of Triiodothyroxine and Thyroxine—as well as stimulating thyroid hormone (TSH), which is influenced by the two—that are out of normal ranges (too low or too high), can result in clinical conditions such as hypothyroidism (low thyroxine) and hyperthyroidism (excess thyroxine), and this occurs as from taking in too little or too much iodine from diets or supplements among other factors.
How Much Iodine You Need
The (RDA) recommended dietary allowance for Iodine in the USA ranges from 90 mcg per day for children to 150 micrograms (mcg) for young adults and adults per day.
Noting that a cup of plain low-fat yogurt contains about 75 mcg, about 3 ounces of fish sticks contain up to 54 mcg of iodine, about one cup of pasta contains up to 27 mcg of iodine, and one-quarter teaspoon of iodized salt contains about 71 mcg, this makes the daily dietary requirement of iodine an easy task to accomplish.
How, then, does one know if they are iodine deficient?
An iodine deficiency (low iodine levels can cause uncomfortable and even severe symptoms, especially in women and children in general child development – mental health and brain functions. These symptoms include weight gain, swelling in the neck, pregnancy-related issues, and learning difficulties.
The symptoms of iodine deficiencies are closely related to those of hypothyroidism or low thyroid hormones; this is because of the cutting edge between iodine and its role in producing thyroid hormones. So an iodine deficiency will ultimately lead to hypothyroidism and present the body with all the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Below are the signs and symptoms of an iodine deficiency:-
- Swelling in the Neck
The commonest symptom of iodine deficiency is the swelling in the front of the neck – the location of the thyroid; this condition is called a goiter and occurs when the thyroid gland grows big.
When blood levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) rise, the thyroid gland binds the iodine molecules and uses them to synthesize thyroid hormones. But, when the body is low in iodine, the thyroid cannot mind enough iodine to make the thyroid hormones resulting in a low thyroid hormone level.
To make up for this, the thyroid gland works harder to synthesize enough hormones – causing the cells to keep growing and multiplying, resulting in a goiter.
Fortunately, when still mild, most cases can be treated by increasing iodine intake. However, an untreated and severe goiter permanently damages the thyroid.
- Unexplained Weight Gain
Unexplained weight gain is another sign of an iodine deficiency as the thyroid hormones help speed body metabolism, which converts food from glucose to energy and heat. But if iodine is deficient and thyroid hormones are not synthesized, these functions will not be performed. So these sugars are stored in the body as fat. They keep piling up, resulting in continued weight gain, a factor for other health conditions like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.
Consuming more iodine may help reverse the effects of slow metabolism, as more thyroid hormones would be synthesized and the body weight would be managed better.
- Fatigue and Weakness
Recent studies show that about 80% of people with iodine deficiency-induced hypothyroidism manifest the symptoms of always feeling tired, sluggishness, and weakness. These symptoms are understandable as the thyroid hormones play a vital role in energy production.
So when these thyroid hormone levels are low, the energy production dwindles alike, thus the reason for the constant fatigue and weakness.
- Hair loss
Thyroxine controls the growth of hair follicles. When the thyroid hormone levels drop too low, hair follicle regeneration also declines. When the thyroxine level does not pick up fast to compensate for the lost time, there is a resultant hair loss over time. For this reason, the case of iodine deficiency may also result in hair loss because of the direct relationship between iodine deficiency and low thyroid hormones, especially in those with a genetic history of hair loss.
- Skin Dryness and Flakiness
Most people with an iodine deficiency report flaky and dry skin as one of the symptoms they suffer; this is because of the role of thyroxine in the regeneration of skin cells and the direct correlation between thyroxine abundance and iodine sufficiency.
Therefore, when iodine is deficient, there is an invariable low level of thyroxine; hence, the dry and flaky skin symptoms accompany insufficient iodine levels in the body.
Secondly, thyroid hormones also help regulate sweat; therefore, lowered thyroid hormone levels associated with iodine deficiency will cause less sweat production, given that sweat helps moisturize and hydrate the skin – hence the resultant dry and flaky skin is a common symptom of iodine deficiency.
- Feeling Colder Than Usual
An unusual cold is a common symptom of iodine deficiency; Iodine is an important factor of thyroid hormone availability which helps in heat production and general metabolism. A deficiency in the availability of iodine will invariably cause low thyroid hormone availability and an impediment to their role in heat production, hence the unusual cold feelings associated with iodine deficiency.
More so, thyroid hormones help boost the activity of brown fat – a type of fat that specializes in generating heat. So, a notable drop in thyroid hormone level that results in hypothyroidism, even when associated with iodine deficiency, will impede the biological role of brown fat, resulting in unusual cold feeling symptoms.
- Changes in Heart Rate
The heart rate measures how often the heart beats per minute. The heartbeat may be affected by iodine levels in that too little of this mineral could cause an irregular heartbeat to be slower than normal, and too much of it could cause the heart to beat faster than usual.
