The Importance of the Adrenal Thyroid ConnectionApr 19, 2021
The Adrenal Thyroid Connection is one of those topics that will become more mainstream knowledge amongst Health practitioners, Doctors, Coaches and Fitness Trainers.
If you have thyroid disease, whether it is Hashimotos or low thyroid function, Graves' disease, overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism, this is going to be an important key to your self healing.
The following teachings are taken from my Thyroid Deep Dive online course.
I am a functional medicine doctor, and was working with a client whose thyroid numbers were out of the normal ranges. Her endocrinologist rightly diagnosed Hashimoto's disease and needed to put her on Synthroid/Levothyroxine to make up for the thyroid hormones she wasn't producing, (and yes, she did have elevated antibodies) but her symptoms continued to get worse.
When we worked together to address the adrenal and cortisol system, her thyroid function and antibody levels started improving. It continued to improve to the point she did not need thyroid medication anymore, and is stable and symptom-free!
You see, the bottom line is that stress and adrenal function affects thyroid function.
Understanding the adrenal thyroid connection will teach you how to heal this, in a sustainable way!
How chronic stress releases cortisol
During times of stress and high performance, the Hypothalamus in the brain sends Corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) to the anterior pituitary gland, also in the brain.
The pituitary in turn, sends a signaling hormone ACTH down to tell our adrenal glands to produce 3 things:
- adrenaline (epinephrine)
- noradrenaline (norepinephrine).
The adrenal glands are are small, triangular-shaped glands located on top of both kidneys. They are in charge of our fight or flight response.
Bonus Tip: Other hormones also produced by the adrenal glands, include DHEA and precursors to the male and female hormones. So as an aside, it is a good idea to keep these glands working with ease, for our fertility, sexual function, menopause, and healthy ageing.
How the thyroid works
The hypothalamus releases Thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) which tells the pituitary gland to release Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
TSH from the pituitary communicates to the thyroid gland to release inactive Thyroxin (T4) which is then converted mostly in the liver to an active usable form, Triiodothyronine (T3).
These thyroid hormones help control many functions in the body, including the cardiovascular system, neuromuscular control, immune system, and brain function.
Thus, a low functioning thyroid will therefore cause symptoms such as
- brain fog
- weight gain or stagnation
- old sensitivity
- mood changes
- sleep disturbances
- muscle aches and pains
How cortisol affects your thyroid function
Now let's get to the crux of the matter.
When your thyroid is not working so well, and you experience symptoms of low thyroid function, (you may or may not have some thyroid numbers out of range....) you have got to question yourself if stress might be playing a part here.
If not, then you're only going to be treating half of the problem, and the situation will continue. Chances are, drugs will not give you the symptom relief you are expecting, and you will get stuck in that cycle of repeat visits and blood tests with your doctor, trying to get the dose right, and it will be a constant challenge.
So in the diagram above, we see dotted arrows representating how the presence of stress, and therefore cortisol, does two things to tone down the thyroid function.
Firstly, cortisol reduces TSH levels. This in turn reduces thyroid hormone output.
Secondly, cortisol reduces the conversion of inactive T4 to its active form, T3.
Even at the hypothalamus level, you can see that CRH also works to inhibit TSH.
Why should cortisol reduce thyroid function?
As I always say to my course participants, the body is infinitely wise. Humans have long tried to hack the body, to detrimental effect. And the philosophy I teach again and again, is to first understand how the body works, and how it's working for you, in order to work with your body towards recovery.
Remember, Your body ultimately wants to heal, for you!
So in an acute stress situation, the presence of stress, high performance and therefore cortisol will help one to focus on reactivity, and conserve energy for everything else.
Tweaking down the thyroid hormones to conserve energy and nutrient usage is one of the adaptive mechanisms in place.
This is all fine, in an emergency setting. Like running from a bear attack.
However, in today's modern human brain, stress seems to go on and on, chronically. In such states, the thyroid function is persistently suppressed, and therefore you can see how a hyper-cortisol state can give you low thyroid symptoms that you can't seem to break out of.
Addressing the adrenal-thyroid system together
These are some specific ways that can help in helping to heal the adrenal thyroid complex.
1) Adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola, Ashwaganda are very useful in a thyroid recovery plan. They support adrenal harmony, stress resilience and this in turn supports thyroid function.
2) Adrenal specific nutrients are super important for the function of any bodily process. In particular, for the adrenals are the complex of B vitamins, along with Vitamin C and Magnesium.
3) Thyroid specific nutrients include Selenium, Zinc, L-tyrosine and Iodine. Nutrients play a significant role in a smooth T4 to T3 conversion.
In fact, despite the hormone balance piece, I always start with addressing nutrient debt.
Learn how to confidently fix these key nutrients in Kickstart your Immunity.
4) If you're on any stage of burnout, work towards getting yourself firmly out of burnout's reach. Work with a coach or practitioner, and don't simply stop after you've found a quick 2 week cure. Personal development and cultivating resilience is a lifestyle.
5) Reducing inflammation by going to the source. Oftentimes this might come from a gut issue, leading to inflammation and immunity changes, especially in the case of autoimmune thyroid disease. You will want to work with a functional medicine and experienced practitioner to address this important piece of the puzzle.
(you might even want to BE the practitioner with the know-how, on the gut, too!)
You see, there are many other interconnected systems too, besides the important adrenal-thyroid link.
If you're a health and fitness coach or wellness practitioner wanting to
- go from overwhelm to ease and confidence in your consults
- cut through the noise of all the conflicting information online
- know what to do next with the client in front of you
- create impact without the jargon
Be sure to join my list. I'll be so pleased to teach you how to do just this!