There are few stronger connections with migraines than thyroid issues. Both high and low patterns of thyroid are a massive stress on the body while also being caused by stress on the body. When we can support our thyroid in normal functioning we are much more apt to tolerate our environment so that our trigger levels stay low and we do not cross our headache thresholds. In this article, I will be covering how thyroid connects to migraines as well as the 7 obstacles to thyroid health that leave your brain in pain. It all begins with how our thyroid responds.
What do we depend on our thyroid for?
Our thyroid is a master gland. This means that it controls the show. We can think of it like a thermostat in our house or gas pedal in our car. If we turn up our thermostat, we get warmer. If we press the gas, our car goes faster. The thyroid does the same as it controls overall metabolic functioning and EVERY cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormones. When our thyroids functioning is increased, we are warmer and faster. When it decreases, we get slower and colder.
When a woman ovulates, her body secretes huge amounts of progesterone which supports the thyroid and increases its functioning. This is one of the reasons why when women ovulate they become warmer.
The thyroid controls metabolic rate and the “speed” of every cell including heart, muscle, digestion, brain and bone.
Symptoms your thyroid is having issues
Here are some key signs and symptoms that your thyroid is not functioning properly:
Hot flushes, sweating
- Unintentional weight loss
- Frequent/loose stools or diarrhea
Difficulty sleeping and insomnia
Changes with menses
Low sex drive
Higher heart rate
Thick red skin on shins or feet
Cold hands and feet
Headaches and migraines
Nervousness and anxiety
One of the most common connections I find with the thyroid and migraines is it affecting the vestibular system causing dizziness and vertigo.
Does low thyroid cause headaches?
These symptoms can be going on even if you are on thyroid hormones as taking the hormone does not fix the problem. Even if they initially help, if the problem isn’t addressed the symptoms tend to roll back.
How do migraines and headaches connect to the thyroid?
Issues with our thyroid commonly cause migraines and headaches through either:
1. Lowering the speed and functioning of our metabolism, causing metabolic breakdown and weaknesses.
2. Through the factors that are underlying why our thyroid is having issues functioning properly.
In either case our body will succumb to changes in:
Metabolism and the ability to create energy both systemically and inside of the brain specifically
The ability to adapt to changes as well as intolerance to environment or weather changes
Why your thyroid issue doesn’t get found
The 2 most common causes of thyroid issues not being found even though you suffer the symptoms are:
Full thyroid panels are commonly not used as insurance/drug based medicine only tests for what will change their treatment and that is only based on TSH
We cannot simply rely on TSH or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone as well as TT4 or Total T4.
We need to know:
- TSH and even sTSH for hypo and hyper functioning
- Both free and total T4 levels with free T4 being the “active” hormone
- Both free and total T3 levels which is created in the body not the thyroid and free T3 being “active”
- RT3 or reverse T3 to understand if there is something blocking conversion of T4 to T3
- TPO as well as TGB antibodies which are markers of autoimmune issues with our thyroid
- SHBG so that we know how much our hormones are being bound up and deactivated or activated
Laboratories create their reference ranges based on the last year of the population they have been testing. This means that the ranges are based on an already sick population and the reference values are based on general and not optimal.
But as with any properly designed program, none of these values are in isolation. Our thyroid is very very sensitive and constantly responding to the environment around it. Our stress, diet, gut, hormones, inflammation and more will be interpreted by the thyroid and it will respond accordingly. This is why we need to know the obstacles to good strong functioning.
7 Obstacles that tie our brain pain to our thyroid, migraines and headaches
Our thyroid functions in response to our environment and the rest of our body. The same goes for our thyroid hormones ability to function. To heal our thyroid and prevent high trigger levels, we need support the factors that affect how they function, optimally.
One of the most common factors that will affect the functioning of our thyroid is levels of steroid hormone binding globulin(SHBG).
This molecule holds onto our hormones to keep them inactive, as long as our hormone is held by this, it does not work.
It has become common practise to use hormones like estrogen to support women, especially with menstrual issues or through menopause. But whenever we add something into our systems, our body responds. If our levels of hormones increase, our body can then increase levels of SHBG to bind these hormones and inactivate them. This commonly happens with high levels of hormones and overuse in cases like HRT that is not being tracked and hormonal creams.
You have to make sure hormones like estrogen are not going sky high otherwise SHBG can then bind to other useful hormones like thyroid hormone and inactivate them.
This will cause a strain on the thyroid(and brain) as it has to continue creating more and more thyroid hormone.
Birth control is one of the most common factors that I have seen clients begin suffering from thyroid, gut, menstrual and headache symptoms from.
Birth control and the estrogens and progestins found in them are NOT like our natural hormones.
