Posted in hormones

Do You Have A Thyroid Problem? A Closer Look At A Small Gland With A Big Role To Play In Your Health

Posted by Agnes Lussier-Dow NP-PHC on 28 May 2021
Do You Have A Thyroid Problem? A Closer Look At A Small Gland With A Big Role To Play In Your Health

What Is The Thyroid?

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland situated at the base of your neck, just under the skin. Your thyroid gland secretes a metabolic hormone (often simply called thyroid hormone) that plays a significant role in a wide range of systems in your body, right down to the cellular level. Though often overlooked when diagnosing health issues, thyroid problems can be a key driver, trigger or root cause for many other states of disease and dysfunction in the body.

What The Thyroid's Role In The Body?

Despite its small size, the thyroid gland is critically important to your overall physical and emotional health and wellness. Not only does the thyroid control your body's metabolism (in partnership with cortisol) thyroid hormones influence the speed of everything metabolic in the body - including how your cells utilize energy.

Your thyroid hormone and its relationship to other hormones in the body affect your:

  • Weight
  • Body Temperature
  • Skin
  • Cholesterol
  • GI Function
  • Immune Function
  • Heart Function
  • Menstruation (including PMS)
  • Sex Drive
  • Fertility
  • Mood, and more

From your body temperature to your cerebral function, your thyroid has a hand in virtually every system in your body. So, as you can imagine, when you have a thyroid problem you can experience any number of symptoms and conditions.

Model of a thyroid gland on a blue background

Too Much Or Too Little: Common Symptoms Of A Thyroid Problem.

A healthy thyroid gland will produce a balanced amount of thyroid hormone. Too much or too little hormone can negatively affect your overall health and create more general hormone imbalances. In either case, too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism), a variety of symptoms and conditions can manifest.

Some of the most common symptoms of a thyroid condition are as follows:

  • Slowed (hypo) or high (hyper) metabolism
  • Weight gain (hypo) or weight loss (hyper)
  • Frequent (hypo) or scant (hyper) periods
  • PCOS (hypo)
  • Intolerance to cold (hypo) or heat sensitivity (hyper)
  • Fatigue (hypo) or irritability/nervousness (hyper)

Hypothyroidism is a common, under-diagnosed and under-treated thyroid condition.

Unfortunately, an under-performing thyroid is all too commonly missed or ignored in traditional western medicine despite the fact that it affects many millions of people - especially women. Low thyroid function can be caused by a range of factors. These include poor diet, low iodine, and even environmental toxins.

Hypothyroidism can also be the result of an autoimmune dynamic. When this occurs it is called Hashimoto's disease or thyroiditis. In this case, the immune system itself is negatively affecting thyroid function, causing low hormone production and resulting in an ongoing imbalance in the body. Often food sensitivities, microbial imbalances in the gut, intestinal permeability and even nutrient deficiencies are at the root of this type of thyroid problem.

How Do You Know You Have A Thyroid Problem?

The short answer is thyroid problems are diagnosed by testing hormone levels. As we established above, the thyroid gland produces a hormone commonly referred to as thyroid hormones. But, let's take a closer look because, as you might have guessed, it is a little bit more complex than that.

The thyroid is responsible for using iodine and protein from our diet to create thyroid hormones (especially T4). Our tissues then convert that T4 into the powerful metabolic hormone T3. This is critical because every cell in your body relies on thyroid hormones for the regulation of its metabolism.

Often, physicians are only willing to test for TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). This is a "ballpark" approach to assessing the health of your thyroid and, in my opinion, TSH testing alone is not enough.

To get a real understanding of thyroid function at a cellular level, it's critical to measure levels of T3 thyroid hormone. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to persuade your physician to support you in ordering a complete thyroid panel that includes TSH, Free T4, Total T3, Free T3, Reverse T3, and both thyroid auto-antibodies TPO and Tg. But, pushing for this complete hormone assessment is worth it. By measuring all of these thyroid hormone components your health care provider can learn not only how much (or little) hormone is being produced, but how much is actually available for use on a cellular level.

Once testing has been done, and you know whether your symptoms are the result of a thyroid condition, you can begin to take steps to restore function and balance.

Blue gloved hand holding a vial of blood over paper work that indicates testing for thyroid hormones

Bringing Your Thyroid Back Into Balance: Lifestyle, Nutrition and Treatment.

