Valentine’s Day is upon us and, with it, the expectation that it will find us eager for romance with the dew of love and promise glistening in our eyes. Advertisers ring the yearly alarm that warns us, at our personal peril, not to forget the fancy chocolate, ephemeral floral arrangements and sexy nighties. Woe be it to the hapless spouse or lover who doesn’t answer the call! For some of us, however, those bells just won’t ring.
For those unlucky souls who wrestle not with Cupid, but with hypothyroidism, love can be the last thing on our minds.
This isn’t just because we’ve gotten older, more tired or more realistic about what to expect from our relationships. For those of us battling the ravages of thyroid disease, the problem might be purely chemical.
Our hormones are in a delicate balance. We know that the thyroid gland is the most important endocrine gland in our body; that it impacts every body system down to each functioning cell. It regulates metabolism, body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, even the rate at which our children grow. It affects our immune system, our weight and, yes, it can even disrupt our desire for sex. In fact, people who describe themselves as asexual (that is neither heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual, but people who desire no sex whatsoever) may simply be suffering from a lifelong thyroid dysfunction.
A study that appeared in the February, 1999 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that 43 percent of women and 31 percent of men suffer from one sexual problem or another. Because of the subject matter, it is assumed that even these alarming numbers are under-reported! It isn’t a far reach to suspect that a good portion of these problems are a result of too little thyroid hormone.
Those of us savvy enough to have a connection with organizations such as The National Academy of Hypothyroidism have heard all about how vital it is to monitor the thyroid hormone known as T3. But did you know that T3 is absolutely essential to the functioning of both the ovaries and the testes? With either too much or too little T3 available to our cells, even our sex drive can totally shut down. Without the ideal thyroid hormone supply, we can experience a lack in any or all of the important hormones that affect our desire to pull our partners close to us.
If you feel less than stimulated by the idea of yet another looming Valentine’s day, you might be wise to get a full thyroid panel, including TSH, Free T4 and Free T3. If T3 is the only thing that is low, it is best to have a test done for Reverse T3 as well. A look at your sex hormones including testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, prolactin and luteinizing hormone (according to your specific gender and fertility situation) might also be in order. Remember, it’s all about balance: adding thyroid hormone can cause a dip in your estrogen; adding estrogen can cause a dip in your thyroid. Functional medicine specialists, integrative medicine practitioners, naturopaths and sometimes even internists are educated on the body’s delicate hormonal balance, and here is a place you will need an expert. The average family doctor or your ob-gyn is unlikely to have enough background to negotiate the intricacies of hormone regulation.
And just one actor out of whack can ruin the whole passion play.
I know because it happened to me. A few years ago, I complained to my doctor, an integrative medicine specialist who was treating me for a B12 deficiency, that I was more tired than usual. I told him about how on weekends I didn’t even make it out of bed some days and that I just felt … blah. He asked some questions about my hair and skin and examined my fingernails. He also asked me about my sex life and, reluctantly, I admitted that I felt like I was losing my spark in that realm but had just put it down to being over 40.
He asked about any irregularities in my periods and I told him that they had been much heavier and more uncomfortable in the past few months.
He raised an eyebrow and ordered a few tests.
A few days later, he emailed me and told me that my T3, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone were all low. “Yes,” he explained, “women have testosterone too, and the lack of it will play a part in your waning sex drive.” He changed my thyroid medication from levothyroxine to Armour Thyroid, which, he said, would boost my T3. He explained that some conditions might cause the T4 produced by my thyroid to turn into Reverse T3 instead of the T3 my cells depended upon. He said he might have to prescribe sex hormones too, but wanted to wait to see if the new medication made a difference.
On Armour Thyroid, I gradually started feeling better. After three weeks I was nearly back to my old self, able to go most of the day without collapsing into bed and was beginning to sleep better. Even my period came and went without drenching any of my clothing or making me miserable. A nice bonus was that I felt that old spark again when my husband pulled me close to him for that first kiss of the morning. I joked to the doctor that I could actually feel my blood running hotter; it even showed in the glow of my cheeks. I was relieved that it was not yet time for me to be put out to pasture.
Friends have always joked that my husband and I behave like we’ve just started dating instead of been married for decades. We flirt, we laugh, we tease. And now, I admit, I see him with new eyes and I am grateful for the intimate times that bring us closer, both as friends and lovers. This Valentine’s Day, we’re vacationing at home. Alone. I suppose there will be flowers and maybe even some dark chocolate involved, but I really don’t care. I’m more interested in how he’ll like that new nightie hiding at the back of the closet!
Disclaimer: The National Academy of Hypothyroidism does not endorse or is affiliated with the Armour Thyroid brand.