They interrupt normal hormonal functioning and mimic periods.
Using high doses of birth control hormones is a recipe for disaster but luckily most brands have now become lower dosage helping to alleviate this problem. This has not removed the systemic risks and long term effects associated with their use.
Any hormonal therapy should be tracked and tested to make sure you are not developing new symptoms or going outside of optimal ranges for your best functioning.
A best practise is to limit any hormonal therapy and fix the bodies reason for requiring hormones in the first place.
Low progesterone has become one of the most common signs and symptoms of poor menstrual functioning.
How your cycle works:
Day 1 is the first day of bleeding.
During the first 14 days your estrogen rises to a peak at which point you ovulate.
When you ovulate and this egg is released, the corpus luteum where the egg came from releases large amounts of progesterone completely eclipsing estrogen.
This lasts another 14 days depending on your cycle.
This balances the strong effects of estrogen and provides incredible anti-inflammatory neuroprotective anti-anxiety hormones for the entire body.
It also maintains the lining of the uterus.
At the end of your cycle, these hormones drop off and trigger the shedding of your uterine lining.
Low progesterone is a sign that your body and brain are not in clear communication and this has devastating consequences as you become estrogen dominant, trigger migraines or headaches, remove that protective blanket from your thyroid and just generally feel crummy every cycle.
Correcting gut health, brain function, and cleaning up your body and lifestyle go a long way in helping to restore normal levels. See our article on can menstrual migraines with aura be prevented here.
High blood sugar and insulin are predisposing factors to a number of chronic diseases.
When insulin is not working properly we are constantly throttling our thyroids functioning as it tries to control our blood sugar. Remember that blood sugar control is so important that someone like a diabetic, if they are not careful with their blood sugar can be sent into a coma and even die.
When we eat carbohydrates, get stressed, exercise or have infections, we release sugar into our blood in response.Then insulin is released and opens the doors on our cells allowing sugar to get out of the blood and into the cell to be used.
If we are constantly adding sugar into the blood in amounts that are more than our cells can use(usually with diet), the cells start saying NO.
This is insulin resistance and starts to cause high amounts of damage to our body as blood sugar stays elevated and higher levels of insulin are needed.
We want to make sure we are both addressing low blood sugar as well as high blood sugar.
We have to have the nutrients on board to be able to use the sugar in our blood and pull it into the cells.
We also want to make sure we are addressing some of the reasons why our bodies stress, inflammatory or immune responses are dysregulating our blood sugar. See our article on the top 10 super simple blood sugar stabilizing snacks to keep migraines at bay here.
Also see our article on 3 amazing reasons to go keto with the ketogenic diet for migraines here.
Cortisol is a stress hormone. But it is not just for stress. It wakes us up in the morning, gives us energy throughout the day, releases blood sugar, controls inflammation, cleans up our immune system and in its absence we can secrete the sleep hormones needed to repair.
When this hormone is working well, many other systems are working well.
But when cortisol is too high or low, this affects the thyroid in a major way.
The more our cortisol is malfunctioning, the more our thyroid will go into protect and preserve mode.
It will down-regulate itself to protect metabolism from damaging effects of cortisol or whatever is raising or lowering it.
Remember cortisol is a stress hormone, so whenever our body becomes stressed, whether that be from mental / emotional / physical / environmental or dietary causes, it will respond.
Having proper day/night cycles, avoiding stimulants, correcting dietary patterns, maintaining steady fuel throughout the day, as well as addressing some of the underlying factors for inflammation and immune dysregulation are crucial to making sure our cortisol is supporting our thyroid. See our article on Migraines, DHEA, Adrenal Fatigue and Exhaustion here.
We need nutrients. And our culture needs them more than ever before.
The inability to properly utilize our brain and thyroid is affected by nutrition because without we cannot:
- Create hormones
- Convert them into active forms
- Connect them into the places they are used
- Clear them once they have served their purpose
There is no better way to heal our brain and thyroid than making sure we are taking care of our nutrition. And without nutrition, nothing else we try will work.
What do we need?
The general bases need to be covered well:
Full Spectrum Proteins
Mix of raw and cooked foods
But we also have to eat to feed our microbiomes and make sure we are receiving enough extra nutrients like:
All of the B vitamins in active forms
Vitamins A and D
Minerals especially selenium, zinc and copper
See our article on can a diet solve chronic migraines? here.
If you want an in depth video on the thyroid, migraines and headaches connection see the presentation I have prepared for you below.
This is rarely covered but still a contributor to hormonal dysfunction as well as directly related to both migraines and thyroid functioning.
Our brain neurotransmitters lead the show and our pathways like DARPP-32 have a controlling effect on all of the other systems in our body and this makes sense as our brain is what tells everything else how to function. It sets the pace.
