Women’s bodies are amazing, but they can also be complicated. And nothing seems more complex than the intricate balance between our hormones.
Thyroid disorders like Hashimoto’s disease, reproductive conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are some of the most common and challenging health issues women face. Because these three issues all stem from hormonal imbalance, they can often show up simultaneously.
Here, we’ll take a closer look at PCOS, the thyroid, their resulting symptoms (like hormonal acne and weight gain) to discover why they are linked. We’ll also explore some simple ways to improve our hormone balance naturally to reverse and prevent these issues.
Thyroid-PCOS Connection: How is the Thyroid Linked to PCOS?
With so many women presenting with both under-active thyroid disorders and PCOS, doctors and researchers have been left to wonder: are there any connections between the thyroid and PCOS? As it turns out, there are quite a few.
Studies show that the two not only share some of the same symptoms and presentations, but they may even have the same underlying causes. Let’s take a look at both PCOS and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis to discover the link:
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine disorders and reproductive disorders. PCOS is estimated to affect at least 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. PCOS typically develops in response to high androgen levels (like testosterone), high insulin levels or insulin resistance, inflammation, or genetics.
Women with PCOS produce more male hormones (also called androgens) than they should. These excess androgens cause a host of symptoms, but the main effect is delayed or irregular periods and the development of “cysts.” These small, fluid-filled cysts grow up to 8mm inside the ovaries as follicles containing immature eggs. These cysts cause the ovaries to enlarge, which affects the quality of the developing eggs.
In addition to ovarian cysts, here are some of the most common symptoms of PCOS:
Inconsistent Or Absent Periods
Women with PCOS tend to have fewer than 8 menstrual periods in a year or stop having their period entirely. They might also experience heavy bleeding during their menstrual cycle.
Unwanted Hair Growth Or Loss
Hair may grow excessively on the face, chin, chest, buttocks, and other areas. This condition is known as hirsutism, and it affects up to 70 to 80% of women who have PCOS. Some women experience hair loss, thinning, or male-patterned baldness.
Difficulty Getting Pregnant
PCOS is one of the leading causes of female infertility. PCOS causes irregular ovulation, which can make getting pregnant tricky. Ovarian cysts can also reduce the health of a woman’s eggs.
PCOS is linked to insulin resistance, which can cause weight gain or make losing weight difficult.
Skin Changes and Acne
PCOS often causes darkened skin patches, oily skin, or other skin changes. Acne is one of the main symptoms of PCOS and is closely tied to hormone imbalances.
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition that causes harmful inflammation of the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. This inflammation damages the thyroid and prevents it from working properly. As a result, hypothyroidism develops. If left untreated, it can progressively lead to chronic thyroid damage.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis:
- Fatigue or sluggishness
- Mood swings
- Unexplained weight loss or difficulty losing weight
- Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Pale, dry skin and puffy face
- Acne or skin changes
Infertility and a lack of menstrual periods
Hectic Hormones and Insulin Resistance: The Link Between PCOS, Thyroid Disease, and Acne
Hashimoto’s and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are also known to co-develop, meaning one can trigger the other. For example, research shows that women with PCOS are three times more likely to develop Hashimoto’s thyroiditis than women who don’t have PCOS.
But how? The answer lies in hormone imbalance.
The Role of Insulin Resistance in Hormone Imbalance
Insulin is not a sex hormone like estrogen or testosterone, but it has just as significant an impact on PCOS and thyroid disorders. High levels of insulin cause the ovaries to secrete estrogen and testosterone above normal levels. This causes symptoms like delayed periods, excess hair growth, acne, and thyroid issues.
Too much insulin also causes a rise in specific cells called cytokines. These are inflammatory cells that trigger the body to mount an immune attack against itself (an autoimmune response). Some of these cytokines specifically attack thyroid cells, which leads to the autoimmune thyroid condition Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
In both PCOS and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, insulin resistance, inflammation, and imbalanced hormones are often at the root.
Insulin Resistance, PCOS, and Acne
Acne is one of the most common symptoms of PCOS. Women may develop large, painful, cystic acne on their face, chest, or back. This is most often a result of high testosterone, frequently due to insulin resistance. Higher levels of insulin can lead to elevated testosterone levels in women with PCOS.
Acne develops due to excess sebum that clogs the skin’s pores. Higher testosterone levels (as seen with PCOS) cause increased sebum production and therefore a higher likelihood of developing acne.
Insulin Resistance, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and Acne
It’s easy to see how acne is related to our sex hormones, but can acne be linked to the thyroid? The answer is yes. Acne is a common symptom of thyroid issues, in this case due to high insulin levels.
Insulin resistance is common in thyroid disorders. As the body requires more and more insulin to manage blood sugar properly, insulin builds up in the body. Higher levels of insulin trigger the development of androgens like testosterone. Again, testosterone causes an increase in sebum production, and the skin becomes clogged.
Natural Relief from PCOS, Acne, and Thyroid Disorders
The key to finding relief from issues like PCOS, thyroid disease, and acne is to balance the hormones. While a holistic and individualized treatment is the best approach, there are many things you can do now to help support your body’s best hormone balance.
Keep Blood Sugar Regulated and Don’t Skip Meals.
Skipping meals as a strategy to lose weight? Think again. Skipping meals causes blood sugar spikes and makes issues like insulin resistance even worse. Instead, keep your blood sugar levels balanced by eating a healthy breakfast with quality protein and enjoying healthy, low glycemic snacks throughout the day.
Eat An Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Supplement.
An anti-inflammatory diet helps promote a healthy hormone balance and prevent insulin spikes. First, ditch the sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods. Then, enjoy lots of fiber-rich vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish.
Make food your medicine by adding delicious, yet healing herbs like cinnamon, fenugreek, and turmeric to your meals. These help to reduce inflammation and regulate blood sugar levels.
Then, supplement with strategic nutrients. Here are some of our top picks:
- Dr. Danielle’s Liver Assist helps to naturally keep blood sugar under control and fight against insulin resistance. In addition, it helps to detoxify and support the liver. Because the liver processes the body’s excess estrogen, this is specifically helpful when there is an imbalance in estrogen (or estrogen dominance).
- Dr. Danielle’s Adrenal Wellness Stress Lift reduces stress levels naturally to keep hormones in balance.
Practice Stress Relief Techniques Like Yoga and Meditation.
Stress is one of the biggest culprits in hormone imbalances and can make PCOS, thyroid disease, and acne worse. Thankfully, stress relief exercises like yoga and meditation are simple ways to reduce stress and allow hormones to come back to a natural balance.
Studies show that yoga, meditation, mindfulness exercises, and general relaxation can also help reduce blood glucose and insulin levels. Another study found that young women with PCOS experienced improvements in their anxiety levels, body hair growth, weight, and menstrual issues after 12 weeks of yoga.
Healthier Hormone Balance Ahead
Your hormones can be tricky and frustrating to manage, but here’s the good news: because these issues are so intricately linked, healing one issue often heals them all. When you work to improve your body’s hormone balance, the symptoms of PCOS, thyroid disease, even the quality of your skin start to improve as well.
Want to learn more about managing your PCOS, thyroid condition, or acne naturally? Work with your doctor to get a clear picture of your hormone levels and your underlying root causes. Then, use the power of food, supplements, exercise, sleep, and healthy habits to restore a healthy balance.