Pregnancy and Postpartum can Trigger Hypothyroidism

840 pregnancy and Hashimoto s

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.

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.

Pollutants Lower Sperm Counts

839 pollutants lower sperm counts

Infertility has been a growing problem over the last three decades, with most of the attention focused on women’s reproduction. However, 40 to 50 percent of cases of infertility are caused by male infertility. Research shows sperm quality has dropped by 50 percent in the last 80 years. Sperm quality of dogs has also declined sharply over recent years.

Now, a recent study shows common pollutants in the environment and in the foods we eat affect male fertility.

The British study looked at the
effects of two common pollutants on the sperm of both men and dogs. For this
study they studied a common plasticizer that is ubiquitous in our environment
and the industrial chemical polychlorinated biphenyl 153, which, though banned,
is still abundant in our foods and the environment.

They found that when sperm is
exposed to both these chemicals at levels found in the environment it damaged
the sperm. They reduced sperm motility and fragmented DNA in the sperm. Male
infertility is linked to DNA fragmentation in sperm.

Many studies link pollutants to poor sperm quality

The declining rates of sperm quality since the rise of industrialization are no surprise; other studies show links.

For instance, past research has shown that environmental pollutants not only impact male fertility but also raise the risk of testicular cancer. Poor sperm quality has even been linked to the chemical exposure of a man’s mother prior to his birth.

Also, chemicals called “endocrine disrupters” have long been shown to impact male fertility. That’s because they mimic human hormones — the female hormone estrogen primarily, thus throwing male hormones off balance.

Again, it’s the chemicals in plastics that are to blame for skewing male hormones and promoting infertility.

Low sperm counts and poor sperm quality have also been linked to benzenes, toluene, xylene, pesticides, herbicides, organic solvents, painting materials, and heavy metals.

Sugars and processed carbs impact male fertility

While industrial pollutants take their toll, so does a dietary pollutant that is a staple of the modern American diet: foods high in sugar and processed carbohydrates that spike blood sugar
and insulin levels.

Eating a diet high in these blood sugar-spiking ingredients triggers a man’s body to over produce estrogen. This not only gives him more feminine characteristics but also impacts his
fertility.

Symptoms of too much estrogen in men include:

  • Low libido
  • Decrease or loss of morning erections, fullness of erections, and the ability to maintain erections
  • Mental fatigue and poor concentration
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Decrease in physical stamina
  • Infertility

Men with excess estrogen also often have high cholesterol and triglycerides, insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure, abdominal weight gain, the development of “breasts” and “hips,”
and varicose veins or hemorrhoids. Some men even have hot flashes thanks to
high estrogen.

A variety of factors are shown to contribute to estrogen dominance in men, including estrogen mimicking chemicals in pesticides and environmental chemicals, poor essential fatty acid status
(too much omega 6 fatty acids and not enough omega 3), gut infections, and poor liver detoxification.

However, the most common cause is the effect of a high-carbohydrate diet on overall health.

When a man consistently eats a diet that is high in starchy and sugary foods, such as sweets, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, soda, and sweet coffee drinks, this chronically over produces
insulin in order to low high blood sugar.

This type of diet triggers an enzyme called aromatase, which synthesizes estrogen. The constant activity of aromatase also leads to insulin resistance—when insulin cannot escort glucose
into the cells—which causes hormonal imbalances.

Addressing excess estrogen in men

Don’t be fooled into thinking using testosterone gel is the way around high estrogen. Thanks to aromatase, the additional testosterone will simply be converted into estrogen too. The excess
testosterone can also cause testosterone resistance, which makes symptoms of low testosterone worse. Instead, a hormone panel that includes levels of testosterone and estrogen will reveal the mechanisms of the imbalance and what the best course of action is for you.

Functional medicine strategies for male infertility

While we can’t rid the environment of pollutants, we can minimize our exposure and help buffer our bodies. In addition to replacing toxic items in your home, body care, house cleaning, and
diet with non-toxic alternatives, you can also help your body by supporting your liver detoxification, antioxidant glutathione status, and body’s stress handling abilities.

