The Importance of the Adrenal Thyroid Connection

health thyroid Apr 19, 2021
Dr Cheryl Kam - Blog - Functional medicine coach - Singapore - The Importance of the Adrenal Thyroid Connection

There's an important relationship between the Thyroid and the Adrenals systems that may hold the key to overcoming and recovering from thyroid disease.


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 problems, like Hashimotos or Graves' disease, this may be the key to your self-healing.


The following teachings are taken from my Thyroid Deep Dive online course.

I am a functional medicine doctor. I 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). However, her symptoms continued to get worse.

Together, I and the endocrinologist worked to address the adrenal and cortisol system. Fortunately, her thyroid function and antibody levels started improving due to our efforts. It continued to improve to the point she did not need thyroid medication anymore and now she 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 these issues in a sustainable way!


How chronic stress releases cortisol 

During times of stress and high performance, the Hypothalamus in the brain sends Corticotrophin releasing hormones (CRH) to the anterior pituitary gland.

Then the pituitary gland sends a signaling hormone ACTH down to tell our adrenal glands to produce 3 things:  

  1. cortisol
  2. adrenaline (epinephrine)
  3. 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: The adrenal glands produce other hormones like 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 reproductive health.


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 instructs the thyroid gland to release inactive Thyroxin (T4). This is then converted mostly in the liver into an active usable form: Triiodothyronine (T3).

These thyroid hormones help control many functions in the body. These functions include the cardiovascular system, neuromuscular control, immune system, and brain function.

Thus, a low functioning thyroid will therefore cause symptoms such as

  • brain fog
  • fatigue
  • 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.  

If your thyroid isn't doing so well and you've been experiencing low thyroid function, stop and think. You may or may not have some thyroid numbers out of range but ask yourself: Is stress playing a part in my thyroid issues?

You're only going to be treating half of the problem if you don't get to the root cause. 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.

In the diagram above, we see dotted arrows representing how the presence of stress, and therefore cortisol, does two things to lower 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.  The philosophy I teach time and again is to first understand how the body works. I believe we need to know how it's working for you, in order to work with your body towards recovery.


Remember, Your body ultimately wants to heal, for you!  

Cortisol is produced in the situations of of acute stress or when high performance is needed. This is helpful because it helps our body's reactivity and conserves our energy for other processes.

Tweaking down the thyroid hormones to conserve energy and nutrients is one of our body's adaptive mechanisms. It's helpful in how we respond to emergency situations.

However, today's modern human brain consistently experiences stress. Chronic stress can persistently suppress thyroid function. Therefore, this triggers a hyper-cortisol state that can then cause low thyroid symptoms that you can't seem to break out of.


Addressing the adrenal-thyroid system together


These are specific ways that can support the healing of adrenal thyroid complex.  

  1. Adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola and Ashwaganda are very useful in a thyroid recovery plan.  They support adrenal harmony and stress resilience.
  2. Adrenal-specific nutrients are vital for the function of any bodily process. In particular, the complex of B vitamins, along with Vitamin C and Magnesium are needed.
  3. Thyroid-specific nutrients include Selenium, Zinc, L-tyrosine and Iodine.  They 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 Foundational Nutrients.
  4. If you're on any stage of burnout, work towards getting out of it.  Be open to talking 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 is also important. Oftentimes, this might come from a gut issue. This can lead to inflammation and immunity changes. This is more like in cases of autoimmune thyroid disease.  Work with 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!





Images:  https://opentextbc.ca,

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