We all know that too much stress isn't good for our
health, but we don't always make the connection between stress and low thyroid problems
or even subclinical hypothyroidism.
In fact, when women call us with thyroid concerns, we can often hear the stress
in their voices. Sometimes they’ve even taken steps to boost their thyroid but still
aren’t responding well — talk about a stressful situation!
You may be suffering from both adrenal stress and thyroid imbalance and not even
realize it. If you’re experiencing fatigue, weight gain, moodiness and fuzzy
thinking, seeing how underlying stress is related to low thyroid problems
is your first step to feeling better.
Thyroid and Stress Combo relieves symptoms and
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3 ways adrenal stress and low thyroid are connected
Research shows that stress-related adrenal imbalance is often connected to a low
thyroid problem. Here’s why:
- The same parts of your brain control both your adrenal and thyroid hormones.
- Your adrenal and thyroid hormone “feedback loops” interact.
- Cortisol — a key adrenal hormone — and thyroid hormones work together
to form your stress response.
You can see why it makes sense that when one set of hormone signals is disrupted,
chances are higher that the other will be disrupted too, especially if constant
stress is involved.
Thyroid symptoms caused by stress
- cold intolerance
- weight gain
- memory loss
- poor concentration
- hair loss
How adrenal stress can cause thyroid symptoms
You need just the right amount of cortisol for your thyroid to function optimally.
Too much (from acute stress) or too little (tapped out as a result of continuous
stress over time) can lead to problems. These include either overactive or underactive
adrenal glands, as well as an underactive thyroid, or subclinical hypothyroidism.
The stress-thyroid connection
Thyroid hormone production is reduced
Sensitive feedback loops between the brain and the thyroid are disrupted
The most active thyroid hormone T3 is decreased, leading to low thyroid function
For a more detailed explanation of how stress and your thyroid are connected, click
on the diagram.
How do you know if stress is affecting your thyroid?
Figuring out if you have a combination of adrenal and thyroid imbalance can be tricky.
We tell women that the best way to confirm it is to compare their own experience
with the symptoms listed above. (Take our
Symptom Checker to find out more).
Our conversations often start because women’s doctors have told them their thyroid
levels are “normal” (or their TSH is “just a little on the high side”), yet something
still doesn’t feel right. These women usually haven’t been given any options to
support their thyroid, much less discussed the role of stress and the adrenals with
Other women may be diagnosed by a practitioner for a thyroid disorder and be caught
completely by surprise. That’s because thyroid imbalances can go on behind the scenes
for months — or even years — without producing obvious symptoms.
If women have been experiencing chronic stress over time, the resulting adrenal
imbalance, whether initially overactive or eventually underactive, has also been
inhibiting their thyroid function.
Tips for reducing stress-thyroid symptoms
Try herbs that support both adrenal and thyroid function.
Herbs like ashwagandha, bacopa and coleus can all relieve symptoms while supporting
thyroid hormone production. Other herbs have powerful effects on adrenal function
and help reduce the negative side effects of underlying stress, including astragalus
root, Siberian ginseng and cordyceps.
Get enough of the right vitamins and minerals. Selenium
and iodine are the most essential minerals for producing thyroid hormones and ensuring
that your thyroid works the way it should. Vitamins A, B, C, and E also play important
Eat to support healthy adrenal and thyroid function.
Eating regular meals, especially breakfast, including high-quality protein with
each meal and snack, avoiding sugar, and moderating caffeine intake can make you
much more resilient to stress. (For more ideas, see our articles on
eating to support your thyroid and
eating to support your adrenals — you'll notice a lot of overlap between
Sleep. The body’s ideal time to sleep is between
the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM. Allow yourself adequate time to unwind before bed.
Setting aside quiet periods during the day makes it a lot easier to relax at night.
The downtime will also give your adrenals a needed rest.
Other good ideas. From five minutes of deep breathing
to a peaceful walk, you always have options. Other good options are yoga, qi gong,
and meditation or prayer.
What about exercise? Exercise is essential for health,
but exercising to the point of exhaustion can put your adrenal glands back into
stress mode and elevate cortisol levels. By all means exercise, but take it easy,
especially at first.
If you’re struggling to overcome symptoms, you do have options to support your thyroid
and adrenals naturally. Remember that even small changes, especially if you stick
to them, can add up to a dramatic difference in how you feel.
1 Mayo Clinic Staff. 2009. Graves’ disease. Definition. URL: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/graves-disease/DS00181
2 Mizokama, T., et al. 2004. Stress and thyroid autoimmunity. Thyroid,
14 (12), 1047–1055. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15650357
3 Ranabir, S., & Reetu, K. 2011. Stress and hormones. Indian J. Endocrinol.
Metab., 15 (1), 18–22. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079864/?tool=pubmed
“Thyroid function is usually down-regulated during stressful conditions. T3
and T4 levels decrease with stress. Stress inhibits the thyroid-stimulating hormone
(TSH) secretion through the action of glucocorticoids on the central nervous system.”
[Helmreich et al. 2005.]
Helmreich, D., et al. 2005. Relation between the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid
(HPT) axis and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis during repeated stress.
Neuroendocrinology, 81, 183–92. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16020927
4 Pizzorno, L., & Ferril, W. 2005. Chapter 32. Clinical approaches
to hormonal and neuroendocrine imbalances. Thyroid. In Textbook of Functional Medicine,
ed. D. Jones & S. Quinn, 647. Gig Harbor, WA: Institute for Functional Medicine.
Liska, D., and S. Quinn, eds. 2004. Clinical Nutrition, A Functional
Approach, 184. Gig Harbor, WA: Institute for Functional Medicine.
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