I receive many enquiries from women on thyroid medication who are concerned about hormone balance. Although men too can be affected, it’s more common in women and in the UK, it affects 15 in every 1,000 women.
Generally it is most often seen in women between the ages of 40-50 so they are asking about combining their condition and medication for it with progesterone. However, new research is highlighting the effects of low thyroid on much younger women, and in particular during pregnancy.
The effect of low thyroid before birth
Levels of thyroid hormone in babies influence insulin-secreting cells of the pancreas, according to a new study published in The Journal of Physiology.
The pancreas plays an essential role in converting the food we eat into fuel for the body’s cells. It has two main functions: an exocrine function that helps in digestion and an endocrine function that regulates blood sugar.
Normal levels of thyroid hormone during pregnancy are vital for proper development of the baby. Approximately 1 in 3000 babies are born each year with an under-developed thyroid gland (congenital hypothyroidism) and 2-4% of pregnant mothers are affected by thyroid disease.
A team of scientists from the UK, US, and Australia studied thyroid hormone deficiency before birth by measuring the levels of three hormones: thyroid hormone, insulin, and leptin. They also studied the rate of cell division and the number of beta cells, the cells of the pancreas that store and secrete insulin.
What this means potentially is that babies with low thyroid levels at birth may be more susceptible to pancreatic disorders and type 2 diabetes in later life.
The study was a collaboration between scientists at Oxford Brookes University, University of Cambridge, University of Arizona, and University of Western Australia and is the start for analysing the full picture of how thyroid hormone influences the pancreas development before birth.
It will help ensure the health of babies with congenital thyroid hormone disorders and those born to mothers with thyroid hormone disorders.
Low thyroid levels are common in women, but little attention has been paid to its effects in pregnancy both for the mother and the baby. Bioidentical progesterone supports normal thyroid function and so can be supplemented when needed, and used alongside thyroid medication such as thyroxine.
When pregnant it is important to establish if a woman has low thyroid levels so they can be naturally supplemented to support the development of the baby.
The Journal of Physiology publishes advances in physiology that increase our understanding of how our bodies function in health and disease and more information is on their website at http://jp.physoc.org