A severe iodine deficiency may cause the heart rate to become extremely low, resulting in extreme and constant weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and faintness.
- Cognitive inadequacies
Cognitive abilities (fast learning and remembrance) are closely associated with iodine, and thyroid hormone roles in that thyroid hormones are notable for their role in cell growth and development, including the brain cells.
This is why iodine deficiency is closely associated with learning disabilities due to its direct correlation with thyroid hormone availability and functions.
- Difficulty in Pregnancy
Pregnant women stand a high risk of iodine insufficiency as they need a good amount of iodine for themselves and the developing fetus in their uterus, thus the unusual hike in their iodine demand even through the lactation period. So they stand a greater chance of suffering iodine deficiency.
Not meeting the high iodine demand during pregnancy and lactation may pose great danger for both mother and baby as there may be cases of symptoms emanating from underactive thyroid due to insufficient iodine, such as a goiter, unusual cold, weakness, and fatigue on the mother’s side; and poor physical and brain development on the infants’ side (cretinism); in worst cases – stillbirth.
- Heavy or Irregular Periods
Heavy and irregular menstruation is closely associated with thyroid hormone function. As common is of most symptoms of iodine deficiency, the associated low levels of thyroid hormones are directly linked to heavy and irregular periods.
According to research, women with low thyroid hormone levels experience irregular menstrual cycles with heavy flow. This is because low thyroid hormone levels pose disruption the signals of hormones involved in the menstrual cycle.
Therefore, the role of iodine in regulating metabolism and the conversion of food into energy is vital in cells function and growth, and slight insufficiency or severe deficiency of this mineral will pose serious dangers to all the biological processes and pathways where iodine is a limiting metabolite as can be seen in the cases of thyroid hormones insufficiencies and the accompanying symptoms linking directly to iodine deficiency too.
Common Problems Menopausal women are like to have a due iodine deficiency
A recent study that evaluated the effect of iodine deficiency on postmenopausal women shows a great link between iodine deficiency and the severity of menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, cardiovascular dysfunctions, cholesterol levels, weight gain, etc.
Results showed that menopausal women with lower iodine levels (iodine insufficiency) reported more hot flashes. In addition to the hot flash symptom is an increased level of lipoprotein (A) in their blood; remember that low-density lipoprotein (lipoprotein A) is a strong marker for cardiovascular concerns – a good indicator of bad cholesterol levels shooting up.
So, iodine deficiency poses major concerns, especially for women undergoing a menopausal transition – hot flashes, hair loss, osteoporosis, increased low-density lipoproteins, metabolic disorder, cardiovascular diseases, and breast cancer.
Most of these symptoms that are worsened by the low iodine status during menopause are always severed due to the direct link between iodine and thyroid hormones availability and not forgetting the major concern of menopause stage, which is estrogen drop – the root of the hormonal imbalance issue; and thus, the further imbalance of the thyroid hormones presented by the deficiency of iodine will worsen the situation.
The case of bone problem (osteoporosis) being worsened by iodine deficiency is because thyroid hormones, which are notable for controlling cell growth and functions, are also deficient as their chief metabolite – Iodine; and so the cells of the bones, muscles, skin, nerve cells, etc., are all not dividing and producing new cells as required – hence the link between iodine deficiency to the worsen menopausal symptoms with regards to bone malfunctions.
Thyroid hormones, as earlier discussed, also function in the breakdown of food and heat production; and if this hormone is deficient, as also is iodine definitely during menopause, then the case of metabolic disorder, which is a major symptom of menopause going to worsen – resulting in weight gain, difficulty in sugar uptake, diabetes, and obesity.
Breast Cancer: The breast tissue is another major storage site for iodine after the thyroid gland, and “adequate iodine levels are necessary for the development and maintenance of normal breast structure,” according to Dr. Brownstein; explaining perfectly the link between breast problems (cancer) and low thyroid function, especially in the case of iodine deficiency, especially during menopause.
In the case of iodine deficiency, the breasts cells and thyroid gland compete for the limited supply of iodine, often resulting in both inadequate levels for both glands, especially during menopause, where the cushioning role of estrogen is not guaranteed also, making the body exposed to severe menopausal symptoms and vulnerability to a variety of illnesses and predisposition to endometrial, breast, thyroid, and ovarian cancer.
How to Prevent Iodine deficiency
As discussed earlier, Iodine deficiency is a shortage of iodine in a person’s body such that the usual functions performed during iodine sufficiency become impaired – some of these impairments pose a serious threat to general metabolism and development and life in general.
Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of thyroid disease and, in severe cases, serious brain, bone, and nerve damage.
The symptoms of iodine deficiency have been discussed earlier, too, as there is a very sharp correlation between iodine deficiency and low thyroid hormone; some of these symptoms, for emphasis sake, include fatigue, constant weakness, unexplained weight gain, cognitive inadequacies, constipation, low heartbeat, dry skin, hair loss, etc.
