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August 13 2023 Vennessa McConkey

My Thyroid and Adrenals are Connected?! HOW????

Stress is a given in our lives, right? I know I can’t avoid it and I’d be willing to bet you can’t either. So, whether you have Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, or you haven’t been diagnosed yet, stress and your adrenals play a huge role in your thyroid health. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean there’s NOTHING we can do about it. The key is to understand the adrenal-thyroid connection, how stress affects thyroid function, and how to relieve it!
I think we all know our adrenal glands for produce adrenaline and manage our fight or flight response. However, did you know that, as part of your endocrine system, they also produce hormones that impact major metabolic processes, just like your thyroid does? The hormones produced by your adrenal glands help to regulate blood pressure, electrolyte balance, blood sugar, immune response, digestion, and more!

So, when you experience stress, whether it's emotional, mental, or physical, your hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland signals your adrenal glands to produce and release a series of stress hormones, including cortisol (this connection is called the HPA axis)

Once a stressor triggers this cascade of hormones, cortisol and your other stress hormones redirect your body’s normal functions to literally ignore anything that is not necessary for overcoming that stressor. This means digestion, immune response, and yes, thyroid hormone production and distribution, are temporarily put on hold or slowed down until the stress has passed. In a "normally"-functioning person, the stress passes quickly, your body returns to homeostasis, and everything runs smoothly again. Unfortunately, due to our hectic lifestyles, many of us experience chronic stress, either because our stress does not end quickly or it is quickly followed by another stressor. This state of chronic stress puts your adrenals on overdrive for extended periods of time, continuously flooding your body with cortisol until your adrenals can no longer keep up with the constant demand for more and more stress hormones, leaving you in a state of adrenal fatigue. This flooding and eventual plummeting of stress hormones has so many negative impacts on the thyroid.

1. Slowed Thyroid Hormone Production Cortisol functions in a negative feedback loop with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Once it enters your bloodstream, its presence signals to your hypothalamus and pituitary gland to slow down so that they don’t trigger any additional stress hormones. These same organs also regulate thyroid hormone production, so guess what? Thyroid slows down too.

2. Reduced T3/T4 Conversion Stress hormones affect the enzymes that convert T4 to T3. Something to remember is that Free T3 (FT3) is the active form of the hormone (aka the ‘gas'). Reverse T3 is the inactive form of the hormone (aka the 'brakes'). When stress is high, we end up converting more of our T3 into RT3 rather than Free T3. This imbalance puts the brakes on ALL of your metabolic processes, slowing them down and causing hypothyroid symptoms.

3. Suppressed Immune System When your body is in stress mode, your immune system is suppressed. The reason being is so that your body can focus fully on overcoming the stressor, and because stress causes inflammation. Your immune system slows down to prevent a state of chronic inflammation and a suppressed immune system can trigger latent viral infections, some of which can trigger autoimmune thyroid disease. Yikes!

4. Thyroid Hormone Resistance There are these cute little inflammatory immune cells called cytokines, which make thyroid receptors less sensitive to thyroid hormones. In the stress response process, this means that even if you’re taking thyroid meds and your thyroid hormone levels are "normal", you can still be suffering from underactive thyroid symptoms - and the meds typically won't be working.

5. Weakened Gut and Mucosal Barrier Again with stress, cortisol weakens your immune system’s primary barriers—the blood-brain barrier, lungs, and gut barrier. If you've been following me for awhile, you will know that a weakened gut and mucosal barrier leads to leaky gut, which sets you on the path toward autoimmune disease by releasing gluten and dairy, among other things into your bloodstream. These can trigger attacks on your thyroid via molecular mimicry. This all sounds no bueno, right?

So how do we fix this?

As you can see, your adrenal function plays a HUGE role in the effectiveness of your thyroid hormones. It is very important to determine if adrenal stress is an underlying cause of your thyroid dysfunction. That way you can treat them side by side. In fact, many patients with adrenal-related thyroid problems who are put on thyroid medication WITHOUT adrenal support initially get worse. They can experience a racing heart or shaking hands as their body is forced into overdrive from the sudden rush of thyroid hormones.

Conventional doctors typically rely on a blood test to measure cortisol levels, but your stress hormone levels fluctuate significantly throughout the day. That means the one-time test does not provide nuanced results. If you want to test your cortisol levels at home, I recommend the stress hormone panel I run (by the way, this is how I found out I didn't have adrenal insufficiency and was misdiagnosed! Check out Episode 4 of Season 4 of my podcast to hear how!)

How to Reduce Stress and Support Your Adrenals

The best way to support your adrenals and accompanying thyroid problems long-term is to learn to manage your stress. I know, I know....realistically speaking, there will always be stress in your life, but learning the tools and routines to leave a stressful situation behind after it’s over, instead of carrying it around with you, will reduce the physical effects of chronic stress. And if you have any sort of trauma, please seek out a traum-therapist to walk you through the steps.

Stress-Relieving Tools to Support Your Adrenals

Here are two of my favorite ways to reduce stress:

Infrared Sauna Therapy – Spending time in an infrared sauna has so many health benefits, including stress relief and detoxification. I have one in my home, and you can also receive treatments from natural spas that house their own.

A relaxing hot bath – I love winding down with a relaxing hot bath a couple evenings a week. Check out lavender-infused epsom salts too!

Also, check out my 10 Ways To Restore Your Adrenals From Burnout in the resource section on my website or here ---->

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