It’s also vital to use diet and lifestyle changes to support healthy testosterone levels. Ask my office about functional medicine therapies to support healthy male testosterone and fertility.

New Study Shows Processed Foods Shorten Your Life

838 processed foods shorten life

A new study shows regularly eating processed foods — the staple of most western diets — can shorten your life. In functional medicine, we know from the published research that a diet based on processed foods also will significantly increase your chances of suffering from chronic disease. Common chronic diseases tied to diet include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

The study was conducted in France and published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal. It tracked almost 45,000 adults, most of them in their late 50s at the start of the study. Researchers followed the health and the diet of the subjects over a period of eight years.

On average, the subjects derived about a third of their calories from processed foods. The processed foods researchers looked at included the following:

  • Instant noodles
  • Instant soups
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Energy bars and drinks
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Ready-made meals and snacks
  • Packaged snack foods
  • Any foods made using industrial processing

During the course of the study, more than 600 subjects died, primarily from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

In looking at the deaths, the researchers adjusted for general health, socioeconomic status, and influencing behaviors, and compliance with a healthy diet.

However, even after all that, they still found that every 10 percent increase in consuming processed foods was linked with a 14 percent higher chance of early death.

Why eating a lot of processed foods leads to chronic disease and earlier death

In considering the link of processed foods to risk of earlier death, the authors suggest the following possibilities:

High-temperature processing may form contaminants. High-heat food processing can alter protein structures so that the body sees them as inflammatory. In functional medicine we know that high temperatures also make industrial oils used in food processing toxic to the brain and body.

Additives may be carcinogenic. Food additives are synthetic chemicals that are foreign to the human body. Chemical food additives bind with food proteins to create new molecules that the immune system recognizes as an invader. Many synthetic chemicals are also simply difficult for the body to metabolize and eliminate, thus raising inflammation and the toxic burden. Many additives have also been linked to brain-based symptoms and disorder. Simply put, food is no place for synthetic chemicals that have little safety vetting.

Packaging of prepared foods can lead to contamination. The industrial nature of the packaging process can introduce harmful toxins into the food itself. Also, if you are gluten-free, eating packaged foods is always a crap shoot as they are most likely contaminated with gluten due to multiple foods being processed on the same equipment.

What we know about processed foods in functional medicine

Those were the concerns listed by the researchers. In functional medicine we are aware of other reasons processed foods cause chronic disease and raise the risk of an early death.

Industrial oils. The brain is made of primarily fat and the fats you eat determine the health of your brain. The oils used in food processing are industrial seed oils that are generally rancid due to their very unstable molecular structure. These oils contribute to poor neuron structure and integrity and thus cause overall brain health to suffer. They are also generally inflammatory. Additionally, processed foods that contain hydrogenated fats are especially problematic for the brain and body and linked with cognitive decline, heart disease, and inflammation.

Poor fatty acid ratio. The oils used in processed foods are very high in omega 6 fatty acids. Human health requires a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids (such as from nuts and cold-water fish) of at least 4:1 though 1:1 is even better. Sadly, most Americans eat a ratio of 25:1 thanks to processed foods. In other words, way too much omega 6. This puts the body in an inflammatory state that promotes obesity and chronic disease.

Too many processed carbohydrates. One of the biggest promoters of chronic disease and dementia is unstable blood sugar from eating a diet too high in processed carbohydrates. Processed and packaged foods are predominantly grain-based and/or sugary and very high in carbs. This sends blood sugar on a tail spin every time you eat them, promoting inflammation and the chronic disease process.

Gluten. Most packaged and processed foods are wheat-based and thus loaded with gluten. Many people have undiagnosed gluten sensitivity or celiac disease that keeps their body in a constant state of inflammation, thus promoting chronic disease. Gluten is linked with 55 diseases so far, most of them autoimmune.

Eating a whole foods diet with basic real-food ingredients is one of the best things you can do to turn your health around. For more advice on a whole foods diet, please contact my office.