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Thyroid Function, Stress and Your Adrenal Glands PDF Print E-mail
Written by Allen Lawrence, M.D.   
Saturday, 26 February 2011 10:03

hypothyroidwoman90x145There appears to be a strong relationship between hypothyroidism and adrenal hormone problems.

Whenever an individual has symptoms of hypothyroidism, evaluation of their adrenal function is essential. Many women are surprised to learn there’s a connection between these two conditions, however over stressed adrenal glands appear to be a major contributor to hypothyroidism.

Stress of any kind, whether mental, emotional, physical or spiritual acts to stimulate, even over stimulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and the dynamic feedback systems between the brain and the adrenal glands. Overstimulation of this axis can create major problems and implications throughout the body.

The short-term result of a stimulated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is increased cortisol production by the adrenal glands. This increased production and release of the hormone cortisol (also known as hypercortisolism) can directly suppress the production of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) as well as conversion of the thyroid hormone T4 (or as it is also called Thyroxine) into the active thyroid hormone,T3 or as it is also called Triiodothyronine). Cortisol, however, cannot remain elevated forever. Eventually, the adrenal glands reach a point of exhaustion and when they are no longer able to produce sufficient cortisol to allow cortisol to do its job effectively (a condition known as hypocortisolism). When this happened it triggers another set of problems which we will not go into in this article.



Either way, the now significantly lowered levels of the active thyroid hormone T3, your cells cannot work effectively and maintain optimal Health and well being. Biologic response either diminish or fail. When this happens we begin to see symptoms of hypothyroidism such as: fatigue, cold intolerance, weight gain, memory loss, poor concentration, depression, infertility, hair loss, and more.

Most standard western physicians usually prescribe levothyroxine (sold under the brand names of Synthroid and Levoxl) when TSH suggests that there is decreased thyroid function. Their goal here is to replace the thyroid hormone T4 with a synthetic form. Although some women may feel better using levothyroxine, many do not. The problem is that as women get older they tend to lose or reduce production of a key enzyme that is necessary to convert T4 into T3, Since T4, on its own, have very little action as a thyroid hormone, it must be converted to T3 in order for the body to use it and therefore “have sufficient” thyroid hormone to do what the thyroid needs to do.


When over stressed adrenal glands are at the root of your thyroid problems, feeding the body more T4 is at best only a temporary stop-gap solution as it only acts to stop the thyroid from producing its own T4 and if it cannot be converted to T3 hypothyroidism will soon follow. In such cases it si much smarter to use Armour-like thyroid which is a combination of T4 and T3, therefore if you are deficient in either, it will be replaced. If you have an enzyme deficiency which does not allow T4 to be converted into T3, no matter, as this compound already has T4, ready to go, within it.

While the adrenal glands are clearly an important part of the thyroid equation, there may be something entirely different causing a sluggish thyroid. When we look deeper into the origins of low thyroid problems there are other factors involved in this issue.

Other Factors Involved with Hypothyroidism

Along with the physical, mental and emotional stresses many women experience during menopause, there are several biologic stresses which act on the thyroid.

Low Iodine Levels

Iodine is the central ingredient necessary to the body when it manufactures both thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. When your body tries to produce T3 and T4 without sufficient iodine this is like trying to start your car without gasoline. We need to ingest at least one milligram of iodine each week in our diet in order to have sufficient iodine to meet our body’s required amount of thyroxine.

Unfortunately, iodine is not all that widely distributed in nature. Despite iodine being added to our commercial table salt, American iodine status was recently deemed “marginal” by the World Health Organization. Given that much of the world’s soil now lacks iodine and that fewer people eat foods that are naturally rich in iodine, and many people, especially those with fluid retention and high blood pressure are now avoiding salt, iodized table salt, iodine deficiency is on the rise.

Exposure to Environmental Toxins

Today, the exposure to so many environmental toxins, including halides, heavy metals, pesticides, and antibiotics in our air, food, and water is having an effect and interfering with thyroid function. While we all recognize that it is important to limit our exposure to toxic chemicals wherever possible, it is also not entire easy to do this. By increasing iodine intake and implementing a regular detox program to support the body’s natural detoxification pathways we can make a positive difference, but we have to do these or hypothyroid ism is a risk.

Food Allergies and Sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities, including gluten allergies, can stress your thyroid function. Many of men and women with hypothyroidism can by eliminating gluten (Celiac Disease or Gluten sensitivity) from their diet, see a reduction in thyroid problems. If you suffer from hypothyroid symptoms you may want to go on an elimination diet and see how this can affect you.

Food sensitivities also tend to trigger autoimmune reactions within our body as they undermine the body’s immune system. When the immune system is over stimulated it can attack your thyroid gland and thyroid hormone as if they were a foreign invaders. What we eat affects us in many ways whether related to deficiencies or excesses, toxic or inhibiting chemicals, it is also clear that the food we eat effects our genes, RNA and DNA. When we have food intolerances occurring within the gut, the resulting chemical effects can dramatically influence our DNA and our immune cells. While in many cases the foods we eat turn on or simulate healthy responses in our immune and defensive systems, food stressors can also turn off or cause havoc with our  “healthy” systems and pathways and turn on processes which can lead to disease.

Prescription Medications

There is a long list of prescription medications which can impair thyroid function. Drugs such as lithium, amiodarone, somatostatin, many inhalers and steroids can disrupt thyroid hormone balance at many level. They can undermine the manufacturing, secretion and transport, as well as how thyroid hormones work and act in our end organs, as well as their ability to regulate metabolism. The ultimate affect can be hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. While some prescription medications are essential to quality of life, every time any prescription medication is used we must be aware of both their benefits and negative effects and how they affect other organs and systems within our body. Certainly their action on the thyroid gland and thyroid hormones and the entire thyroid system must always be considered.

Overall Nutrition

Insufficient nutrition can also affect thyroid function. Certain vitamins and minerals are essential for thyroid production. Selenium, for example, is needed for the conversion of T4 into T3. If your diet is deficient in selenium then this can be a problems. We have already discussed the role of  iodine above, as it is essential for making thyroid hormones. Vitamin A, EPA and DHA, and zinc all act to improve T3 binding in your cells. By working with your body’s natural pathways, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and extra antioxidants can offer great results without the side effects.

If you have already been diagnosed with hypothyroidism then you should hopefully better understand the forces which can cause it. If you have symptoms and have not yet been diagnosed then please go see your doctor. Aks your doctor to be sure th take both TSH, Free T3 and FreeT4 as you can be hypothyroid and still have a normal TSH and even elevated T4.

In our next article in this series we will look at Nutrition and Other Factors Involved in Natural Treatments and Relief of Hyperthyroidism.

For more information on Hyporthyroidism, click here.

For more information Hypothyroidism in Menopause — A Holistic Approach, click here for article one in this series.

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