When we have become highly burnt out from stress, overwhelm, pregnancies, nutrients deficiencies, high inflammation, blood sugar dysregulation, digestive and immune issues then our neurotransmitters follow suit.
They can create symptoms whether they go high or low most commonly being high at first stress and then low once you are burnt out.
Organic acids testing is a great way to understand what neurotransmitters are doing and how to best support them.
We can think of inflammation as a signal for our body that we are in danger. When our thyroid sees or thinks we are in danger, it will compensate by conserving and protecting, lowering its functioning.
We see this in the body as the inability to properly convert T4 and T3 into their active forms.
Inflammation is one of the main ways our body slows us down through affecting the thyroids ability to speed us up.
Some common underlying causes of inflammation other than those related to diet are:
– Acute or chronic viral infections
– Acute or chronic bacterial infections
– Inflammation and activation of our autoimmunity
Each of these needs to be addressed specifically depending on how and why it is happening if we want our thyroid to feel safe enough to ramp up functioning. Check out one of the best anti-inflammatories in our article turmeric curcumin for migraines and headaches here. See a practitioner trained in finding and supporting these issues for more help. Now let’s get into autoimmunity.
Autoimmunity to the thyroid is no joke. It can make you feel everything from crazy to depressed.
Autoimmunity is the process by which your immune systems regulation breaks down and it begins inadvertently creating antibodies that attack its own tissues.
In this case the thyroid and specifically with the antibodies TPO and TGB. Generally you will have to specifically ask your doctor for these tests unless there are clear signs and symptoms that tips them off. You want to catch this before that point.
This does not happen out of the blue and this is not a death sentence. Many clients do very well when their immune system is properly taken care of and especially before they have their thyroid either taken out or they are put on massive long term hormones without addressing underlying causes. Because hormones in the body function on a negative feedback loop, if the hormones are being supplied from outside, the gland can actually stop producing adequate amounts and then dependency is inevitable.
See our article on 4 Factors that trigger autoimmunity, migraines and headaches.
There are a few key points to autoimmune issues with the thyroid:
Molecular mimicry is the process by which proteins from the foods that we eat have similar amino acid sequences to our own bodies tissues.
If our digestion is not working properly and we have leaky gut then these undigested proteins get into the blood and are targeted by our malfunctioning immune system.
If the proteins our body creates antibodies to look similar to our bodies tissue like in this instance with the thyroid, we can begin an immune attack on our own thyroid and body.
This is why those with hashimoto’s thyroiditis do so well removing foods with molecular mimicry to thyroid like:
Gluten and other non gluten containing grains
But there are many more and diets should be individualized to your case.
A hapten is a molecule that can bind to a protein in the body and then become the source of immune attack.
Generally these are man made chemicals and often toxic ones like mercury, mold, pharmaceutical drugs, BPA and preservatives.
These bind to a protein in the body and then we can develop incredible sensitivities as the combination of exposure and immune break down causing hypersensitivity continues.
Removing the exposure, getting the immune system under control and developing your barrier integrity depending on where the exposure is happening are all essential steps to take towards stabilizing your health.
To finish up this article it is important to understand that:
It is usually not just one of these!!!!
By the time the problem is bad enough, it will usually be multiple systems and mechanisms that are breaking down and need support. This is often why just taking a thyroid medication either only helps in the short term or does not help at all. Using a multi-modal approach is the ideal as this is how the body loves being supported.
The downside to medication for the thyroid, especially with migraines and headaches
Now I have already covered why it is absolutely essential to deal with the underlying causes and mechanisms WHY the thyroid and brain are having issues, but medications present an added variable.
Hormones in the body function on a negative feedback loop. If we take a hormone, especially in high amounts or for extended periods of time, we satisfy the negative feedback loop and the gland or glands producing it stop or slow down in doing so. So as we take a hormone, like thyroid hormone, our brain’s ability to create it may decrease and then if we want to discontinue use, we have a very hard time doing so. This means that we can actually dig a hole for ourselves in terms of wanting to become free of medication. Now obviously there are individuals that have extreme thyroid destruction or other issues that require it, we just want to be aware of dependency.
Our glands act like our muscles, if we don’t use them, we lose them.
Some of the best ways to begin healing our thyroid and brain pain is through adopting:
– A gluten free whole foods diet
– Topping up our vitamin D levels
– Restoring glutathione levels to the cells
– fish oil
Of course there is also a lot of individuality involved so seeing a holistic health practitioner near you is required.
The more we can address our individuality and these factors that detract from the functioning of our thyroid or its hormones, the more successful we will be in regaining stable and natural health. This helps us get back to what matters most.
If you need specific help feel free to reach out through this link.