Whether you are working to resolve hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, making changes to your lifestyle and diet is always a good place to start.

Lifestyle Changes

Reducing stress as much as possible helps to keep cortisol levels in check. This is important because high levels of glucocorticoids (such as cortisol) lower the levels of TSH in the blood and can suppress the immune system which has a direct effect on thyroid function. Some simple and effective ways to help reduce your stress levels include:

Dietary Changes

A fully balanced whole foods diet is key for a healthy thyroid. Many people struggling with thyroid problems, especially those who have an autoimmune thyroid condition, see real changes to their symptoms by making dietary changes. Paying attention to foods that cause inflammation, immune hyper-reactivity or that aggravate intestinal permeability are especially helpful. For many people that means reducing or eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet.

Try to incorporate the following types of foods in your diet regularly if you can:

  • Sea vegetables (edible seaweed)
  • Seafood (especially anything with a pink colour)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Quality sources of protein and iron in diverse forms including fish, poultry, eggs and - if you do well with them - beef and organ meats
  • Unfermented soy products in moderation
  • Lightly cooked cruciferous vegetables (as opposed to raw)
  • Lots of water


BHRT Treatment

Biological Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) is an effective treatment option for restoring balance to your hormone levels and helping improve your thyroid function. After assessing your specific hormone levels, a customized BHRT formula can be created to supplement a wide range of male and female sex hormones as well as adrenal, pituitary, and thyroid hormones. By taking a "big picture" approach and asking the questions to discover the root causes of your thyroid condition, BHRT can help you to heal.

Treating A Thyroid Problem Is Possible.

The thyroid is a small but important gland closely linked to your overall hormonal health. Its function - or disfunction - can affect you at every level. Traditional western medicine has too often overlooked the importance of thyroid health and hormones when diagnosing and treating other conditions and states of disease - especially in the case of women. Fortunately, through changes to your lifestyle and diet, significant improvement can be made to many of the symptoms caused by a thyroid problem. Likewise, hormone treatments like BHRT offer another avenue of healing for the thyroid.

If you would like to delve deeper into your symptoms and discover if they are connected to a thyroid condition, contact us today. Together we can bring you back into balance and set you on the path to optimal health and wellness.

Posted in:women's healthBHRThormonesThyroid  

Managing Menopause With BHRT: Soothe Your Menopause Symptoms Safely And Effectively With Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy

Posted by Agnes Lussier-Dow NP-PHC on 30 March 2021
Managing Menopause With BHRT: Soothe Your Menopause Symptoms Safely And Effectively With Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy

You Have Options For Managing The Symptoms Of Menopause.

Menopause, or the end of menstruation, is a natural occurrence for women. The transition towards menopause can begin to affect you anytime between the ages of 35 and 55 years of age and the symptoms of menopause can start to present themselves as early as 10 years before menopause actually occurs. Therefore, finding a way of managing menopause is important for your optimal health and wellness.

The symptoms of menopause go beyond night sweats, hot flashes and mood swings. Reaching menopause is a gradual process, not an isolated event. The symptoms of menopause can affect you differently at different stages of the process and may be very different from the symptoms experienced by a friend or peer. Less commonly considered symptoms of menopause that you might be experiencing include:

  • Vaginal dryness
  • Anxiety, depression and/or panic attacks
  • Loss of sexual interest
  • Hair growth on the face
  • Weird dreams
  • UTIs
  • Vaginal itching
  • Lower back pain
  • Bone loss and joint pain
  • Indigestion
  • Weight gain
  • Migraines and more

Because menopause is not discussed more broadly - in society and by our own healthcare providers - you may live for years in discomfort and distress with these less acknowledged symptoms not knowing that they are connected to menopause. What's more worrying is that, even if your healthcare provider does acknowledge these symptoms to be a part of menopause, you may not be offered much in the way of relief. Too often women have come to my practice having been told they will just have to "live with it". Fortunately, this is simply not the case. There are safe and effective ways for you to manage the symptoms of menopause.

Woman resting her head in her hand and looking down into a cup of tea or coffee

Hormones And Menopause

The symptoms of menopause are triggered by changing hormone levels - specifically a decline in the natural production of estrogen and progesterone. That being said, it's about more than "just" a decline in estrogens. (Yes, estrogens - plural! You have more than one kind and each affects the body differently.) Hormones including your thyroid hormones, cortisol, DHEA, testosterone and insulin (among others) also play a role in how you may experience the symptoms of menopause. When one hormone level changes it affects the others and can throw your system out of balance.

