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Have you been experiencing fatigue, changes in weight, or hair loss?

These may sound like common signs of motherhood, but it could be an indication that you have a thyroid issue.


January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, so we wanted to take this opportunity to write about these often undiagnosed thyroid issues that are extremely common during pregnancy and postpartum.



What does the thyroid do?

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in the lower neck that regulates energy production and the speed of every chemical reaction in all cells. It produces thyroid hormones that play key roles in many functions in our body, from maintaining body temperature and regulating our mood, to supporting our skin, hair health, and fertility. Our thyroid health is involved across many of our body systems, including our metabolic, endocrine, nervous, and cardiovascular systems.



When your thyroid gland is inflamed or not functioning properly, it can lead to symptoms of overproduction (hyperthyroidism) or -- more commonly -- underproduction (hypothyroidism) of thyroid hormones.


Common symptoms of thyroid dysfunction include unexplained weight change, feeling fatigued or foggy, mood changes, or sensitivity to extreme temperatures. Many of these symptoms often overlap with pregnancy and postpartum, which is why it is important to be aware of them and see if you are at risk for thyroid issues.



The following are common risk factors for developing thyroid issues

  • Women - For reasons that are unclear, women are 5-8 times more likely to develop thyroid issues

  • Celiac disease

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Recent pregnancy

  • Family history of thyroid issues

  • Nutrient deficiencies, especially iodine and/or selenium

  • Chronic stress, which leads to overworked adrenals and weakening of your immune system [1,2]


Thyroid issues commonly develop during pregnancy and postpartum


During pregnancy, 10-17% of women can experience thyroid issues. Why? Because the needs for thyroid hormones increase by 50% in order to meet the demands of a growing baby (especially to support healthy brain development) in addition to your own metabolic needs. Until your baby can produce its own, it relies on your thyroid hormones, which can often lead to an overtaxed thyroid gland, especially if you have a mild but undiagnosed thyroid issue. In these cases, you may experience increased symptoms of hypothyroidism after becoming pregnant. These imbalances in thyroid hormones can lead to complications including anemia, preeclampsia, premature birth, low birth weight, and miscarriage.[3,4,5]


One common cause of thyroid issues is iodine deficiency. Iodine is a crucial nutrient for your thyroid health because it is one of the two building blocks of your thyroid hormones.


During pregnancy, the recommended daily amount for iodine increases by over 50% from 150 to 220 mcg/day, and studies indicate that a substantial portion of pregnant women in the United States are iodine insufficient. Since your baby depends entirely on your thyroid hormones, an increase in iodine intake is important for proper growth and development [6]. Iodine intake remains important during the postpartum period, especially for those who are breastfeeding. Exclusively breastfed babies rely entirely on your iodine levels for healthy development. However, studies indicate that almost half of breastfeeding mothers produce breast milk that is low in iodine [7].


During postpartum, having a healthy and well functioning thyroid gland is crucial for maintaining energy, producing breast milk, supporting your mental health, and for regulating fertility for future pregnancies.


Postpartum thyroiditis, which refers to thyroid abnormalities that develop within a year of birth, is extremely common, affecting over 20% of new mothers. It is also more prevalent in women with type-1 diabetes. While thyroid function typically resumes between 12-18 months postpartum, 20-40% of women are susceptible to developing hypothyroidism permanently [8].


In many cases, it can be difficult to diagnose thyroid issues after birth because many of the symptoms are similar to what a new mom typically experiences: fatigue, depression, difficulty losing weight, hair loss.



This is why if you experience any symptoms, it is important to rule out thyroid issues through blood work.


Lab tests for thyroid issues

While many providers only check for TSH and T4 levels, getting the full panel is extremely beneficial, especially for those who are pregnant or planning for a pregnancy. Why? Because studies show that up to 50% of women who have elevated antithyroid antibodies in the first trimester of pregnancy experience postpartum thyroiditis [8].


Ask your provider for the following tests:

  • TSH

  • Free T4

  • Free T3

  • Reverse T3

  • Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb)

  • Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb)


How to support a healthy thyroid

  • Get lab work done regularly, especially if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

  • Take a high-quality multivitamin like our Prenatal, Postnatal & Nursing Support that includes iodine, zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin D, and B vitamins.

