Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a disruption of the endocrine system that affects around 5 million women in the U.S. Women with PCOS can struggle with managing the side effects of PCOS. These symptoms include body hair growth, infertility, irregular periods, fatigue, mood swings, issues with weight loss, and more. If these side effects sound familiar, it may be because many of these PCOS symptoms are similar to that of hypothyroidism, another endocrine disorder.
Because of the similarities between hypothyroidism and PCOS, people have often speculated if they’re at all related. Well, we’re going to use this post today to break down the relationship between polycystic ovarian syndrome and hypothyroidism.
PCOS And Hypothyroidism
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland in your neck that plays a huge role in our digestion, mental health, metabolism, reproduction, and menstruation. It influences nearly every part of our body! This is because all of our tissues and organs have thyroid receptors, which means a problem with the thyroid dominos into problems all over our body.
When a person has hypothyroidism, something is preventing their thyroid from working at max power. The underactive thyroid then creates a series of issues throughout the body. This is really similar to PCOS, where chemical imbalances prevent normal biological functions. Like hypothyroidism, the root cause of PCOS can vary. You can find the different types of PCOS and where the symptoms stem from in our previous blog HERE.
Are PCOS and Hypothyroidism Related?
Women with PCOS are more likely to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism. It’s unsurprising that one endocrine disorder could lead to another, because the imbalance of a single hormone can cascade into a series of hormonal imbalances as your body tries to adjust and compensate.
There are 4 ways PCOS may be triggering hypothyroidism:
There are lots of evidence-based theories about whether or not PCOS is an autoimmune disorder. However, the classification really doesn’t matter, because PCOS is associated with auto-immune symptoms and a weakened immune system. In these compromised immune states, you can develop hypothyroidism because your system’s antibodies may attack your own tissue, including your thyroid gland. Over time, this weakens your thyroid function.
Estrogen dominance is a common symptom women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) encounter. This is when the female sex hormone is overproduced causing unwanted hair growth, acne, irregular periods, and infertility.
Estrogen dominance can also prevent your thyroid hormones from reaching its receptors by blocking the connection points. When this happens, you could develop hypothyroidism as your tissue and organs are prevented from getting the appropriate amount of thyroid hormones.
Elevated stress hormones (AKA cortisol) is also common with PCOS. This comes from both general PCOS hormonal imbalance and from PCOS comorbidities. High levels of stress in the body can also reduce your thyroid function. Chronic stress can disrupt the normal functioning of the HPA axis, which regulates the body’s response to stress through hormone release. Stress can potentially impact the production and regulation of thyroid hormones.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I recommend trying a gluten-free diet to help combat PCOS. You can learn more about why in our article titled “Can Gluten Trigger PCOS Symptoms?” Gluten could be causing inflammation, and that triggers an autoimmune response and the elevation of stress hormones.
Specifically, there was a study done on the connection between gluten and the thyroid. It showed that gluten contains a protein called gliadin, which closely resembles proteins of the thyroid gland through something called “molecular mimicry.” Your body can’t always tell the gliadin molecule and the thyroid molecule apart, so every time you eat gluten, your immune system attacks your thyroid as well as the gliadin protein. That combined with the high stress levels can wreak havoc on both your thyroid and PCOS-related symptoms.
The PCOS and Thyroid Link
There are lots of ways PCOS and hypothyroidism could be linked. We know they’re definitely connected, though we’re not certain how. It’s best to consult your doctor if you’re experiencing the symptoms of hypothyroidism. And, ensure you get full labs done on your thyroid when confirming a diagnosis. Many basic lab tests only test two of the possible thyroid hormones—you need data on all of them- a full thyroid panel.
Find the best solution with your physician, but know there are natural ways to reverse your symptoms and get yourself balanced again. For more on the connection between hypothyroidism and PCOS, check out this episode of A Cyster and Her Mister. Below, we’ll discuss those natural treatment methods I was referring to!
