Fern Olivia is the founder of Thyroid.Yoga and an L.A.-based wellness expert renowned for her artful approach to self-healing. This week, we’re sharing her expertise on yoga, meditation, breathwork, and plant-based alchemy and her own journey recovering from Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. To learn more, check out her new mindbodygreen course, Thyroid Yoga: Holistic Health Practices, Postures, & Self-Care Rituals To Restore Vibrant Health.
Though it weighs less than an ounce, the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland in the middle of your lower neck plays a very important role in the dance of your life. It produces hormones that influence every cell, tissue, and organ in your body.
Your thyroid regulates your metabolism—the rate at which your body produces energy—and in turn, it affects critical body functions, such as your energy levels, heart rate, and fertility. Your thyroid gland is also involved in gastrointestinal function, blood-sugar regulation, stomach-acid production, brain chemistry, and liver detoxification. So when something goes wrong with your thyroid, it can manifest in many different ways.
Most thyroid conditions result from an out-of-balance immune system attacking the thyroid. This can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, toxins, a gut imbalance, poor stress response, and/or a chronic infection. In my unique integrative practice, Thyroid.Yoga™, I help clients rebalance their immune and lymphatic systems—helping them find relief from conditions including hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Hashimoto's, Graves', and thyroid cancer.
The signs of a thyroid condition can be subtle and are often misdiagnosed or brushed off as just "getting older" or "feeling run-down." Here are some of the most common symptoms I see in my clients that I encourage you to be on the lookout for as well.
Issues with weight
Thyroid hormone regulates metabolism, which affects how effectively a person burns calories. I’ve noticed that efforts to lose weight without addressing thyroid and adrenal issues are doomed to fail, and it’s the missing link many women overlook.
Low sex drive
A thyroid imbalance may certainly disrupt our desire for sex. Some experts believe that people who describe themselves as asexual (who have no desire for sex whatsoever) may be suffering from lifelong thyroid dysfunction. I can tell you that when my thyroid levels were completely out of whack, I had zero sex drive for months, and it’s something that many women I work with have been fed up with, too.
Irregular (or lack of) periods
Many menstrual problems may be symptoms of undiagnosed thyroid conditions. Girls who have either very early or very late menstruation should be evaluated for a potential thyroid problem, as they can frequently be a cause of early or delayed puberty. In addition, any change in menstrual patterns—more or less frequent periods, the onset of substantially heavier or lighter periods, or the lack of periods entirely (amenorrhea)—should trigger a comprehensive thyroid evaluation by your physician. It shocks me that most OB/GYNs do not check thyroid levels when women come in with concerns about their cycle. I lost my period for two years and I was constantly told to get back on the birth control pill; there was no mention about my thyroid health and the stress in my life that may have triggered the symptoms. This is precisely why I am doing this work—to empower women with this self-awareness and knowledge!
Problems getting pregnant
Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can make it difficult for women to conceive, as imbalances with the thyroid hormone can upset the balance of the hormones that cause ovulation. Hypothyroidism can also cause your body to make more prolactin, the hormone that tells your body to make breast milk and can prevent ovulation. Women who have difficulty conceiving with no family history of infertility, or who miscarry in the early stages of pregnancy, should have their thyroid levels checked. I’ve worked with many women who were told they could not get pregnant because of their thyroid condition—but through the work we did together, they were able to balance their hormones naturally and now have healthy babies!
When your thyroid isn’t working right, neither is your brain. If you are feeling depressed or anxious and you have not responded to typical medications, this is a good indication that you actually have an underlying thyroid problem. Depression is often linked to hypothyroidism, while many doctors have noticed a connection between hyperthyroidism and frequent panic attacks. When the thyroid fails to produce enough serotonin in the brain, symptoms such as brain fog, mental fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration are often experienced as well, because the brain chemistry is off balance. This is why it is so important to focus on the health of the entire glandular system before resorting to quick-fix pills that don't address the root cause.
If you have these symptoms and suspect a thyroid condition may be to blame, I highly recommend seeking out an integrative medical practitioner or naturopath specializing in thyroid health for testing and supplement recommendations, then complementing that protocol with holistic lifestyle rituals. While prescription thyroid hormones may bring levels in the blood into a normal range, they won't address what caused the thyroid to slow down in the first place. That will more likely call for sustained lifestyle changes that support hormonal balance.
Think of it this way: If the check-engine light on your car flares, which would be smarter? To investigate the engine or remove the light?
What was instrumental in MY healing was listening to my body and treating it as a temple rather than as a patient who needed fixing. I did this through a process of targeted yoga, meditation, breathing, nutrition, and self-care rituals that were unique to MY body. You can do this, too: Instead of simply masking your awful, uncomfortable symptoms, I encourage you to understand WHY you are having them. Your body is shouting at you that something is wrong and is asking you to please, please pay attention and give it some love.