"The menopausal response is as unique to an individual as his or her own fingerprints." - Dr. Pamela Smith, MD, MPH in "A Comprehensive Look at Hormones and the Effects of Hormones Replacement"

As you age, the decline of certain hormone levels is considered normal. However, that doesn't mean you can't help to bring your levels back into balance and restore yourself to a more optimal state of health and wellness.

Managing Menopause With Hormone Replacement Therapy

Menopause, as we have seen, is brought on by changing hormone levels. Likewise, many of the uncomfortable symptoms you may be experiencing can be linked to your hormones being out of balance. Therefore, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is an obvious treatment option to help restore balance, soothe your menopause symptoms and help you manage your menopause more comfortably. However, it is important to note that not all hormone therapies are created equal.

Synthetic Hormones and The Risk of Cancer

In the 1990s, HRT became very popular for treating the symptoms of menopause and was touted as a way to reduce the risk of postmenopausal health issues. However, in 2002, a report known as the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) was published which showed that the synthetic hormones used in the most commonly prescribed hormone therapies of the day could be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke among menopausal and postmenopausal women. While there have since been reviews of the trials and studies included in this report, HRT fell out of favour as an option for managing menopause symptoms.

Bioidentical Hormones: A Safer Alternative

Not all hormone therapies are created equal. There is a significant difference between the synthetic hormone medications of the 1990s and the individually tailored hormone blends created with bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). Dr. Neal Rouzier, MD, a pioneer in the bioidentical hormone replacement field, "has dedicated his life's work to uncovering the medical literature that supports safe and effective protocols for unique and personalized patient care." Rouzier asserts that while synthetic hormones have been proven to increase the risks of certain cancers (notably breast cancer), heart disease and stroke, bioidentical hormones have not and remain a safe alternative therapy. Dr. Rouzier cautions his peers in the medical community not to "extrapolate the harm of synthetic hormones to bioidentical HRT." My years of experience as an NP-PHC specializing in women's health and hormones echo this finding. I have even experienced the benefits of managing menopause with BHRT myself.


Agnes Lussier Dow NP PHC standing in pink sweater next to plants in NP Optimal Health and Wellness Clinic Peterborough

Managing Menopause With BHRT

In addition to the fact that BHRT medications are identical to your own naturally occurring hormones, the combination of bioidentical hormones used in your therapy will be specially curated to address your individual needs and medical history. BHRT formulas can supplement a wide range of male and female sex hormones as well as adrenal, pituitary, and thyroid hormones. There is no "one-size-fits-all" cocktail when you are managing menopause with BHRT. As we have seen above, soothing your symptoms and decreasing your risk of postmenopausal health conditions is all about achieving the right hormonal balance.

Your initial assessment with NP Optimal Health and Wellness routinely includes full blood panels to evaluate your hormone levels. The holistic approach of functional medicine provides an opportunity for us to look at a more complete medical and life history. Details overlooked in previous medical assessments may lead us closer to the root cause of your symptoms. Together we will determine the best course of treatment for managing your menopause with BHRT supported by adjustments to your lifestyle and nutrition.

Yes, menopause and its symptoms are natural. But that doesn't mean you have to live with them indefinitely. Contact us today to learn more about how you can manage menopause and continue on your path towards optimal health and wellness.

Posted in:women's healthBHRThormones  

Functional Medicine and PCOS: Looking Past The Symptoms And Restoring Optimal Hormone Levels

Posted by Agnes Lussier-Dow NP-PHC on 17 February 2021
Functional Medicine and PCOS: Looking Past The Symptoms And Restoring Optimal Hormone Levels

PCOS: A Commonly Misdiagnosed Condition.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition (specifically, an endocrine disorder) that affects thousands of women across North America. Typically, in western medical practice, PCOS is treated as a gynecological problem because of its connection to fertility issues. Infertility is, however, only one of many symptoms that are experienced by women living with PCOS.

The Trouble With Treating PCOS As A Gynecological Problem.

