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 had 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. There’s also been 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.
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.
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 many trans fats is linked to higher ovulation problems. Avoid trans fats altogether and decrease your protein a bit. Instead, have your plate 75% vegetables (a combination of cooked, raw and fermented), 15% high quality animal protein and 10% high quality fats like pastured butter, coconut oil, olive oil, olives and avocados.
- Enjoy one serving of full-fat raw dairy every day (if you tolerate dairy). The more low-fat dairy you eat, the higher your risk of ovulation problems. Switching even one serving a day helps combat that problem. Eating avocados and olives are great non-dairy sources of fat as well.
- 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:
- Read and followed, Take Control of Your Fertility, which helps you to understand your body’s fertility signs and use them to predict fertility.
- 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. Check out the cookbook that’s part of The Thyroid Fix in 6 and for a complete guide and meal plan.
- Eliminated Soy—The phytoestrogens in soy can knock out of whack the delicate hormonal balance our bodies need to conceive.
- 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!
If you’re looking for more support dealing with your thyroid, autoimmunity and fertility challenges, I provide a ton of resources on healing your thyroid naturally, including:
- Our totally free Thyroid Healing Type Assessment, Report and Coaching Sessions
- Right here on my blog, where I talk about what’s worked best for me and my clients, as well as the latest research and resources I come across. You can subscribe to get new blog posts delivered right to your email by signing up on the righthand side of the page.
- My book, Healing Hashimoto’s Naturally — part memoir, part instruction manual for how I personally healed my Hashimoto’s disease.
- My exclusive free 6 Thyroid Myths That Can Keep You From Healing workshop — with info on the comprehensive Thyroid Fix in 6 program, which walks you through, step-by-step, the exact actions you need to take to heal your thyroid and get your life back! We’ve seen hundreds of participants in the Thyroid Fix in 6 avoid, decrease, or even eliminate the need need for thyroid medications.
- The incredible Your Best Thyroid Life Video Bundle, in which I personally invited 27 of the world’s top health experts to share their best tips for living with and healing thyroid disease.
Remember, no matter what diagnosis you’re facing, there is hope. Keep your chin up and take small daily action and you can heal and have a normal life again!
Jen Wittman is a Certified Holistic Health Expert, Chef, Author & Vitality Coach, who teaches women how to reverse thyroid and autoimmune conditions naturally. She’s helped hundreds of women decrease (or even eliminate) their thyroid medications and has helped others stay off thyroid medication entirely.
Through her free Thyroid Healing Type Assessment, Jen teaches easy and simple steps to thyroid healing that can fit into your busy day. She also provides print outs to bring to your next doctor’s appointment so you can get the support and respect you deserve.