Being a woman with a thyroid

Dr. Nash here considering the intersection of culture and biology with regards to women’s position in society. Here’s just one of many examples I think about:

~When a woman’s body is confronted with any type of stress, and let’s face it, estimates say 80% of women have been sexually assaulted and close to 100% of women have been sexually harassed so that’s ALL of us dealing with a very particular type of stress at one point or another…our stress hormones become elevated.

~One major stress hormone is cortisol and it is pumped out from our adrenal glands. When cortisol levels are chronically high it suppresses the amount of thyroid hormone that can be made and secreted from that special gland in our necks.

~Our thyroid glands control our mineral metabolism and when the thyroid hormone levels are too low, or too high, our ability to absorb and distribute minerals to all of our tissues is compromised. This is problematic in more ways than I can list. Think “every chemical reaction inside your cells” need minerals as cofactors! This is why thyroid problems are so far-reaching for our bodies.

~In addition, the thyroid gland is associated throughout the history of medicine with emotions. This is why women wore high-collared clothing in the Victorian era, to symbolically protect their “feminine natures” their “sensitivity to emotional stress” and protect them from the advances of men as well!

~The upshot is…our culture affects the way our bodies behave and that’s one of the big reasons we created feminology–to think about the intersection of what our culture teaches us about who we are, what we can do to embrace or reject those notions, and how our mindset might contribute to the evolution of both our outlook on our own health, the health of our communities, the health of our society and health of our planet.

~I can think of many times in my own life where I accepted society’s expectations of me as a woman to my body’s detriment. And I can only think of a few examples from my life where I rejected some idea of femininity or being a woman and felt a sense of freedom…but I’m getting better at it and it feels good!

~Thyroid health is often not fully evaluated by a woman’s doctor. Often the only test that endocrinologists run is the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test and this is only a measure of how well your pituitary gland in your brain is gently asking your thyroid to produce proper levels of hormone. Many times your TSH levels are “normal” and yet there’s some imbalances that have not been detected in hormone levels. Read more on this topic here. 

~The bottom line is, as practitioners we need to assess a woman’s stress levels and emotional wellbeing in conjunction with traditional testing for thyroid and stress hormone levels. Last but not least, dietary habits play a role as well and this aspect of a person’s lifestyle cannot be overlooked, especially with regard to key minerals. The health of a woman is not disconnected from the way she moves through the world on a day-to-day basis.