Hypothyroidism and Infertility

Why hypothyroidism can cause infertility

1. If the thyroid does not function well, the pituitary gland produces more thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is associated with a higher rate of unsuccessful pregnancies and miscarriages.
2. Hypothyroidism can influence ovulation: a higher percentage of women with hypothyroidism show abnormal ovulation.

How to improve thyroid function

1. Eat foods that are beneficial for thyroid function: seaweed, dry beans, bean sprouts, and fresh vegetable juice.

2. Avoid the following foods until thyroid function becomes normal: soy flour and unsaturated oils like flax, soybean, safflower, corn, and canola. According to Chinese medicine, soybeans are hard to digest. Eating too much soy and soy-based products can cause a phlegm condition, which may aggravate hypothyroidism. If a person regularly takes flaxseed oil and their thyroid function progressively worsens, they should stop taking the flaxseed oil for a while.

3. Avoid all kinds of nuts. Recent studies show that nuts can induce histamine release which causes more inflammation in the thyroid, especially in people diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

4. Generally, mustard greens, kale, and brussel sprouts are very good for producing balanced hormones. Women with hypothyroidism usually have very slow digestion. They need to find the right amount of raw greens that they can digest well. Otherwise, the nutrients can become waste products. In addition, people with hypothyroidism should add some vinegar to their salad to help their digestion.

5. Avoid adding sugar to coffee or eating too many sweets. High sugar induces high insulin, causing inflammation in many glands, including the thyroid. High sugar can also cause malabsorption of many minerals critical for thyroid function. Just like alcohol and drugs, sweets disrupt metabolic balance, causing dysfunction of numerous glands.

6. Eat fresh fruits instead of drinking juice. If you read the label, you will be surprised by how much sugar was added to the juice, sometimes more than 14 teaspoons for one serving.

7. Regularly add a small amount of seaweed, olive oil, and vinegar to soup, which will provide enough minerals for hormone production.

8. If you have a virus infection, take some herbs or medication to get rid of the infection as soon as possible. A chronic virus infection can lead to dysfunction of the thyroid and other glands.

9. If you have too much stress, try acupuncture, yoga, taichi or meditation to reduce stress.

10. For women, balancing estrogen and progesterone with acupuncture and herbs will help to improve thyroid function. Estrogen dominance can make the body produce more thyroid hormone binding proteins which make the hormone lose its normal function. Thus, even if you have a normal level of T3 and T4, they are not free to do their jobs.

11. After delivering a baby, using acupuncture to lower TSH and reduce the symptoms of hypothyroidism once or twice a week will help women resume their normal ovarian, adrenal, and thyroid functions much better than waiting for a few months. In a Russian study published in 2011, 27 female patients with joint and muscle pain were recruited. They had elevated levels of TSH, but the concentration of their thyroid hormones was normal. Their treatment included acupuncture on the scalp, wrist area, and thyroid projection zones, combined with massage of the paravertebral regions of the cervical and thoracic spine using the Gua Sha healing technique. Twenty patients finished two courses of treatment with a 3-month interval between the courses. The results showed that their TSH decreased to normal levels, and their joint pain improved significantly.

12. Ask an acupuncturist to show you some points on which you can use moxa during and after pregnancy. This self-healing technique has been verified by research to improve the condition of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. A study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1993 by G. Hu et. al. indicated that moxibustion was able to reduce the thyroid antibodies in the peripheral blood vessels of patients with hypothyroidism and to recover their thyroid function. It was also found that moxibustion can lower the ADCC (antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity) activities of lymphocytes. The mechanism may be that the treatment of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis by moxibustion is accomplished through its effect in balancing different subsets of T lymphocytes.

In my experience, during pregnancy, a woman’s adrenal and thyroid glands have to work very hard to keep up with the fast growth of the fetus. A person’s hypothyroid condition can improve during pregnancy. You may need to cut down on your thyroid medication during pregnancy because the big hormone changes can make thyroid and adrenal glands function much more efficiently. After giving birth, however, the thyroid and adrenal glands will become deficient; you will have more symptoms of hypothyroidism such as depression, weight gain, constipation, brain fog, joint pain, loss of hair, irregular period, and low sexual drive. I have found that women with hypothyroidism tend to have more difficulty getting pregnant the second time. Therefore, if you have hypothyroidism before pregnancy, it is better to treat it as soon as possible. Especially right after the delivery of the baby, you may need to use acupuncture and Chinese herbs to strengthen thyroid and adrenal gland functions so that you can avoid requiring more medication in the future.

KW is a 40-year-old female. She became pregnant easily during her first marriage. After her first pregnancy, she developed a hypothyroid condition and began taking Synthroid. She experienced gas and abdominal pain after eating salads. She was remarried in 2004. After only a couple of months in her new marriage, she became pregnant. Her regular checkup had been normal until she reached 12 weeks at which point her fetus’ heart stopped beating. The fetus was removed from her uterus by her obstetrician by means of scraping. Testing confirmed that the fetus had a chromosome problem. Since then, she has started her long journey of trying to get pregnant through modern techniques.

