The PCOS-Thyroid Connection & 4 Plant-Powered Support Strategies

Thyroid Thursday Week 1 – Facebook Live Replay Jan 7 2021

Summary notes:

Welcome to the first week of Thyroid Thursdays!

As we get started on this first broadcast of the New Year, if you’re watching live, or even later on the replay, please feel free to comment and let me know if increasing your energy, reducing stress, or balancing your hormones are among your January health goals! (You can just put energy, stress, or hormones real quick).

So for those who are new to my world, I’m Sara Galipeau, nutritionist and owner of Love Plants for Life, with a focus on plant-powered strategies for hormone health – especially conditions affecting and affected by the menstrual cycle, including PCOS.

And since January is Thyroid Awareness Month, I wanted to kick it off by talking about the connection between PCOS and the thyroid.

So first of all, the thyroid is basically the master gland, controlling most of your metabolism through thyroid hormones – mainly TSH, T3, and T4. And there are disorders of the thyroid that can also contribute to metabolic disorders (and vice versa). I don’t want to get super technical on these talks for brevity, but in a nutshell:

PCOS – polycystic ovary syndrome – is actually more of a metabolic disorder, affecting insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular health, and overall endocrine balance, which includes the thyroid.

Thyroid hormones and testosterone have a kind of feedback on each other and the ovaries, both affecting ovarian function and follicle stimulating hormone, which in turn contributes to how the follicles, or cysts, form on the ovaries prior to ovulation. When thyroid function is low or testosterone is high or both, multiple follicles may form (thus the name polycystic ovary), but without enough of the right hormones, they may not be released properly and this is why ovulation and periods may be irregular or may not even occur.

And the symptoms of PCOS and hypothyroid can overlap, so it can be easy to misdiagnose as one without the other. Symptoms like anxiety, depression, insulin resistance, problem skin, hair loss, excess visceral fat, and so on. It’s also part of why it can take a long time to get a confirmed PCOS diagnosis, since regular blood tests don’t always measure hormones outside of, like, TSH unless specifically ordered or referred out.

Anyway, because of this overlap I like to support and nourish the thyroid as part of my approach to PCOS.

As you likely know, I take a whole-food plant-based approach to this, so let me tell you about 4 plant-powered ways to support them at the same time that you can get started with right now.

  • Include raw nuts and seeds, even better if soaked or sprouted. These provide omega fatty acids, which are building blocks of various hormones and are anti-inflammatory. Nuts and seeds like Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds, particularly, are quite rich in the mineral selenium, which acts as a counterpart to iodine, the main thyroid-supportive mineral. Brazil nuts in particular are extremely rich in selenium, to the point where just 1 a day (or 2 or 3 once every 2 or 3 days) provides your full day’s amount. Walnuts are also great for omega 3s, and some research indicates including them regularly may reduce testosterone by raising sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). As a bonus practice you can also get into seed cycling, which involves eating 1 Tbsp. of each flax seeds and pumpkin seeds daily during your follicular phase, and 1 Tbsp. of each sunflower and sesame seeds daily during your luteal phase. You can find a post about seed cycling on my blog.
  • Include sea vegetables, like nori, wakame, dulse, and kelp. These are rich in iodine, which helps give your thyroid the resources it needs to convert T4 to T3. So if you love sushi and miso soup, you’re in luck! And if you don’t, seaweed flakes are also easy to sneak into your cooking and can give a bit of a salty taste. I also like sprinkling some into smoothies!
  • Include lots of sources of B vitamins, like whole grains, dark leafy greens, legumes, and nuts and seeds. Your endocrine system, including thyroid, uses a lot of B vitamins to keep running smoothly, so keeping your intake up is very important. There is a caveat to be aware of when it comes to plant foods, the absorption of nutrients, and thyroid function, and I’ll cover that more in next week’s broadcast. For now, just focusing on getting more of those B-rich foods is a great place to start.
  • And one more strategy you can try right now (or rather, tomorrow morning) is a macronutrient-balanced breakfast. As I mentioned earlier, insulin resistance can be both a symptom and contributor of thyroid disorder. Making sure to short-circuit the morning cortisol cascade that feeds into imbalances of other hormones like insulin is another key tactic for supporting thyroid and overall endocrine balance. If you’re stuck for thyroid and PCOS-friendly breakfast ideas to get started on that, I have a free PCOS Breakfast Bundle up for download.

This will wrap us up for now!

Recap:

  • Nuts and seeds – such as Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, and walnuts for omega-3s and selenium; for supporting thyroid and testosterone balance
  • Sea vegetables – such as nori, wakame, dulse, and kelp for iodine to help provide the resources that serve conversion of T4 to T3
  • B vitamin-rich foods – such as whole grains, legumes, dark leafy veggies, and nuts and seeds, to help nourish the thyroid, nervous/adrenal system, and provide cofactors for hormone metabolism
  • Macronutrient balanced breakfasts, to help short-circuit the cortisol cascade that can affect thyroid, sex hormones, and blood sugar balance

How can you integrate these strategies starting today?

Remember, this isn’t to replace your doctor’s advice; if you suspect you may have thyroid disorder or PCOS symptoms or both, be sure to check in with your primary care practitioner.

Next week, since it’s also Veganuary, we’ll be talking about special considerations for the thyroid and vegan nutrition. Hope to see you then!

Why Eating Lots of Flax May Not Meet Your Omega-3 Needs

Eating lots of flax, which is a rich source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), may still not be enough to convert in adequate amounts to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the forms our bodies most readily use.

Why is this important? Continue reading “Why Eating Lots of Flax May Not Meet Your Omega-3 Needs”

[Recipe Post] Cafe Brunch Smoothie Bowl

Sunday mornings are for smoothie bowl brunches!

This chocolate peanut butter one features fresh market raspberries and Hippie Mylk’s new oat milk from the Westboro farmers’ market! Continue reading “[Recipe Post] Cafe Brunch Smoothie Bowl”