For many women, the onset of their hypothyroid symptoms began either during pregnancy or just after. Most of these women went on to be diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. Pregnancy often triggers Hashimoto’s due to normal shifts in immunity that cause an already beleaguered immune system to tip out of control and begin attacking the thyroid gland.
Factors that can contribute to developing Hashimoto’s around pregnancy or childbirth include shifts in immune function during the third trimester, shifts in immune function postpartum, the dramatic shifts in hormone function, genetic tendency, and the exacerbation of existing disorders such as blood sugar imbalances, food intolerances, gut infections, and other autoimmune diseases (which may or may not be diagnosed).
How pregnancy can trigger Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
Women make up the vast majority of people struggling with autoimmune diseases, about 75 percent. Researchers suggest this is because women have more complex hormonal systems that involve more fluctuations; hormone and immune function are closely tied. Hormone imbalances are a major contributor to chronic inflammation that can trigger autoimmunity.
Pregnancy simply exacerbates these fluctuations and underlying imbalances.
Shifts in immune function during and after pregnancy can trigger autoimmune disease
Women experience major immune shifts towards the end of pregnancy and then again immediately after birth. These are natural shifts designed to help protect the baby.
During the third trimester, a pregnant woman’s immune system becomes more heavily weighted toward what is called the TH-2 system. This arm of the immune system is the delayed immune reaction that produces antibodies that identify a foreign invader a short while after it enters the body. This response allows the body to recognize the invader in the future.
After the baby is born, a woman’s body then becomes more TH-1 dominant. This is the arm of the immune system that reacts immediately to a foreign invader, such as with swelling and pus around a splinter.
Most people who either already have an autoimmune disease or are at high risk of developing one are overly dominant in either the TH-1 or TH-2 arms of the immune system.
The immune swings that pregnancy and childbirth cause tip an already imbalanced immune system into full expression of an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
If you would like help understanding Pregnancy and Hypothyroidism, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Pregnancy and pituitary function
Although about 90 percent of hypothyroid cases are caused by Hashimoto’s, some cases are caused by chronic stress. As any mom can tell you, pregnancy and childbirth can bring inordinate amounts of stress.
Extreme or chronic stress depresses function of the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is a small gland at the base of the brain that is like a control tower for the body’s hormones, telling the various glands throughout the body how much hormone to secrete in response to external and internal cues.
Chronic stress overwhelms the pituitary gland and depresses its function. As a result, the pituitary falters at its job of telling the body’s hormone glands to secrete hormones. In the case of the thyroid gland, this means it doesn’t tell it to release enough thyroid hormone.
This not only causes tiredness and other hypothyroid symptoms, but it can also explain postpartum depression in some women.
It’s important to understand that stress doesn’t just mean bad traffic or a demanding job. Many women enter into pregnancy already under enormous stressors they may not be aware of:
- Leaky gut or gut infections
- Blood sugar that is either too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (insulin resistance)
- Undiagnosed food intolerances such as gluten sensitivity or celiac disease
- Hormonal imbalances
- Undiagnosed brain dysfunctions, such as from an old brain injury, brain inflammation caused by poor diet, or PTSD or CPTSD
- Sensitivity to chemicals or over exposure to chemicals
- Poor liver detoxification
- Undiagnosed chronic bacterial, viral, parasitic, or fungal infections
Are you at risk? Check your TPO and TGB antibodies before pregnancy
It’s not a bad idea to screen for risk for Hashimoto’s before conceiving. You can do this by testing TPO and TGB antibodies. Many people have autoimmune mechanisms already in place that not advanced enough to cause symptoms. However, a big shock to the body such as pregnancy can be the tipping point to send you over the edge into autoimmune expression.
If you have Hashimoto’s in your family, other autoimmune diseases in your family, or you suffer from other inflammatory conditions, it pays to screen for your risk before pregnancy. This gives you an opportunity to use functional medicine strategies to slow down or send into remission your autoimmune condition.
