GLA

Why You're at Risk for Thyroid Disease After 40

Peri-menopause - the 5-10 years leading up to menopause - is a common time to be diagnosed with a thyroid condition.

In this article, I’d like to address these questions:

• Why then?

• Why more in women?

• What can be done?

Peri-menopause may begin in your late 30s or early or mid 40s.  You may notice that your PMS is worse. You may have spotting between periods. Over time, your periods will likely get more dramatic, with missed periods and heavy periods.  

Other symptoms may be popping up too, like anxiety, brain fog and weight gain. You may be thinking, “these sound like thyroid symptoms,” and you could be right!

But before we explore the thyroid connection, let’s cover what is normally happening during peri-menopause.

What is Peri-menopause?

Peri-menopause is, in short, the opposite of puberty. In puberty your ovaries are waking up to start your reproductive years. Your brain and ovaries are learning to work together to coordinate a monthly cycle, and often the first few reproductive years are hormonally unstable.

In peri-menopause, the brain-ovary relationship is starting to shut down. The ovaries are closing up shop, but the brain keeps knocking at the door, trying to get the shopkeeper working again.   

The sex hormone that needs to rise sufficiently in the first half of the month is estrogen. It is produced by the ovaries as they also grow eggs. If you produce enough estrogen and release an egg, you’ll ovulate.  And if that egg is healthy and hearty, you’ll produce a good amount of progesterone in the second half of your cycle. (The egg sac, or corpus luteum, makes progesterone after ovulation.)

How Your Thyroid Could Be Impacted in Peri-menopause

Even though both estrogen and progesterone are declining in peri-menopause, progesterone declines more dramatically in this stage. This leads to a condition called ‘estrogen dominance.’

Too much estrogen can prevent the thyroid hormone from getting to where it needs to go and can prevent it from converting to its active form. For some women, their thyroid symptoms are simply a result of this high estrogen interfering with thyroid hormone activity.  We’ll talk about how to address estrogen dominance shortly.  

Another thing estrogen effects is the immune system. Estrogen is associated with stimulating the TH2 branch of the immune system (1).  TH2 is short for T Helper cell type 2, a lymphocyte (immune cell). TH2 is part of the adaptive immune system, which mounts a specific attack against pathogens.+  Adaptive immunity is usually a good thing, but it can also lead to autoimmunity if the antigen activity is directed towards itself.

As estrogen is the dominant sex hormone in women, this helps to explain why autoimmunity and thyroid disease is more common in women.  

As we age, we also experience decreased immunity, and a tendency towards TH2 response.  

“In the aged, however, naive cells are less likely to become effectors. In those that do, there is a documented shift towards a Th2 cytokine response.

The elderly have impaired ability to achieve immunization but much higher levels of circulating autoantibodies, (due to the lack of naive effectors) impaired response to viral infections, increased risk of bacterial infections, and increased risk of both neoplastic and autoimmune disease.” (3)

However, there is hope and action we can take to keep estrogen in check!

What To Do

1. Improve Gut Health

If you’ve studied the thyroid, you know that gut health is key to prevent an autoimmune response and to convert thyroid hormone effectively.  Did you know it’s also important to clear estrogen dominance?  One way your gut helps clear estrogen is through the estrobolome, “the aggregate of enteric bacterial genes whose products are capable of metabolizing estrogens.” (4)

You can be friendly to your gut by avoiding:

• Genetically modified foods (GMO) - These kill off friendly bacteria

• Sugars - These feed troublesome bacteria

• Unnecessary antibiotic use - This kills everything, with bacterial imbalance often resulting in its wake

You can be friendly to your gut by including:

• Small amounts of fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi

• A wide variety of fibers from salad greens, fresh spices, berries, etc.

• A long period from an early dinner to breakfast - lets your gut bacteria grow in peace!

2. Boost Progesterone

Progesterone helps keep estrogen in check, so boost it by giving your body ingredients to make hormones.

• Hemp Oil - I’ve been very impressed with how 1 T of hemp oil a day helps my own peri-menopausal hormones

• Borage Oil - This oil, usually in pill form, has gamma linoleic acid (GLA) to spark hormone production

• Maca- This adaptogenic root herb helps boosts hormone production and can benefit your energy levels and sex drive

 

3.  Help Out Your Immune System

If aberrant immunity could be a problem in your case, add some components that can balance your TH2 activity:

• Fish Oil- Fish oil has a balancing effect on the immune system and decreases inflammation. (5)  Quality matters with fish oil, so do research to find a good brand.

• Vitamin D- Vitamin D deficiency is found at higher levels in people with autoimmune thyroid disease.  (6) Talk to your doctor about getting your vitamin D tested and restoring it to a level around 60-80 NG/DL through sunshine and vitamin D3 supplementation.

Learn more about the thyroid at perimenopause from experts like Dana Trentini, Dr. Tom O’Bryan and Heather Dubé at the free, online Hormone Balance After 40 Summit!  

The summit happens live June 5-11, 2017, but recordings will live on after the live summit.

Healthy Fats for Happy Hormones

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In this article, we’ll be focusing on fats that increase the production of prostaglandins, which are not hormones, but are powerful, hormone-like agents that do important jobs such as regulating inflammation and stimulating hormone production. (1) So if you want to have regulated hormones and managed inflammation, read on to learn about your helpful prostaglandins and how to support them.

Are you dealing with symptoms like:

  • Hot flashes

  • Night sweats

  • Irregular periods

  • Heavy periods

  • Anxiety

  • Weight Gain

  • Menstrual migraines

These are all potential symptoms of inflammation and hormone imbalance that may benefit from the prostaglandin lovin’ you’ll learn about today.

