Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune disorder that primarily impacts thyroid function; however, it can also have far-reaching effects on other aspects of health, including fertility.
In this article, we will explore the link between Hashimoto's and infertility and discuss how functional medicine offers a root cause approach to treating this condition.
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your neck that produces two important thyroid hormones. These hormones influence essentially every organ in the body and have an enormous effect on health. For example, your thyroid hormones regulate body temperature, metabolism, your menstrual cycle, red blood cell production, and much more.
Hashimoto's is characterized by the immune system mistakenly attacking the thyroid gland, leading to inflammation and eventual damage. Over time, this damage can impair the thyroid's ability to produce thyroid hormones
and may increase the risk of infertility. Hashimoto’s is also the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States.
While around 5 to 10 percent of the general population suffers from Hashimoto’s, women are 10 times more likely to have this disease than men (1
Signs and Symptoms
Because Hashimoto’s eventually causes hypothyroidism, most of the common signs and symptoms of this disease correlate with symptoms of hypothyroidism such as:
- Brittle nails
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair or hair loss (alopecia)
- Weight gain
- Difficulty losing weight
- High cholesterol
- Muscle cramps
- Cold intolerance
- Heavy or irregular periods
If you suspect hypothyroidism, most conventional doctors will order blood work to assess TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). A TSH usually indicates hypothyroidism. However, there are many nuances to this scenario. For example, the conventional range for a “normal” TSH is between 0.5 - 4.5 mlU/L. Yet, this misses many cases of subclinical hypothyroidism
, so functional medicine providers prefer a narrower and more optimal range of 1.0 - 2.5 mIU/L. Furthermore, many people may have a normal TSH but have a low free T4 or low free T3 level
, which would also be indicative of hypothyroidism. Elevated thyroid antibodies on a blood test confirm the diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroid disease.
In order to capture all cases of hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, we recommend requesting a full thyroid panel from your doctor. This would include:
- Free T4
- Free T3
- Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPO Ab)
- Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TG Ab)
We order a full thyroid panel with antibodies for all of our Root members
Hashimoto’s and Infertility
The thyroid plays a crucial role in maintaining reproductive health for both men and women.
In women, thyroid hormones help regulate the menstrual cycle, ovulation, and the development of the uterine lining necessary for implantation (2
). When thyroid function is disrupted due to Hashimoto's, it can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, anovulation (lack of ovulation), and a suboptimal uterine environment, all of which contribute to difficulties in conceiving. Additionally, thyroid dysfunction can lead to imbalances in sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. These imbalances further impact fertility by affecting egg quality
, hormone production, and risk of miscarriage (3
). A large review study recently found that Hashimoto’s can especially increase infertility risk in women who are in their late 30’s or early 40’s (4
While often missed, Hashimoto’s can also affect male fertility.
In men, thyroid hormones are essential for the development of healthy sperm (5
). Reduced thyroid function can lead to changes in sperm morphology (size and shape) and motility (movement), both of which are critical for successful fertilization. Men with Hashimoto's thyroid disease may also experience alterations in semen parameters, including sperm count, volume, and concentration.
Functional Medicine for Hashimoto’s
A functional medicine approach to Hashimoto’s aims to identify and treat the root cause of this autoimmune condition. In individuals with infertility, the hope is that by fully addressing this condition, your chances of conceiving and achieving a healthy pregnancy is significantly improved.
When it comes to Hashimoto's thyroid disease and its impact on fertility, functional medicine offers a comprehensive approach that involves:
Diet plays a significant role in managing Hashimoto's disease and supporting fertility. A functional medicine approach may involve identifying food sensitivities, addressing nutrient deficiencies (such as vitamin D, zinc, and vitamin B12), and recommending an anti-inflammatory diet rich in whole foods, antioxidants, and healthy fats. These three nutrients are not only crucial for thyroid health, but are also incredibly important for hormone production, egg health, and overall fertility.
Our Thyroid Supplement Bundle
was also specifically designed to provide the necessary nutrients to optimize thyroid hormone function, support the immune system, and reduce inflammation.
Poor gut health is a common root cause of Hashimoto’s. Your gut bacteria play a critical role in normal immune system development because an estimated 70 percent of your immune system resides in your gut! When gut health is compromised through dysbiosis or leaky gut, your immune system is also affected and autoimmune disease may occur.
Functional medicine may involve addressing gut imbalances through dietary changes, supportive supplements, probiotics, and other interventions. Read more about our gut healing protocol
Stress management, regular exercise, and adequate sleep are crucial components of functional medicine. Stress can exacerbate autoimmune conditions and disrupt hormonal balance. Incorporating stress-reduction techniques like meditation, yoga, and mindfulness can have positive effects on both thyroid health and fertility.
Hashimoto's thyroid disease can significantly impact both male and female fertility due to its effects on thyroid function, hormonal balance, and sperm health. By addressing the underlying causes with functional medicine, individuals with Hashimoto's can improve their chances of achieving a healthy pregnancy. If you're struggling with fertility issues related to Hashimoto's, we offer personalized testing, individualized treatment plans, nutrition guidance, and more in our functional medicine membership program