While PCOS is the most common cause of infertility among women, it should not be treated solely as a gynecological problem. In fact, because the focus in traditional western medicine is too heavily placed on treating symptoms - in this case, fertility (or infertility) - the root cause (PCOS) frequently goes undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated.

PCOS is a complex condition involving sugar metabolism, progesterone, thyroid, and androgen sensitivity. As a rule, women with PCOS produce an above-average amount of male hormones. This is, of course, what can result in irregular menstruation and issues with fertility. When PCOS goes undiagnosed and is treated under the umbrella of gynecology, as opposed to endocrinology, common treatments prescribed to regulate menstrual cycles (the birth control pill, for example) can actually make the condition worse by throwing the hormones further out of balance.

Unfortunately, even when PCOS is recognized and diagnosed, women are not offered much in terms of treatment. Told to resign themselves to the possibility of managing the symptoms for life, many women are left feeling hopeless and disempowered.

Recognizing And Diagnosing PCOS As Early As Possible Is Crucial For Women's Health.

Because the western medical model used fertility issues as the benchmark against which PCOS is measured, early signs are often overlooked. The tell-tale symptoms of PCOS can start to present themselves long before a woman is considering pregnancy. In fact, they can begin to manifest as early as the teenage years. Typically, however, it is women between the ages of 20-25 years who are diagnosed with PCOS. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Irregular menstruation including infrequent, too frequent, or very heavy menstruation.
  • Thinning or loss of hair or, conversely, an excess amount of hair in typically male pattern on the face, arms and chest
  • Acne or other skin blemishes
  • Weight gain and difficulty managing weight
  • Depression and anxiety

Many of these symptoms can be interdependent. Likewise, many can be aggravated by other, unrelated, health conditions. Without considering the whole patient and treating the symptoms independently, it is no small wonder that PCOS is misdiagnosed or ignored completely.

Women between the ages of 20 and 25 are most often diagnosed with PCOS

Diagnosing PCOS: The Benefits Of Functional Medicine.

The reality is that testing hormone levels is not something routinely considered when diagnosing health conditions. It is something women need to advocate for under the traditional western medical model. This is unfortunate because hormones play such a crucial role in our physical and mental health.

The fact is that PCOS is being missed. Not only is this causing women to live with symptoms they could otherwise address, left untreated PCOS can have serious health consequences. While infertility is among the most well-known effects of PCOS,  less widely known is the connection between untreated PCOS and Type 2 diabetes and breast cancer.

PCOS impacts all aspects of a woman's life; body, mind, and spirit. It is a real condition, despite how many of our patients have been made to feel. If you are living with PCOS, you deserve support, compassion and the active approach and hope that functional medicine offers. It is unacceptable that women living with PCOS are being misdiagnosed or ignored. There are, however, options for diagnosis and treatment.

Treating PCOS With Hormone Therapy.

Working within the framework of functional medicine, diagnosis and treatment of PCOS is possible. For example, an initial assessment with NP Optimal Health and Wellness routinely includes full blood panels to test for hormone levels and insulin resistance, among other things. The holistic approach of functional medicine provides an opportunity for us to look at a more complete medical and life history. Details overlooked in previous medical assessments may lead us closer to the root cause of your symptoms and a diagnosis of PCOS. Once diagnosed, Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) treatments can be tailored to your needs. In time, it is possible to restore optimal hormone levels and to reduce or even eliminate some of the effects of PCOS.
Posted in:women's healthhormonesfunctional medicinePCOS  

The Relationship Between Hormones and Women's Health

Posted by Agnes Lussier-Dow NP-PHC on 22 December 2020
The Relationship Between Hormones and Women's Health

Hormones Play A Key Role In Women's' Health.

Hormones have many important effects on women's health. Often when the issue of women's health and hormones comes up the focus is on the female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. While these two hormones are particularly relevant when discussing a woman's reproductive and sexual health, they are not the only hormones at work in a greater discussion of health and wellness. Different hormones, working independently and in combination, affect everything from a woman's energy levels to their weight, mood, mental health and more. In fact, working with patients to address health issues caused at least in part by hormonal imbalance is a large part of my practice. Read on to learn more about women's hormones and the role they play in their health and wellness.

What Are Some Of The Main Hormones Affecting Women's Health?

As mentioned above, the female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are intimately connected to a woman's sexual and reproductive health. This includes menstruation, fertility, menopause and more. However, these are not the only hormones at work in a woman's body.