PCOS And Hypothyroidism Symptoms
- Increased insulin resistance
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Abnormal hair growth
- Male-pattern baldness
- Weight gain
- Body aches
- Dry skin
- High cholesterol
- Chronic colds
- Feeling cold
PCOS And Hypothyroidism Treatment
Dairy- and Gluten-Free Anti-Inflammatory Diet
We already discussed how inflammation can cause an auto-immune response in the body. It can also slow down the conversion of a few of your thyroid hormones. This is why a gluten- and dairy-free anti-inflammatory diet should be considered to help boost thyroid function.
This diet could have benefits for the PCOS side of things too, it is worth finding out if you are sensitive to gluten and dairy. Many women have lost weight and managed blood sugar levels and seen an overall improvement in symptoms of fatigue, mood swings, acne, irregular menstrual cycles.
You can learn more about how to reverse PCOS with diet on my blog, but also consider joining The Cysterhood. You’ll get new recipes for a meal plan custom suited to your carb tolerance, and you’ll also receive regular new workouts, monthly accountability calls, and access to an amazing community of women just like you fighting PCOS!
No matter how great your diet is, it’s hard to get all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Because of these inevitable nutritional deficiencies, supplements for PCOS and/or hypothyroidism are a good thing to consider. You can find the best natural supplements for PCOS specifically at the link, but below we’ll discuss some that are particularly helpful if you’re struggling with thyroid problems as well.
Herbs are another great way to naturally alleviate symptoms. Some studies have found ashwagandha, gum guggul, and coleus forskohlii to be beneficial for thyroid function. For more on herbs for PCOS, check out this post.
Like herbs, essential oils won’t totally cure your PCOS or hypothyroidism. However, when companioned with other solutions on this list, it can support your healing process and relieve symptoms! Spearmint, peppermint, myrrh, rose geranium, and cedarwood can all be beneficial for hypothyroidism. And, many of these double-dip and help alleviate PCOS symptoms, too. You can read more about what essential oils are best and how to use them HERE.
Hot and Cold Therapy
If you experience aches and pains due to your thyroid issues, hot and cold therapy has been shown to help with that chronic soreness. People report other benefits to hot and cold therapy too, like reduced inflammation, increased energy, better focus, and improved mood—all of which women with PCOS/hypothyroidism need!
Studies have also found that acupuncture may help reduce symptoms of hypothyroidism and even help improve thyroid functioning. Other research shows acupuncture may improve fertility, insulin sensitivity, and testosterone balance in women with PCOS.
Yoga and Self-Care
Since stress is such a big contributing factor to hypothyroidism and the symptoms of PCOS, reducing stress can help you find a lot of relief. Consider yoga or other self-care practices that lower your stress levels for better hormone balance.
A doctor can also help your thyroid problems by prescribing medication that gives your body the missing thyroid hormones it needs to function. Usually, these are levoxyl, sythroid, or tirosint. They help give you a balanced hormonal state as you work on reversing your condition. Talk to your doctor or endocrinologist for more information!
PCOS And Hypothyroidism Supplements
Hypothyroidism can affect your vitamin B-1 and B-12 levels. Taking a supplement can replenish your vitamin B levels and relieve symptoms associated with the deficiency.
Hypothyroidism and PCOS sometimes come with GI problems from poor gut health. For hypothyroidism, this is because your body produces less bile. In turn, nutrients are not broken down and absorbed properly, causing further deficiencies. Probiotics can help with this and certain PCOS symptoms. Here’s our roundup of the best probiotics to talk to your doctor about.
Selenium is a necessary trace element for proper thyroid function, however, hypothyroidism can reduce the amount of selenium in the body. A supplement can help keep you balanced.
You need thyroid hormones to break down zinc. Therefore, a low functioning thyroid can lead to zinc deficiencies. These low levels of zinc can cause symptoms like hair loss or thinning hair, and a zinc supplement can potentially help with that!
PCOS And Hypothyroidism Diet Plan
PCOS and hypothyroidism may be linked, but both can be reversed naturally!
Hypothyroidism and polycystic ovarian syndrome are both endocrine disorders that come with a slew of symptoms that can make day-to-day life really difficult. Luckily, once you know the connection and effects of these hormone disruptions, you can take steps to naturally heal your endocrine problems and get back to being your pre-PCOS self again. Join us every week on the blog and podcast for more PCOS-fighting tips.