Iodine deficiency can be diagnosed through a physical examination of the thyroid region (neck region) or a urine blood test to check the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) against a standard. Ultrasound can also get a good thyroid scan for further analysis.
In Australia, newborn babies are given a screening mandatory routine blood test called “heel prick” to ascertain the level of thyroid hormones and probably pick up a low thyroid hormone level as early as possible, which is usually a good grip on the situation early diagnosis and subsequent treatment to arrest the condition on time; especially if as a result of iodine deficiency.
How, then, can one manage iodine deficiency?
Since it is now known that iodine deficiency can pose a threat to life, especially in women and children, the best management of iodine deficiency is to get medical attention and, most importantly, lifestyle changes through dieting with the aim of iodine supplementation will help perfectly fix the deficiency of this essential dietary mineral.
Another management strategy will be to get artificial thyroid hormones for severe hypothyroidism.
But as the saying goes, prevention is always better than cure; so it’s more beneficial both economic and health-wise to prevent iodine deficiency than manage the situation. This preventive strategy can be easily achieved as the recommended dietary allowance of iodine per day is quite easy to meet, so a little conscious effort in the diet will do just fine.
A good amount of iodine can be obtained from eating iodine-rich foods like seafood and using iodized salt in the diet.
It is also advised that women who intend to be pregnant, already pregnant, lactating, or menopausal should make up for iodine sufficiency and prevent deficiency by taking a recommended iodine supplement.
Note: It is advised to get your supplements prescription from doctors and do well to maintain the prescribed dosage, and avoid self-medication as taking too much iodine can also pose serious thyroid disease known as hyperthyroidism.
How Much Iodine do menopausal women need?
Menopause is marked by a continuous decline in estrogen production in a woman’s body and the cessation of her menstrual cycle. This lack of estrogen presents women’s body common menopausal symptoms such as anxiety and depression, hot flashes, and osteoporosis – a condition of continuous bone mass decreases resulting in the bones becoming brittle, making them more prone to fractures.
During pre-menopause and menopause, the thyroid and ovaries make less of these hormones compared to pre-menopause, and the menopausal symptoms worsen if there is also a deficiency of iodine at this stage of life.
So, iodine supplementation may be a more natural way to encourage a normal supply of hormones in the thyroid and ovaries to manage the symptoms posed by the decline in estrogen that is remarkable to menopause. The iodine required for this supplementation may be obtained from natural foods or recommended supplements. The RDA for iodine in menopausal women is about 150 micrograms (mcg).
It is important to note that iodine can become too much and present yet another thyroid disease called hyperthyroidism to the body, and in the case of the menopause transition, it can cause the severity of accompanying menopausal symptoms.
Therefore, getting diagnosed with iodine deficiency or just getting to ascertain one’s iodine level during menopause by a doctor is as important as managing iodine deficiency or maintaining a healthy range of iodine amount as the two extremes of iodine imbalance present the body with the almost equal magnitude of the medical threat, especially during pregnancy and menopause; in essence, do not self diagnose or medicate.
Top Natural Food Sources to boost iodine level
Iodine is of the essential minerals not made by the body and thus must be obtained from diets or supplements. It is natural in some foods and is added to supplements and food seasonings like salt and spices.
As earlier discussed, iodine is vital in synthesizing the thyroid hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3)- which play important roles in different biological processes like the creation of proteins and activation cascades of enzymatic processes, as well as regulating general body metabolism.
Therefore, when there is not enough iodine, these thyroid hormones concentrations are insufficient too, leading to an under-active or overactive thyroid gland as the case may be, resulting in the medical conditions called hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism with trails of unpleasant side effects in the body, especially in menopausal women and pregnant women.
So the need to get adequate iodine, especially from diets, can never be over-emphasized.
Iodine is found mainly in table salt and salt seasonings like spices, animal protein foods, sea vegetables, and fortified foods like cereals, milk and dairy products, pasta, and bread.
The food sources for iodine can then be classified as follows:-
Food Sources rich in iodine:
- Sea vegetable – examples of sea vegetables are kelp, arame, hijiki, nori, dulse, kombu, wakame, etc.
- Seafood – like periwinkles, clams, shrimp, sardines, oysters, haddock, prawns, salmon, etc.
- Sea salt (iodized)
Food sources with a considerable amount of iodine include:
- Dairy products
- Lima beans
- Sesame seeds
- Summer squash
- Swiss chard
In summary, maintaining a good level of iodine through conscious foods choices and, if need be, supplements are key to healthy thyroid support, especially during menopause, as it has been confirmed that the thyroid is an important gland that produces vital hormones necessary for maintaining a lot of life processes, especially for menopausal women to best manage the symptoms of menopause; as in a nutshell, iodine sufficiency cannot be separated from thyroid functions.