Cortisol and Adrenaline, for example, play important roles in a woman's stress response. When there is too much of either hormone for a prolonged period of time it can contribute to what we refer to as "Adrenal Fatigue". Likewise, thyroid hormones, produced by the thyroid gland, are another common culprit for dis-ease among women. Thyroid hormones help to regulate the metabolism, energy levels, and even body temperature. An imbalance in these hormones can cause a variety of issues and in some more serious cases can lead to conditions like Hashimoto's disease and Grave's disease.

Serotonin is another hormone that plays a significant role in a woman's health and wellness. Serotonin is related to the regulation of mental health, sleep regulation, and some muscle functions. Whether the issue is too much or too little serotonin, when this hormone is out of balance there are a variety of physical and mental effects.


Woman showing signs of hormonal imbalance in the form of PMS cramping


When Your Hormones Are Out Of Balance, What Happens?

Hormones balance your body and act as little chemical messengers sending messages about growth, development, metabolism, reproduction, and more. When your body is out of balance, your hormones may be sending the wrong chemical messages or may have stopped sending messages altogether. Many elements can affect your hormones, from environmental to internal, so a holistic approach is key to finding balance again.

Whenever your hormones fall out of balance, symptoms will present themselves. Knowing what to look for is the first step in taking action and working towards healing and optimal wellness. Below are some of the more common issues I see many women struggling with that are directly connected to a hormonal imbalance, among other things.

Burn Out (aka. Adrenal Fatigue)

Adrenal Fatigue (also referred to as 'adrenal insufficiency' or feeling 'burnt out') is the term commonly used to describe an inadequate production of hormones by your adrenal glands. When this happens, it can lead to symptoms including:

  • A weakened immune system
  • High levels of exhaustion
  • Extreme difficulty waking up
  • Anxiety
  • Low sex drive
  • Poor circulation

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) has been linked to fluctuations in hormone levels, specifically female sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone. The symptoms of PMS can range in intensity and can affect both a woman's physical and mental-emotional health.
PMS typically sets in during the week before menstruation begins and can include symptoms like:


  • Mood swings
  • Tender breasts
  • Food cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability and
  • Depression


The symptoms of perimenopause and menopause may take years to build up as hormone levels naturally decline with age. Common symptoms of menopause include:

  • Hot Flashes
  • Mood Changes
  • Weight Gain
  • Night Sweats
  • Low Libido
  • Memory Loss

Thyroid Issues

In the case of your thyroid, symptoms can vary depending on if the issue is resulting from too much hormone production (hyperthyroidism) or too little hormone production (hypothyroidism). There are other conditions like Hashimoto's and Grave's Disease associated with the thyroid as well. Symptoms of a thyroid condition can include:

  • Slowed (hypo) or high (hyper) metabolism
  • Weight gain (hypo) or weight loss (hyper)
  • Frequent (hypo) or scant (hyper) periods
  • Intolerance to cold (hypo) or heat sensitivity (hyper)
  • Fatigue (hypo) or irritability/nervousness (hyper)

Treatment Options For Restoring Hormone Balance In Women

Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) is, perhaps, one of the most effective treatments available when it comes to women's health and hormones. Designed to bring hormone levels back into balance and ease associated symptoms, BHRT treatments are specially curated to address an individual's needs and medical history. Because BHRT medications are virtually identical to the hormones naturally produced by the body they are easily absorbed and integrated. BHRT formulas can supplement a wide range of male and female sex hormones as well as adrenal, pituitary, and thyroid hormones making this course of treatment adaptable to many conditions and hormones related health issues.

NP Optimal Health & Wellness Can Help Restore Balance To Women's Hormones.

As you can see, hormones play an important role in women's health and wellness and extend beyond the female sex hormones. The symptoms resulting from a hormone imbalance, whether that imbalance is the result of an excess or a lack of hormone production, can have very real effects on the day-to-day lives of women. Fortunately, once a hormone imbalance has been identified, there are treatments available to restore balance and ease the symptoms.

If you are living with any of the above conditions or their associated symptoms, we can help. Contact us today to learn more about BHRT or to book your initial assessment. Together, we can restore balance to your hormones and bring you closer to a state of optimal health.

Posted in:women's healthBHRThormones