Studies show that women with no thyroid symptoms but positive blood serum TPO antibodies have a 25 percent higher risk for developing an autoimmune response to their thyroid.
Reducing the risk of autism, allergies, eczema, and more in your baby
Using functional medicine to manage autoimmunity or heightened risk for autoimmunity is not only good for the mother’s health, but also for that of her child. Children born to mothers with autoimmunity such as Hashimoto’s show increased risk for varying health disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, eczema, asthma, food allergies, and food intolerances.
Researchers have increasingly found that autoimmune disorders underlie many cases of autism, which is caused by an autoimmune attack against the brain in these children. Whether it’s autism or other immune disorders, children born to mothers with imbalanced immune systems may be more vulnerable to environmental triggers that can tip them over into full blown autoimmunity.
Triggers can include food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances, or toxic chemicals introduced into the bloodstream.
Of course, no one willingly or knowingly brings these hardships onto themselves or their children, but in today’s world the modern immune system faces significant burdens. Going into pregnancy knowing how to manage and minimize the impact of those burdens on the body can help minimize the risk. If you already developed Hashimoto’s during pregnancy or after childbirth, understanding why you did can help you better manage it.
Ask my office for help addressing the root cause of your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
Want to know more? Schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Many people take SSRI antidepressants for depression. However, it’s important to ask why you are feeling depression in the first place.
Many important research strides have been made linking chronic inflammation, poor gut health, gut bacteria, and general brain health with depression.
However, we still need healthy serotonin activity, the target of SSRIs, to feel good.
Do you have these symptoms of low serotonin?
- No longer finding joy, pleasure, or enthusiasm in life
- Rage and anger
- Depression related to lack of sunlight
- No longer enjoy hobbies, favorite foods, friendships, or relationships
- Unable to sleep deeply or feel rested from sleep
- Life looks good on paper but doesn’t feel good
Light. The brain depends on sufficient light to manufacture serotonin, so being indoors all the time or in chronically dark or grey weather can affect serotonin activity.
Estrogen. In women an estrogen deficiency can lead to poor serotonin activity. This can explain why some women who are perimenopausal or post-menopausal experience depression.
Although it’s important to use functional medicine to address the cause of low estrogen, such as blood sugar or adrenal imbalances, some perimenopausal or post-menopausal women may still need bioidentical hormone replacement. In these situations, estrogen therapy can deplete the methyl donors necessary for serotonin synthesis, making it important to supplement with them: methyl B-12, SAMe, or MSM (methylsulfonylmethane).
Diet. Some nutritional advice will tell you to address low serotonin activity with foods high in tryptophan, a precursor amino acid to serotonin. However, clinically we really don’t see this work.
Better nutritional advice is to eat a diet that keeps blood sugar stable and does not inflame the gut or the body. This means avoiding sugar and processed carbohydrates, avoiding foods that trigger an immune response, and eating lots of diverse vegetables to foster healthy and diverse gut bacteria.
If you would like help understanding Depression management, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Blood sugar and gut inflammation. Unstable blood sugar — blood sugar that is either too low or too high — can significantly impact serotonin activity, leading to depression. The same goes for a diet that inflames the gut and the body.
Iron. Additionally, an iron is deficiency can cause low serotonin production. Things that can cause iron deficiency include iron anemia, celiac disease, leaky gut, heavy periods, parasites, over exercising, low stomach acid, hypothyroidism, and uterine fibroids.
Nutritional cofactors for serotonin activity
In addition to iron, nutrients serotonin synthesis requires include P-5-P (pyridoxal-5-phosphate), an active form of B-6, niacin, methyl B-12, folic acid, and magnesium.
Deficiencies in these cofactors are widespread due to how poorly most Americans eat.
Additionally, magnesium deficiencies can arise in those taking diuretics or athletes who over train.
Methyl donors such as methyl B-12 are important for the conversion of the amino acid 5-HTP to serotonin; people who take SSRI antidepressants for long periods of time deplete their methyl donors and P-5-P.