  • Of the 223 types of prenatal multivitamins available in the United States, only 51% contain any iodine [9]. According to 2011–2014 NHANES data, 72.2% of pregnant women took dietary supplements, but only 17.8% of them took one that contained iodine.

  • While 75% of breastfeeding women took a dietary supplement, only 19% of them took an iodine-containing product [10].

  • Eat foods rich in selenium (brazil nuts, liver, tuna), zinc (oysters, liver, meat, nuts and seeds), vitamin A (liver, butter, egg yolk, sweet potatoes, carrots), iron (grass-fed meat, organ meats, clams, dark leafy greens), vitamin D (fatty fish, eggs, grass-fed butter), and B-vitamins (eggs, liver, sardines, clams).

  • Ensure that you are getting enough iodine (at least 250mcg during pregnancy) - Iodine is vital to thyroid function and is crucial for breastfeeding because iodine intake predicts iodine levels in breastmilk. Taking a natural iodine-rich supplement like our Sea Moss Complex, which combines wildcrafted sea moss, kelp, and bladderwrack to support your thyroid health, mood, immunity, and energy. Seafood, seaweed, eggs, and dairy products are also good food sources.

  • Eat foods rich in essential fatty acids, which are important for hormone production. Increase your intake of cold-water fish, fish oil, flax seeds, cod liver oil. Our Omega 3 DHA & EPA contain 1,200 mg of high-quality fish oil.

  • Get more sleep - It’s hard to do as a mother, I know, but prioritizing rest as much as possible is beneficial for your physical and mental health.

  • Avoid inflammatory foods - Sugar, trans fat oils, processed foods, and any foods that you are sensitive to can lead to increased inflammation in your body, which can affect thyroid function.

  • Support your adrenal glands - Stress can affect many body systems, so doing what you can to minimize stress and support your adrenal glands is beneficial. You can take our Organic Ashwagandha, an adaptogenic herb that has been proven to decrease cortisol levels and assist your adrenals. Engaging in meditation, regular exercise, and having a supportive community can also help reduce your stress.



Get help

There are a lot of complex processes involved with our thyroid, so always consult a specialist if you have concerns or questions. Addressing thyroid abnormalities early, especially if you are planning for pregnancy, is important to prevent complications that could arise, and being aware of any issues can help your recovery and postpartum.


We understand that through all stages of motherhood, your body has heightened needs for nutrients.


That’s why we have a wide selection of products to support your health through preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum.



Sign up for our list to find out about new products and exclusive deals!


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Not sure what you need? Try our 3-minute online Wellness Quiz to get a personalized nutrition report, product recommendations, and a discount code!




References

  1. Kharrazian, D. Why do I still have thyroid symptoms? When my lab tests are normal. Elephant Press Books, 2010.

  2. Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. Therapeutic Nutrition. Penngrove, CA. Bauman College, 2015.

  3. Abalovich M, Amino N, Barbour LA, Cobin RH, De Groot LJ, Glinoer D, et al. Management of thyroid dysfunction during pregnancy and postpartum: an Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2007;92 Suppl:s1-47

  4. Krassas GE, Poppe K, Glinoer D. Thyroid function and human reproductive health. Endocr Rev 2010;31:702-55.

  5. Melse-Boonstra A, Jaiswal N. Iodine deficiency in pregnancy, infancy and childhood and its consequences for brain development. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Feb;24(1):29-38.

  6. Pearce EN, Leung AM, Blount BC, Bazrafshan HR, He X, Pino S, Valentin-Blasini L, Braverman LE.

  7. Breast milk iodine and perchlorate concentrations in lactating Boston-area women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 May;92(5):1673-1677.

  8. Stagnaro-Green A. Approach to the patient with postpartum thyroiditis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. (2012) 97:334–42. doi: 10.1210/jc.2011-2576

  9. 9. Leung AM, Pearce EN, Braverman LE 2009 Iodine content of prenatal multivitamins in the United States. N Engl J Med 360:939–940.

  10. Gupta PM, Gahche JJ, Herrick KA, Ershow AG, Potischman N, Perrine CG. Use of iodine-containing dietary supplements remains low among women of reproductive age in the United States: NHANES 2011-2014. Nutrients 2018, 10, 422; doi: 10.3390/nu10040422.

