Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that affects approximately 5 million women in the United States. These symptoms include body hair growth, infertility, irregular periods, fatigue, mood swings, weight loss issues, and more. If these side effects sound familiar, it may be because many of these PCOS symptoms are similar to hypothyroidism, another endocrine disorder.
Because of the similarities between hypothyroidism and PCOS, people often wonder if they are related at all. Well, we’re going to use this post today to break down the link between polycystic ovary syndrome and hypothyroidism.
PCOS and hypothyroidism
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that plays a huge role in our digestion, mental health, metabolism, reproduction, and menstruation. It affects almost every part of our body. This is because all of our tissues and organs have thyroid receptors, which means that a thyroid domino problem results in problems throughout the body.
When a person has hypothyroidism, something is preventing their thyroid gland from working at maximum capacity. An underactive thyroid then causes a number of problems throughout the body. This is really similar to PCOS where a chemical imbalance prevents normal biological functions. Like hypothyroidism, the underlying cause of PCOS can vary. You can find the different types of PCOS and where the symptoms originate in our previous blog HERE.
Are PCOS and hypothyroidism related?
Women with PCOS are more likely to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism. It’s not surprising that one endocrine disruption can lead to another, as one hormone imbalance can turn into a series of hormonal imbalances as your body tries to adjust and compensate.
There are 4 types of PCOS that can cause hypothyroidism:
There are many evidence-based theories about whether or not PCOS is an autoimmune disorder. However, the classification doesn’t really matter because PCOS is associated with autoimmune symptoms and a weakened immune system. In these compromised immune states, you can develop hypothyroidism because the antibodies in your system can attack your own tissue, including your thyroid gland. Over time, this weakens your thyroid gland.
Estrogen dominance is a common symptom experienced by women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is when the female sex hormone is overproduced, leading to unwanted hair growth, acne, irregular periods and infertility.
Estrogen dominance can also block your thyroid hormone receptors, blocking the junctions. When this happens, you can develop hypothyroidism because your tissue and organs are not getting adequate amounts of thyroid hormones.
Elevated stress hormones (AKA cortisol) are also common with PCOS. This stems from both the overall hormonal imbalance of PCOS and the co-morbidities of PCOS. High levels of stress in the body can also reduce thyroid function. Chronic stress can disrupt the normal functioning of the HPA axis, which regulates the body’s response to stress through the release of hormones. Stress can affect 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 with PCOS. You can learn more about why in our article titled Can Gluten Cause PCOS Symptoms? Gluten can cause inflammation, and this causes an autoimmune response and an increase in stress hormones.
Specifically, a study was done on the connection between gluten and the thyroid gland. It showed that gluten contains a protein called gliadin that closely resembles thyroid proteins through “molecular mimicry.” Your body can’t always tell the difference between a gliadin molecule and a thyroid molecule, so every time you eat gluten, your immune system attacks the thyroid as well as the gliadin protein. That, combined with high levels of stress, can wreak havoc on both thyroid and PCOS-related symptoms.
PCOS and thyroid connection
There are many ways to treat PCOS and hypothyroidism. We know they are definitely related, although we’re not sure how. It is better to consult your doctor if you experience the symptoms of hypothyroidism. And be sure to get your full thyroid labs done when confirming the diagnosis. Many basic lab tests test for only two of the possible thyroid hormones, all of which require data: a full thyroid panel.
Find the best solution with your doctor, but know that there are natural ways to reverse your symptoms and bring you back into balance. For more information on the link between hypothyroidism and PCOS, check out this episode of A Cyster and Her Mister. Below we will discuss the natural remedies I was referring to.
PCOS and hypothyroidism symptoms
- Increased insulin resistance
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Abnormal hair growth
- Male pattern baldness
- Add weight
- Body aches
- Dry skin
- High cholesterol
- Chronic cold
- Cold feeling
Treatment of PCOS and hypothyroidism
An anti-inflammatory diet free of dairy and gluten
We have already discussed how inflammation can trigger an autoimmune response in the body. It can also slow down the conversion of several hormones in your thyroid gland. That’s why you should consider an anti-inflammatory diet free of gluten and dairy to help boost thyroid function.
This diet may also have benefits for PCOS, worth checking out if you are sensitive to gluten and dairy. Many women have lost weight and managed blood sugar levels and seen overall improvement in symptoms of fatigue, mood swings, acne, irregular menstrual cycles.
You can learn more about how to reverse PCOS through diet on my blog, but you can also join The Cysterhood. You’ll get new recipes for a meal plan tailored to your carb tolerance, plus you’ll get regular new workouts, monthly accountability calls, and access to an amazing community of women struggling with PCOS just like you.
No matter how good your diet is, it’s hard to get all the vitamins and minerals you need. 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 in a specific link, but below we’ll discuss a few that are especially helpful if you’re also struggling with thyroid issues.
Herbs are another great way to relieve symptoms naturally. Some studies have shown that ashwagandha, gumguggul, and coleus forskohlii are beneficial for thyroid function. To learn more about herbs for PCOS, see this post.
Like herbs, essential oils will not fully cure your PCOS or hypothyroidism. However, when combined with other solutions on this list, it can support your healing process and relieve symptoms. Spearmint, spearmint, myrrh, rose geranium, and cedar wood may be helpful for hypothyroidism. And many of these double down and help relieve PCOS symptoms as well. You can read about which essential oils are best and how to use them HERE.
Hot and cold therapy
If you have aches and pains due to thyroid problems, hot and cold therapy can help with that chronic pain. People also report other benefits of hot and cold therapy, such as reduced inflammation, increased energy, better focus, and improved mood, which women with PCOS/hypothyroidism need.
Studies have also shown that acupuncture can help reduce symptoms of hypothyroidism and even improve thyroid function. Other research suggests that acupuncture may improve fertility, insulin sensitivity, and testosterone balance in women with PCOS.
Yoga and self-care
Since stress is a big contributing factor to hypothyroidism and PCOS symptoms, 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 medications that give your body the thyroid hormones it needs to function. These are usually levoxyl, citroid or tyrosynth. They help give you a balanced hormonal state as you work to reverse your condition. Talk to your doctor or endocrinologist for more information.
Supplements for PCOS and Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism can affect your vitamin B-1 and B-12 levels. Taking a supplement can replenish your B vitamin levels and relieve deficiency symptoms.
Hypothyroidism and PCOS are sometimes accompanied by gastrointestinal problems associated with poor gut health. In 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 these and some of the symptoms of PCOS. Here’s our roundup of the best probiotics to talk to your doctor about.
Selenium is a trace element necessary for proper thyroid function, but hypothyroidism can reduce the amount of selenium in the body. The app can help keep you balanced.
Thyroid hormones are needed to break down zinc. Therefore, an under-functioning thyroid gland can lead to zinc deficiency. These low zinc levels can cause symptoms such as hair loss or thinning, and a zinc supplement can help with this.
PCOS and Hypothyroidism Diet Plan
PCOS and hypothyroidism may be related, but both can be reversed naturally.
Hypothyroidism and PCOS are both endocrine disorders that come with a variety of symptoms that can make everyday life really difficult. Fortunately, once you know the connection and consequences of these hormone disturbances, you can take steps to naturally treat your endocrine problems and get back to your PCOS self. Join us every week on the blog and podcast for more PCOS tips!