Those considering weaning off SSRIs may need to supplement with these cofactors to cover deficiencies acquired during use of the medication.
Supplements that support serotonin activity
The amino acids 5-HTP or tryptophan are precursors to serotonin. Tryptophan has been shown to more easily cross the blood-brain barrier than 5-HTP. Others prefer 5-HTP because it is only one step away from being converted to serotonin, whereas tryptophan is two steps away. Therefore, 5-HTP has more potential to boost serotonin levels. However, both work and taking both can cover your bases.
Both 5-HTP and tryptophan have been shown to be helpful in addressing depression, persistent nightmares, fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, migraines, and mood disorders.
Botanicals that increase receptor site sensitivity, ensure the breakdown of used serotonin, and provide necessary cofactors for serotonin production include St. John’s wort, SAMe, P-5-P (a form of B-6), niacinamide, magnesium citrate, methyl B-12, and folic acid.
Ask my office how we can help you support your brain serotonin activity so it can help you feel happier and enjoy life more.
In functional medicine we look at diet and lifestyle strategies to prevent or reverse disease, calm inflammation, and slow the aging process. However, other overlooked but extremely important aspects to your health are your general happiness, well-being, and attitude. Science shows happiness and positivity are correlated with better health. If you are not naturally happy, not to worry, simply putting forth small and regular efforts in the direction of happiness, such as writing in a gratitude journal, has been shown to improve health.
In what is thus far the most comprehensive study on what makes people happy, researchers looked at the lives of Harvard graduates, blue-collar workers, and women spanning almost a decade. From that data, they found six common themes that ran through the lives of the happiest lifelong subjects. If you would like to meet with Dr. Celaya to discuss your issue, schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION.
1. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Researchers found those with lifelong smoking and alcohol habits were unhappier than those who abstained. Among the study subjects, not smoking was the most important factor in healthy aging.
Likewise, the study showed that alcohol robbed people of happiness and sabotaged their relationships (healthy relationships are one of the six factors of happiness).
In functional medicine we know smoking and regular alcohol consumption make it hard to be healthy and happy for other reasons. Smoking robs your brain of oxygen, degenerating it more quickly. This has an effect not only on your brain function, personality and mood, but also on the health of your body. Regular alcohol consumption has also been shown to more quickly degenerate the brain and promote leaky gut and inflammation.
2. A college education. Despite income, social class, or IQ, college-educated research subjects were happier in the long run. Those with higher education tended to take better care of their health and avoid destructive habits like smoking and drinking. Exercising your intellectual curiosity is also good for the brain at any age and despite your education.
3. A happy childhood. Ok, this one is unfair for a lot of people. Feeling loved by one’s mother was a bigger predictor of lifelong happiness despite income or IQ. Coping well with adolescence was another predictor. But not to worry if your childhood has been something only from which to recover. Caring, loving friendships and relationships have been shown to compensate for damaging childhoods, and those are factors you can develop through self-work.
4. Good relationships. Mutually heathy, loving, and supportive relationships were found to be fundamental to happiness across all the study subjects’ lives. This includes continually widening your social circles so that if some friends fall away new ones to fill their place.
5. Good coping skills. No one is spared from bad stuff happening. However, happier people are more resilient and better able to cope with hardship. This can be a learned skill, even if you need a therapist’s help. Coping skills include altruism, creating good outcomes out of bad situations, staying focused on the bright side, and keeping a sense of humor.
6. Giving back. The happiest study subjects intuitively followed a path that spiritual traditions have espoused for millennia — happiness is found through service. As they matured, the study subjects who served in building community and relationships thrived best. This includes mentoring, coaching, consulting, and otherwise selflessly sharing the fruits of well-earned wisdom.
Sometimes it can be difficult to “practice happiness” when we feel terrible. One of the most rewarding aspects to a functional medicine recovery journey is a boon to your general mood, well-being, and sense of love. Schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION to find out how.