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Updated: Jun 26, 2020


I’ve always found the topic of autoimmunity very fascinating. Probably because it hit very close to home for me. My older sister was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis a few months after giving birth to her son. She was in so much pain in her knees and elbows, she could barely get up from bed, making it almost impossible for her to hold her infant and care for him. But this was not the first time she had experienced joint pain. In fact, she had been dealing with this “undiagnosed” condition for years, albeit never at this level. She actually felt much better during her pregnancy with no signs of joint discomfort and was puzzled to see that her symptoms returned – with a vengeance- after birth.


Getting a diagnosis

Like most autoimmune diagnosis, it was during a severe postpartum flare-up that my sister was finally able to put a name to her condition. It is not uncommon for an autoimmune diagnosis to follow pregnancy and birth. A New York City survey showed that about half (45%) of women with Graves disease (an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid), were first diagnosed during the postpartum period (1). A Danish population study of a million women of childbearing age investigating postpartum autoimmune disease (AID) concluded that women who had been pregnant had a higher incidence of AID than those who had no pregnancy records. It also noted that the risk of AID was significantly higher during the first year after vaginal delivery and cesarean birth (15% to 30% respectively) (2,3).

Given this, you might be thinking that pregnancy causes autoimmune disease, but it’s actually believed that women who had predisposition, or beginning stages of an autoimmune disease, before or during early pregnancy (even if no symptoms were present at the time) are more likely to trigger, worsen or relapse during the postpartum period (4).


What happens during pregnancy

You see, during pregnancy, as early as the 8th day of gestation, a woman’s immune system gets suppressed, in order to promote tolerance towards the fetus. More specifically the Th1 (pro-inflammatory) arm of the immune system gets suppressed while Th2 remains active. This is why most women with autoimmune conditions feel great during pregnancy. After birth, however, starting at 3-6 weeks after delivery, the roles are reversed and the TH-1 arm of the immune system takes charge and kicks into high gear causing inflammatory responses that can worsen autoimmune diseases or cause a relapse.


Thyroid autoimmune diseases

Of the many kinds of autoimmune diseases that exist, the two that are most common in the postpartum period are thyroid-related. Mainly Hashimoto’s (hypothyroidism) and Grave’s disease. Unfortunately, many postpartum women do not realize that they have an autoimmune disease and for many, a proper diagnosis can take a long time to reach because of the complexities of the symptoms.


So what exactly is an autoimmune disease?

An autoimmune disease develops when your body’s immune system starts attacking itself. In a healthy immune system, the exposure to certain toxins, chemicals, infections, and allergens triggers antibodies to attack whatever doesn’t belong, but a compromised immune system can’t make the distinction between what is you and what is an intruder that needs attacking. The result is an immune system that has turned on itself and the body’s tissues.

The thyroid gland is at the center of the issues that develop in hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease. It is the butterfly-shaped, complex, and sensitive hormone-producing gland that plays a role in many of our body’s functions, including body temperature regulation, energy production, and metabolism.


The most common cause for hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune disease that affects 14 million people in the U.S. It causes your body’s antibodies to start attacking your thyroid cells, which can lead to difficulty producing the necessary amounts of thyroid produced hormones (5).


What does Hashimoto’s look like?

Many of the symptoms for Hashimoto’s disease overlap with hypothyroidism:

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Unexplained weight gain

  • Poor concentration

  • Thinning hair and loss of outer eyebrow

  • Puffy face and eyelids

  • Need for excessive sleep

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sensitivity to cold

  • Hoarseness

  • Difficulty swallowing


These symptoms typically appear between 2 weeks and 6 months postpartum, which contributes to the fact that many new moms chalk it up to normal postpartum fatigue and stress and do not get the treatment they need.


Supporting Your Immune System

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is important to get the proper testing done in order to determine the health of your thyroid. To rule out Hashimoto’s, a TPO and TBG serum antibody test can be done.


Once you know exactly what type of autoimmune disease you are dealing with, it’ll be possible to craft an individualized treatment plan that includes nutrition and supplementation that can help support your thyroid function.


The following nutrients have been linked to have beneficial effects for autoimmune thyroid conditions


Selenium – Taking Selenium daily has been shown to help lower the thyroid antibodies. Food sources: Unshelled brazil nuts, tuna, calf liver, swiss chard, pork, brown rice, salmon.

