How Stress Impacts The Thyroid
The hypothalamus and pituitary slow down thyroid hormone production in response to increases in cortisol.
High stress causes the storage form of thyroid hormone to be turned into reverse T3 instead of the active T3 form.
Stress suppresses the immune system. Here, latent viral infections can now become problematic and autoimmune issues may emerge. This causes a cycle of inflammation and continued stress on the body.
Stress releases inflammatory cytokines making thyroid receptors less responsive to thyroid hormone.
Elevations in cortisol over time can cause estrogen accumulation. This can mean an uptick in TBG, thyroid binding globulin. TBG binds to thyroid hormone and decreases the availability of free T3.
Cortisol weakens the protective barrier in the gut and can lead to intestinal permeability.
How Stress Can Be Extremely Dangerous
Rarely, people with an underactive thyroid develop myxedema coma. Myxedema is more likely to occur in people whove had the thyroid gland removed, either surgically or by radioactive thyroid ablation. Severe, ongoing stress, infections, and surgery can trigger myxedema coma. Symptoms to watch out for include a severe drop in body temperature, difficulty breathing, slow heart rate, constipation, seizures, and weight gain due to fluid buildup in the body.
If you have hypothyroidism, talk with your doctor for suggestions on how minimizing stress, vigorous exercise, and relaxation techniques can help you. Also ask about dietary recommendations and possible medication adjustments to help you manage stress and your thyroid imbalance.
The Connection Between Stress And Thyroid
Your thyroid and adrenal gland work together to respond to your bodys ever-changing status to relay information to the body and the brain. The thyroid acts as the primary producer of hormones.
One hormone in specific that the thyroid produces is cortisol. Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands and helps deal with whatever is causing stress.
In addition to the cortisol release, a number of other actions also take place in the body when responding to stress. The brain recognizes the situation and releases corticotropin-releasing hormone .
This hormone directs the pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, to inform the adrenal glands it needs to produce cortisol. Both CRH and cortisol can reduce the levels of the thyroid-stimulating hormone , which is a critically important hormone in the production of T4 and T3.
In a study conducted by Holtorf Medical Group, it was shown that chronic stress resulted in a decrease in D1 activity and an increase in D3 activity both of which are enzymes responsible for the activation and deactivation of the thyroid hormones.
This leads to an increase of T4 conversion into reverse T3. Reverse T3 inhibits cell processes, putting it in direct opposition to T3, which promotes healthy cell growth and maintenance.
Ultimately, stress can reduce the levels of TSH production. Low levels of T3 can result in:
- Weight gain
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Creating More Physical Contact
Having sex, hugging, kissing, and cuddling are all positive physical contact that can help lower stress levels by lowering cortisol levels and releasing oxytocin. This can result in lower heart rate and blood pressure, which are symptoms of stress.
Oxytocin Definition: A chemical released by the brain to promote a positive mood
Symptoms Of Thyroid Inflammation
Symptoms of thyroid inflammation may vary depending on the inflammation intensity. Since the gland affects many body parts, signs might be emanating from different types of the body. As the disease progresses, most patients experience a mix of symptoms, including mental health problems, among other physiological problems. Have a look at some of the symptoms you can expect when suffering from thyroiditis:
- Unusual anxiety
- Unexplainable stress
- Gastrointestinal problems: Some of the symptoms include nausea, unusual increase or decrease of appetite, and increased bowel emptying
- General body sickness: This may present with sweating, lethargy, pain, feeling cold, and heat intolerance
- Unusual increase or decrease in weight
- Shortness of breath
Warning Signs Of High Cortisol And Low Thyroid
Posted by Dr. Andrew Heyman, MD on Jun 28, 2018 10:26:06 AM
When a person feels stressed, they may reach for comfort foods that contain carbohydrates and sugars and proclaim that theyre eating their feelings.
Many patients have a sense that stress, metabolism, and sugar are related to one another. They often can make the connection between eating poorly and feeling sluggish. What they may not know is that changes in diet and other lifestyle behaviors that lead to alterations in coping skills can impact cortisol, insulin, and thyroid levels, which can result in fatigue and slowed metabolism.
Receptors for all three hormones are located in nearly every cell of the body, so the relationship between them and the adrenal gland, thyroid, and pancreas is critical for energy production and balanced physiology.
When this relationship is functioning normally, people tend to feel vital and well. When they arent functioning properly, or when their function is impacted by poor rest, diet, and exercise, patients feel unwell, gain weight, and appear in your office with issues related to adrenal fatigue and thyroid problems.
Identifying Hormone Issues
Some of the initial questions youll ask when identifying issues with cortisol, insulin, and thyroid hormones include:
- Do you have enough energy to complete daily tasks?
- Do you sleep deeply at night?
- Have you gained weight?
Physical Symptoms of High Cortisol
High Cortisol Levels at Night
The Bodys Response to High Cortisol
The Effect Of Stress On Your Thyroid
When youre under constant or chronic stress, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol. But if theres too much cortisol surging through your body, it can wreak havoc on your thyroid. Too much cortisol makes your thyroid gland work harder to produce enough thyroid hormone. This process can tax the thyroid gland and lead to imbalances of the thyroid hormone in your body.