KW’s FSH was 13.9, and her blood pressure tended to be low. First, she tried two rounds of IUIs and was unable to get pregnant. When she first came to see me in 2006, she was depressed, and her hands and feet were very cold. The last IUI had brought her a chemical pregnancy: there was no real fetus growing in her uterus, just some tissue growth. Usually, the tissue would be discharged naturally, but in her case, the tissue kept growing. Therefore, her pregnancy hormone, HCG, went up from 500 to 700. In order to stop this growing tissue, she had to take a chemotherapy drug. It was a very sad experience for KW to know that something was growing inside her body, but it was not a baby. She had two chemo-drug shots. It took two and a half months to clear up this horrible pseudo-pregnancy. She discharged a lot of the tissue and gained 10 pounds at the end of this process.

In June 2006, she started IVF procedures. First, she took birth control pills (BCP) to suppress her ovarian function. During her first IVF, she was told that her husband’s sperm had problems. She was convinced that an embryo biopsy could be used to make sure that the embryo did not have a genetic defect. In this round of IVF, her ovaries produced only 3 follicles, which did not survive the embryo biopsy process, so, unfortunately, her first IVF was cancelled after all the hormone injections into her body. Afterwards, she felt very warm with cold hands and feet. The next month, she received a second IVF procedure. Six eggs were produced and fertilized, but the chromosomes were abnormal. Her body also produced antibodies against her own thyroid. She felt very depressed but was determined to keep going to get a healthy baby. Her endocrinologist adjusted the medication for her thyroid problem. She started a third IVF procedure with a new protocol later that year. Her insomnia got worse, and she had a foggy head and extreme fatigue. After 6 months of acupuncture treatment, she developed 19 follicles, and her hormone profile looked pretty good. Nineteen eggs were collected and 8 were fertilized. Unfortunately, these 8 fertilized eggs did not survive the embryo biopsy procedure again, so the transfer was cancelled. Her case was one of the toughest I had ever encountered in my 27 years of practice.

After three unsuccessful IVF procedures, she found an endocrinologist in Las Vegas on the internet who did not accept health insurance. This group of infertility specialists designed a program in which women paid a large amount of money for an unlimited number of IVFs until they become pregnant. After a two-month break, KW flew to Las Vegas to try a new procedure with the most advanced techniques. The physical examination and hormone stimulation were done in Las Vegas, and the transfer was performed in New York. During an extensive examination, the doctor discovered that she had abnormal natural killer cells, which may have contributed to her infertility. She was given immunoglobulin (IgG) intravenously, a glucocorticoid drug to suppress her immune function, and an infusion of blood thinners to prevent blood clots since she was taking BCP. With the fourth $20,000 IVF, she produced 16 eggs and got pregnant again. However, at 5 weeks, she had a third miscarriage. During this IVF, the endocrinologist had frozen some eggs. While she was on BCP to prepare for the transfer of frozen eggs, her pregnancy test turned positive. Certainly, it could not be a healthy pregnancy due to the BCP. It took another two months to clean up this abnormal pregnancy before she was ready for the transfer of the frozen embryos. At this point, she had already tried 4 IVF procedures and had 3 unhealthy pregnancies. In 2007, she had the frozen embryos transferred in New York. She had been on cortisone, a blood thinner, antibiotics, and Synthroid. Because of the suppression of her immune function, she got a leg infection and a throat fungus infection. Her heart rate increased so much that she could not sleep. The frozen eggs did not implant in her uterus even with the help of many drugs.

After another two-month break, KW tried a fifth IVF cycle and produced 20 eggs. With so many months of suppressing her immune function, an open wound on her left knee area could not heal for a long time. After only a couple of acupuncture treatments, her immune function got stronger, and the open wound finally closed. After so many cancellations of her IVF cycles, she finally agreed with me that an embryo biopsy could not guarantee a healthy fetus, and it was too harsh for the delicate embryo. The 3 fertilized eggs from the fifth IVF were transferred without being tested for genetic defects. After all her effort and more than a year of acupuncture treatments, she got pregnant with twins. This time, without the embryo biopsies, the two eggs happened to be good eggs. Her pregnancy hormone jumped up from 400 to 900, then to 4000. She was so worried about a miscarriage that she constantly checked her pregnancy hormone level. Finally, at 6.5 weeks, a vaginal ultrasound showed two hearts beating and, at her last check-up, her pregnancy hormone was 25,000. She was extremely tired, and with all the hormone injections, she was experiencing many crazy dreams. She was transferred to a high-risk pregnancy specialist. While she visited the new specialist every two weeks, she continued acupuncture treatments in my clinic until 13 weeks, when I suggested that she stop acupuncture if she no longer had any discomfort such as back pain after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Interestingly, when her hormone levels were high, her thyroid function improved.