Supplementation: Taking 200 mcg of Selenium daily is recommended (5).


Zinc – studies have indicated that supplementing with Zinc can improve thyroid hormone production. Food sources: seafood (especially oysters), beef, chicken, liver, cooked spinach, nuts, and seeds.

Supplementation: 25 mg once daily if testing shows a deficiency. The RDA is 12 mg for women (7).


Vitamin A – Vitamin A plays a role in manufacturing thyroid hormones, and any deficiency can lead to the reduction of active hormones. Food sources: The most concentrated sources of retinol are liver (beef, calf, chicken), pastured dairy, cod liver oil and eggs. Beta-carotene rich foods include lightly cooked spinach, kale, collard greens, winter squash, carrots, red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupes.

Supplementation: The RDA is 800 RE or 2,000-5,000 IU for women.


Other supportive foods, herbs, and nutrients:


  • Vitamin D is especially helpful for Hashimoto’s because of its ability to restore healthy immune function and to suppress autoimmune activity. Food sources: fatty fish, liver, organ meats, lard, other seafood, butter, and egg yolks. Supplementation: The vitamin D council recommends a serum 25 hydroxyvitamin D level between 50-80ng/mL, and supplementing with 4,000 to 5,000 IU a day of cholecalciferol (D3).

  • Essential Fatty Acids are essential for healthy hormone production and help to reduce inflammation in your body. Food sources: cold-water fish, fish oil, flax seeds, evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant seed oil. Supplementation: DHA + EPA. Try our Omega-3 DHA & EPA

  • B-vitamins are necessary for hormone synthesis Food Sources: beef, chicken, fish, pork, organ meats, nutritional yeast Supplementation: A multivitamin that includes absorbable forms of B vitamins (6,8).

  • Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that can increase thyroid hormone levels and protect the thyroid from cortisol-induced imbalances.

  • Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory antioxidant with the potential to increase thyroid function. Try our Golden Collagen powder that contains a highly absorbable form of turmeric, curcumin (and it's delicious!)

Mother Nutrient offers a line of superfoods, probiotics, and nutraceutical supplements that can support and nourish your body with the necessary building blocks to feel better in the postnatal period. Learn more about how they can help with autoimmune disease and other postnatal issues by visiting our products page.



Recognizing symptoms and reaching out for help is the first step in improving your thyroid health. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. If you want to learn more about ways to improve your postnatal experience, Mother Nutrient can help!




Sign up for our newsletter on our homepage to get promotions, discounts, and access to awesome nutrition tips and recommendations. When you join, you will receive a free copy of "Top 10 Postnatal Nutrition Tips!"


We also offer a free wellness quiz to help you determine where you stand on a variety of health dimensions including energy level, nutrient deficiency, and emotional wellbeing.

It takes less than 5 minutes, and you get targeted diet, lifestyle, and supplement recommendations along with your customized nutrition report based on your results!

How did pregnancy and birth affect your autoimmune conditions? Tell me in the comments! You can also share this post by clicking next to the title!



Content found on this website is not considered medical advice. Please consult with a physician before making any medical or lifestyle changes.

References

1. Rochester D, Davies T. Increased Risk of Graves' Disease After Pregnancy. Thyroid. 2005;15:1287-1290.

2. Khashan A, Kenny L, Laursen T, Mahmood U, Mortensen P, Henriksen T, O'Donoghue K. Pregnancy and the Risk of Autoimmune Disease. PLoS ONE. 2011;6:e19658.

3. Andersen SL, et al. Hypothyroidism incidence in and around pregnancy: a Danish nationwide study, 2016

4. Singh N, Perfect J. Immune Reconstitution Syndrome and Exacerbation of Infections after Pregnancy. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2007;45:1192-1199.

5.Bonnie Juettner. Diseases & Disorders Detroit: Lucent Books, 2010. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning

6.Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. Therapeutic Nutrition. Penngrove, CA. Bauman College, 2015.

7. Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., Pizzorno, L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York. Atria Books, 2005.

8.Pizzorno, J., Murray, M., Joiner-Bey, H. The Clinician’s Handbook of Natural Medicine. St. Louis, MO.

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Content found on this website is not considered medical advice. Please consult with a physician before making any medical or lifestyle changes.

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