If you just finished a huge work project only to find yourself sick the following weekend, you probably know that being under stress for long periods of time can compromise your immune system. Researchers have found evidence that links cells in the immune system to the regulation of thyroid hormone activity during normal physiological conditions and when the immune system is stressed and fighting off infection.
So when your body is fighting off an illness, the immune system jumps in to help regulate activity of the thyroid hormone. This may also hinder the immune system from using all of its resources to fight off the infection itself. If your immune system gets thrown out of whack frequently, youre more likely to be prone to autoimmune diseases.
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How Chronic Stress Impacts Thyroid Function
You probably know your adrenal glands for producing adrenaline and managing your fight or flight response. However, did you know that, as part of your endocrine system, they also produce hormones that impact your major metabolic processes, just like your thyroid? The hormones produced by your adrenal glands help to regulate blood pressure, electrolyte balance, blood sugar, immune response, digestion, and more.
When you experience any kind of stress nemotional, mental, or physical your hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary gland. It, in turn, signals to your adrenal glands to produce and release a series of stress hormones, including cortisol.
Once a stressor triggers this cascade of hormones, cortisol and your other stress hormones redirect your bodys normal functions to deprioritize anything that is not necessary for overcoming the stressor in front of you. This means that functions like digestion, immune response, and yes, thyroid hormone production and distribution, are temporarily put on hold or slowed down until the stress has passed. Ideally, the stress passes quickly, your body returns to normal, and everything runs smoothly.
Two Ways Tsh Is Affected By Stress
There really are two different ways that stress affects TSH. As a point of reference, the information provided is based on my clinical experience treating patients with hypothyroid and subclinical hypothyroidism and some cases of hyperthyroid. It is also based on my medical school training and some additional cursory research to see if there are any research papers documenting how TSH is affected by stress. For the most part, this information is well-established and there is little debate about how stress affects TSH.
TSH also known as thyroid stimulating hormone is affected by stress through the role of cortisol. Cortisol is the main stress hormone that’s secreted in the body when we are under higher stress levels. There are two main ways that cortisol has this effect on TSH. One is through the brain in the hypothalamic-pituitary-access. The other is through reverse T3.
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Why It Happens How To Cope And What Else May Be Making You Tired
Fatigue is a common symptom of thyroid disease. And, if you’ve experienced it, you’re very aware that this isn’t the typical fatigue that many people experience after a night of poor sleep or during a stressful time.
It’s often extreme exhaustion that interferes with daily life. Whether you find yourself needing a nap every afternoon to make it to dinnertime or waking up unrefreshed and brain-fogged despite a full night’s sleep, it may make you feel better to know that you’re not alone.
Adjusting your thyroid medication dose , improving your sleep habits, and addressing other factors that may be making the issue worse, can all help you improve this common thyroid disease symptom and live better with your condition.
Keep reading to learn more about how thyroid disease can make you feel exhausted. This article will also discuss treatment for thyroid disease and ways to find more energy.
Verywell / Emily Roberts
Spread Out Other Supplements
Make sure to wait for at least three to four hours between taking thyroid medication and any fiber, calcium, or iron supplements. These nutrients can prevent you from absorbing your full dose of medication.
Ultimately, when it comes to taking your thyroid hormone drug, consistency is essential. If you plan to change how you take your thyroid medication, make sure you clear it with your healthcare provider first.
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Never Skips Meals Or Exercise On An Empty Stomach
This is possibly the worst advice ever given when it comes to exercise.
I hear it all the time, and it makes me cringe.
Remember, we just covered how a lack of fuel is what drives the thyroid-suppressive stress response when you exercise.
Now, where do you think that fuel comes from?
That fuel comes from the foods you eat!
So, when you skip meals or exercise on an empty stomach, youre depleting your body of the fuel it needs to prevent exercise from ruining your thyroid.
Youre simply setting yourself up for failure.
As mentioned above, you may lose some weight, but youre ruining your thyroid in the process.
I talk more about how this only sets you up for long-term weight gain in this post on Why Exercising More and Eating Less Is the Best Way to Gain Weight with Hypothyroidism.
Instead, thyroid sufferers need to be eating and replenishing their fuel supply before, during, and especially after exercise.
Most importantly, you need to focus on carbohydrate intake, which is the primary nutritional factor that prevents exercise-induced stress hormone production.
Skipping meals or exercising on an empty stomach is a quick way to drive your stress hormones even further through the roof.
In our Hypothyroidism Exercise training we dont only walk you through the best and most effective workouts and exercises to use, we also walk you through exercise-nutrition and show you exactly what to eat, and when to eat it, to boost your thyroid with exercise.
Stress Puts The Brakes On Thyroid Function
The thyroid and adrenal glands work closely together. Periods of prolonged stress can mean less thyroid hormone is available in the body, leading to less energy, more brain fog and an increase in hypothyroid symptoms.