What are Prostaglandins?

Prostaglandins are lipid compounds produced throughout the body, derived from fats and produced by an enzymatic process. They are made from Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats, plus some micronutrients and minerals are needed in their production as well.

Prostaglandins can both initiate and reduce inflammation. (2) Inflammation is a normal process in the body, but too much inflammation causes pain and hormone dysregulation. 

Since prostaglandins can be inflammatory or anti-inflammatory; one way to reduce symptoms is to increase anti-inflammatory prostaglandins by consuming the fats that are needed to make anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.

If you’re nutritionally savvy, you may have learned that Omega 3 fats are good and that Omega 6 fats are bad. This is somewhat true, but there’s more to it.

The Fats

Omega 3 and 6 fats are both polyunsaturated fatty acids, and the numbers 3 and 6 refer to the location of a double carbon bond within the structure of the molecule. Omega 3 and 6 oils are considered ‘essential’ to consume because the human body cannot make them.

The Omega 3s

Omega 3 oils are anti-inflammatory which means they reduce the unwanted symptoms of inflammation like headaches and acne. Their anti-inflammatory effect even helps in treating the autoimmune diseases that are becoming so common in women by regulating the immune system.  

The three types of Omega 3 fatty acids involved in human physiology are α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA comes from plant sources and DHA and EPA come from marine sources.

ALA sources of omega three can be converted in EPA and, less efficiently, to DHA. There has been some debate about the rate of this conversion.  It appears that women, as a result of higher estrogen levels, convert ALA to EPA at a higher rate than in men. (3)

EPA is what we are focusing on in this article, as it is converted to a prostaglandin.

From the Omega 3 category, consume foods such as:

  • Wild, fresh salmon

  • Grass-fed beef and lamb

  • Pastured chicken or duck eggs

  • Fish eggs

  • Sardines

  • Tuna

  • Oysters

  • Shrimp

  • Anchovies

  • Flounder

  • Bass

  • Mackerel

These vegetarian sources of Omega 3s are awesome additions to your diet:

  • Fresh ground flax seed

  • High lignan flax oil (use for dressing, not for cooking)

  • Walnuts

  • Chia seeds

  • Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Sea vegetables

  • Hemp seed and oil

As a supplement, you can take 1,000 mg /day of high quality fish oil, like this one we carry from Designs for Health.  You can also find an algae-based Omega 3 oil as well, like this one from Nordic Naturals.

 

The Omega 6s

While all clean sources of Omega 3's are good, Omega 6's are more of a mixed bag. 

Omega 6 oils include linoleic acid (LA), an essential fatty acid, and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).  Similar to the conversion process of the Omega 3 ALA into EPA, it is possible to CONVERT LA into GLA, but there can be snags in the process.  Another downside of linoleum acid is that too much is inflammatory.

So it’s best to get your linoleum acid from clean sources, and also to add in the lesser-known and potent GLA oils below.

The Bad Boys

Some Omega 6 fats are dangerous, like the ones coming from canola, corn, safflower oils. These processed vegetable oils often are derived from non-organic, genetically-modified seeds, and the oil can only be extracted from a series of complex steps.  In other words, they are not real food. The resulting product is inflammatory, can contribute to leaky gut, and can actually block normal hormone production and function, contributing to things like cramps and infertility. (4)

These oils are prevalent in processed foods like bakery items, margarines and most prepared foods, whether from the grocery store shelf, the deli section or a restaurant. When you use these oils to fry things like french fries, they become really bad, as the extra heat exposure creates even more free radicals.

Please do not use vegetable oils in your home cooking and avoid all margarines.  Minimize processed foods and cook at home much more than you eat out.  

The Good Girls

Clean sources of linoleic acid (LA) include:

  • Avocado

  • Almonds

  • Brazils nuts

  • Pistachios

  • Pecans

  • Pine nuts

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Organic organ meat

Great sources of gamma- linoleic acid (GLA) include:

  • Borage oil

  • Evening primrose oil

  • Flax oil

  • Olive oil

  • Hemp oil

  • Spirulina (5)

As mentioned earlier, LA can be converted to prostaglandins, but too much compared to Omega 3 ALA can be a problem. (6) So watch your ‘bad boy’ oil consumption. And do get your extra special GLA fats, as these are not inflammatory and tend to be the most overlooked in our diets.

It can be easy to increase good fats in your diet.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Drizzle hemp, flax or sesame oil over your cooked food or salad.

  • Buy raw nuts and mix with coconut flakes and dried berries for a trail mix/ easy snack. (Store in fridge.)

  • Add nuts and seeds to your morning smoothie.

  • Make a chia/ seed porridge.

  • Find a clean source of fish and learn to cook it!

  • Learn about sea vegetables and how to use them.

References:

  1. Before the Change: Taking Charge of Your Perimenopause by Ann Louise Gittleman, Harper Collins 1998

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3081099/

  3. http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/Omega-3-ALA-intakes-enough-for-EPA-DPA-levels-for-non-fish-eaters

  4. https://wellnessmama.com/2193/never-eat-vegetable-oil/

  5. https://wellnessmama.com/4738/spirulina-benefits/

  6. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/why-the-omega-3omega-6-ratio-may-not-matter-after-all/

Bridgit Danner, LAc, FDNP  Founder of Women's Wellness Collaborative

Bridgit Danner, LAc, FDNP

Founder of Women's Wellness Collaborative

Bridgit Danner, LAc, FDNP, is trained in functional health coaching and has worked with thousands of women over her career since 2004. She is the founder of Women’s Wellness Collaborative llc and HormoneDetoxShop.com.