Hypothyroidism or low thyroid function is a very common condition affecting an estimated 20 million Americans, and up to 60% of those people are not aware that they have a thyroid problem. Up to 95% of those with thyroid disease may have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease attacking the thyroid gland. Thyroid diseases disproportionately affect women and one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. (1)
This is one of those conditions that I work with all the time in my practice and I wanted to talk about some of the hidden root causes at work.
What does the thyroid gland do?
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the throat that produces two thyroid hormones called thyroxine, aka T4, and tri-iodothyronine, aka T3. These hormones travel through the blood stream and get absorbed by every cell in the body where they exert their actions. They play a direct role in the health and normal functioning of the brain, gut, heart, bones, blood, liver and gall bladder, hormone production, blood sugar balance, cholesterol metabolism, protein metabolism and body temperature. (2) So… They're important!
The thyroid is like the thermostat of the body. Turn it up to a normal level, and you might feel comfortably warm, your metabolism burns hotter, your hair and nails grow, your food moves through the digestive tract at a normal clip, you feel more energetic and lose weight or maintain a healthy weight more easily.
Turn it up too high and you will likely feel anxious, have trouble sleeping, feel overheated and sweat easily, have diarrhea, feel your heart racing or flip-flopping, and potentially lose too much weight. If this goes on for a long time, you can rapidly develop osteoporosis.
Turn it down too low and you will likely feel cold, tired and sluggish, gain weight more easily, get constipated, notice increased hair loss, dry skin, brain fog and achy muscles and joints.
So what are the hidden causes of thyroid disease?
There are a lot of them, and they can vary from person to person. This is why it is so important to work with someone who can help you unravel your own unique root causes.
The hidden causes I want to address in today’s article are stress and adrenal dysfunction
The adrenal glands are two small triangular glands that sit like caps on top of your kidneys. They make up another crucial aspect of the hormonal systems of the body, and work in close concert with the thyroid gland to allow you to have energy and respond to stress appropriately. The adrenals are your stress response system. They produce adrenaline in acutely stressful situations to give you that shock of energy that makes your heart race. They also produce the more slow-burning stress hormone cortisol, which is released each morning to help you wake up and then titrated slowly throughout the day so that it drops off at night to allow deep sleep. When you are under chronic stress, it can be pumped out in excessive amounts and wonky patterns leading to poor sleep, low immune function, gaining weight around the midsection, and either a 'wired but tired' feeling, or sometime complete exhaustion.
You can think of the adrenal glands and their hormones as providing stable ground for the thyroid gland to stand on. If the adrenals are not working well, the thyroid has to work that much harder, and will be seriously affected. I have frequently seen my hypothyroid patients decrease the amount of thyroid hormone they need to take when we help their adrenals function optimally.
Additionally, when you are under a lot of stress and have high levels of cortisol present, your body takes this as a sign to conserve resources to deal with the perceived threat. In response, the most active form of thyroid hormone called T3 or triiodothyronine gets converted to an inactive, storage from called reverse T3. If you think about it, your body is simply doing its best to protect you and store up resources, but this demonstrates another reason why stress can cause a slowing of thyroid function.
Stress and adrenal dysfunction are just a couple of the factor that can cause or contribute to thyroid dysfunction. There are a number of other important hidden causes, and I am in the process of developing a course that covers them in detail.
If you or someone you know is struggling with hypothyroidism, in particular Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or if some of the symptoms discussed in this article ring a bell for you and you want to learn more, please stay in touch. I will be announcing the upcoming dates of my class soon. Signing up below to receive my newsletter, or liking and following my facebook page are great ways to stay up to date on upcoming classes and events. Please share this article in the mean time with anyone you know who struggles with thyroid disease. This is important information and I want to make sure anyone who needs it has access to it.
Wishing you the best on your health journey,
1. General Information/Press Room | American Thyroid Association. https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/. Accessed September 18, 2017.
2. Yen PM. Physiological and Molecular Basis of Thyroid Hormone Action. http://physrev.physiology.org/content/physrev/81/3/1097.full.pdf. Accessed September 18, 2017.