First, stress triggers a fight-or-flight reaction. Then, the brain signals the adrenals to produce stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones are very helpful when youre wanting to run away from a wild animal. However, when your stressors are chronic, there can be imbalance in the body. Consequently, thyroid hormone production, digestion and immune response can be slowed until the stress is resolved.
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Stress Comes In Many Forms
Sometimes sources of stress are out of our control. Other times, we dont even realize were contributing to our stress load.
Psychological stress: relationships, job, deadline, test, family dynamics, societal tension, past traumatic experiences, pandemic, finances
When we experience chronic stress, the adrenals work overtime, producing more and more cortisol while negatively affecting thyroid function and potentially leading to HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Weakened adrenals can mean thyroid medication could temporarily cause an increase in symptoms such as increased heart rate and a feeling of being in overdrive. The adrenals can be supported with nutrient supplementation and lifestyle stress reduction support.
How Is Thyroid Inflammation Treated
Indeed, going through thyroiditis can be devastated, primarily because it affects the quality of life. Even so, you dont have to feel overwhelmed since the condition can be treatable, and you can continue enjoying life. Typically, treatment depends on the stage, type, and symptoms of thyroid inflammation.
- Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and cortisone to manage thyroidal pain and inflammation.
- Beta-blockers help alleviates heart palpitations, tremors, and sweating.
- Radioactive iodine aims at shrinking the enlarged thyroid.
- Anti-thyroid medications, such as propylthiouracil and methimazole
- Thyroidectomy: This may be necessary when other treatment modalities are not applicable.
- Graves Ophthalmopathy can be treated by using artificial tears or undergoing Orbital decompression surgery.
- Use of hormone replacement therapy to manage hypothyroidism.
- Antibiotics medications to treat thyroid inflammation resulting from an infection
Nowadays, physicians are applying innovations and tests to help make a prompt diagnosis of thyroid inflammation disorders. If you start experiencing stress and anxiety, among other thyroiditis symptoms, contact your GP immediately. Additionally, if you know of someone suffering from thyroid inflammation symptoms, ensure you refer them to a reliable physician.
Find a healthy way to cope with an anxiety disorder to get rid of irrational fear. Click the button below to book your appointment.
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How Stress Affects Your Thyroid
There is some evidence that thyroid problems and stress are linked, but the nature of the link is less clear. Some studies, discussed further in this article, have suggested that stress may cause thyroid issues, and itâs also plausible that thyroid problems can make a person more vulnerable to stress.
To learn more about the link between thyroid problems and stress, we first spoke with Dr. Stefano Guandalini, MD, Professor Emeritus at University of Chicago Medicine.
Dr Guandalini tells us that having a thyroid condition does make you more vulnerable to stress:
“When you have either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, you become more sensitive to both mental and physical stresses, as the excessively high or low levels of thyroid hormones affect how the whole body reacts to stress,”said Dr Guandalini.
“Stress increases production of the hormone cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol can inhibit secretion of TSH from the pituitary gland, leading to partial suppression of thyroxine, the main hormone produced by the thyroid gland,”Dr. Guandalini explains.
To summarize, Dr Guandalini highlights that stress could potentially worsen symptoms of thyroid disease which, in turn, can cause more stress. This means people with thyroid conditions should take extra care to manage their stress levels.
Reduced T4 To T3 Conversion
Stress hormones affect the enzymes that convert T4 to T3. Remember that Free T3 is the active form of the hormone and I like to think of it as the gas, and Reverse T3 is the inactive form of the hormone and I like to think of it as the brakes. When stress is high we convert more of our T3 into RT3 rather than FT3. This imbalance essentially works to put the brakes on all of your metabolic processes, slowing them down and causing Hashimotos symptoms.
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Adrenal Stress Causes Thyroid Hormone Resistance
In order for thyroid hormone circulating in blood to have a physiological effect, it must first activate receptors on cells. Inflammatory cytokines have been shown to suppress thyroid receptor site sensitivity.
If youre familiar with insulin resistance, where the cells gradually lose their sensitivity to insulin, this is a similar pattern. Its as if the thyroid hormone is knocking on the cells door, but the cells dont answer.
While theres no practical way to measure receptor site sensitivity in a clinical setting, the research above suggests it is decreased in autoimmune and other inflammatory conditions. A perfect example of this in practice is the Hashimotos patient who is taking replacement hormones but still suffers from hypothyroid symptoms often in spite of repeated changes in the dose and type of medication. In these patients, inflammation is depressing thyroid receptor site sensitivity and producing hypothyroid symptoms, even though lab markers like TSH, T4 and T3 may be normal.
How Does Stress Affect Hypothyroidism
Stress is a part of your daily life whether youre trying to get to work on time or a family member calls with a personal crisis, its inevitable. But its not always such a bad thing. You need a little bit of stress so your body and mind react correctly when youre in a life-threatening situation, like a near-miss incident while driving.
The problem is when stress gets so out of control that it affects your health. If you had an underlying thyroid condition, stress could cause it to turn into a full-blown health problem, like hypothyroidism. Anyone can get hypothyroidism, although its more common in women older than 50, and youre more likely to have mildly underactive glands instead of full-blown hypothyroidism.
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