One of the questions I commonly get from patients is what affects the thyroid. How does thyroid disease start and are there things that one should be watching out for when trying to control things like Hashimoto’s disease? There are so many different players when it comes to thyroid health, and the adrenal glands are something that I want to speak about today. I want to specifically talk about how the adrenals affect the thyroid so that you can better understand the importance of taking care of your adrenals as well as how to do that.
To get started, let’s talk about what the adrenal glands are.
What Are the Adrenal Glands?
The adrenal glands are tiny little glands that sit on top of the kidneys. We have one adrenal gland for each kidney. Our adrenal glands are incredibly important as they produce essential hormones including sex hormones as well as cortisol. While having too much cortisol is not something that we want, cortisol is also important in helping the body cope with stress when cortisol levels are appropriately regulated.
The adrenal glands are also strategically located as they actually help to influence our kidney function by secreting aldosterone. Each gland also has three different parts, the capsule, cortex, and medulla which are all important and I will break down each part next to help you better understand how these tiny glands work.
The Different Parts of the Adrenal Gland
Just as it sounds, the capsule is the outer protective layer that surrounds each adrenal gland.
This part of the adrenal gland takes up about 80% of the volume and within the cortex, there are three different zones that have different functions. The cortex works to produce DHEA as well as other sex hormones, corticosteroids, as well as mineralocorticoids.
This is the innermost part of the adrenal glands and takes up about 20% of the volume of each adrenal gland and it helps our body respond to stress. The medulla is what secretes epinephrine, norepinephrine, as well as dopamine. These are what triggers the stress response in the body.
Signs Your Adrenals May be Stressed
If you deal with chronic stress, your adrenals can become fatigued. If you suspect that adrenal fatigue may be something affecting you, here are some of the common symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
- Hormone imbalance
- Always feeling worn out and tired
- Body aches
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Constantly feeling overwhelmed.
With these symptoms, it is common for a modern medical practitioner to overlook the condition and classify your symptoms as something else. This can be very frustrating for anyone trying to get a proper diagnosis and start a road to recovery. Working with a functional medicine practitioner is a great way to really focus on the whole picture and address each symptom so that a proper diagnosis can be made.
What Causes Adrenal Fatigue
Chronic stress is what commonly causes adrenal fatigue. Chronic stress is often to blame here, but even periods of acute stress can put a strain on your adrenal glands. Here are some of the causes of this condition
Here are some of the other causes of this condition:
- Poor diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Having constant exposure to environmental toxins
- Stressful life experiences including both emotional and physical stress like divorce or a surgery
- Chronic stress from things like financial strain or poor relationships
- Not getting enough sleep: Those with adrenal fatigue need at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night.
Adrenals & Thyroid Health
Now that you have a little bit of a better understanding as to what the adrenal glands are and how they work in the body, let’s talk about the adrenal glands and thyroid health.
The interesting thing about our adrenal glands is that they produce hormones that play a role in our metabolic health in a very similar way that the thyroid does. These hormones that are secreted by the adrenal glands help to regulate our bodies blood pressure, blood sugar, and digestion just to name a few. Now, remember when I said that the adrenal glands help our bodies respond to stress? Here is where those hormones come in. When we are under stress, the adrenal glands will be told to produce stress hormones and then release them in the body.
When these hormones are released, other body functions are interrupted including digestion, and the thyroid is even interrupted putting a halt to thyroid hormone production. Why? Well, this is the way the body works to stop other body processes that aren’t going to help the body conquer the stressful event that is occurring. If the stress is dealt with then the body can return to a normal state but when there is chronic stress, this isn’t always the case.
Chronic Stress & Thyroid Health
With chronic stress, which occurs more frequently than ever in today’s fast paced society, the body doesn’t always return to a normal state of functioning right away which can cause issues with things like thyroid health.
With chronic stress, the adrenals are constantly secreting stress hormones which include cortisol. When cortisol is constantly being pushed out in large quantities, it can be difficult for the adrenal glands to keep up which can ultimately lead to adrenal fatigue This is where major issues come in with thyroid health. The sudden large quantities of stress hormones followed by a decline when the adrenal glands cannot keep up can cause thyroid imbalance.
When there is an imbalance in your cortisol levels, thyroid hormone production can slow down. Not only that but with an imbalance in your stress hormones, T4 and T3 can be affected as well. Now, keep in mind that when talking about T3, there is Free T3 referred to as FT3 and then there is Reverse T3 referred to as RT3. Reverse T3 is an inactive form and when we are chronically stressed out, there is a higher conversion of Reverse T3 as opposed to the active form of T3. When this happens, many of the metabolic processes in the body can be significantly slowed down and you may even begin to experience symptoms of hypothyroidism. (1)
As you can see, chronic stress can cause a number of imbalances with your thyroid health, and it can also affect your immune system and your gut which are two other body systems that can directly affect thyroid health.
Stress can suppress the immune system. Think about it this way. When you are really run down, stressed out, and not getting enough sleep you are more likely to get sick, right? This is because chronic stress can suppress the immune system as a way to help focus the attention on the stressor going on in the body. When we are dealing with chronic stress for long periods of time that suppresses the immune system, autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s can be triggered.
The bottom line here is that chronic stress takes a toll on our body and can directly impact thyroid health. With that being said, it’s so important to take care of our adrenals as they help support the stress response in our body.
What you can do to Support Adrenal Health
Chronic stress is damaging so let’s take a look at some of the ways that you can support adrenal health to better take care of your thyroid and entire body.
- Get tested for food sensitivities: Consuming reactive foods can put more strain on your body which is the last thing you want when dealing with adrenal issues and chronic stress.
- Eat a balanced breakfast daily: Balancing blood sugar levels are essential to supporting adrenal health so be sure to eat a well-balanced breakfast soon after waking up each morning.
- Eat regularly: Along the same lines of eating a balanced breakfast, it’s important to eat balanced meals regularly to keep your blood sugar in balance.
- Reduce stress as much as possible: This includes all sources of stress. It is very important to eliminate any negativity from your life and to reduce any unnecessary stress.
- Stay hydrated: Stick to water and be sure to get at least 8 cups of water per day and more if you are active.
- Cut out caffeine: Even if you feel exhausted due to chronic stress and adrenal burnout, resist the urge to drink that cup of coffee. Caffeine can raise cortisol levels and can cause further adrenal burnout.
- Reduce or eliminate sugar: Try to cut back on sugar as much as possible and focus on grass-fed animal products for protein and healthy fat from foods like avocados, coconut, and sprouted nuts and seeds.
- Add nutrient dense foods to your diet: Try adding things like bone broth, coconut oil, and dark leafy greens to your diet.
- Boost fermented food intake: You will need to support your gut to help support adrenal health as well as every other body system. Try adding things like sauerkraut, kimchi, and unsweetened coconut yogurt to your diet.
- Practice self-care: Getting enough sleep and relaxation is critical in supporting adrenal health. Try to get to bed around the same time each night to establish a routine and practice daily stress reduction.
Despite the fact that our adrenal glands are so small, they play a huge role in the overall health of our body and they can certainly impact the health of our thyroid. Not taking care of ourselves, letting stress get out of control, and not addressing it at its source can lead to adrenal burnout. The best way to prevent this from happening is to make changes to both your diet and lifestyle to support adrenal health. Try removing as much stress as possible, increasing sleep to at least 8 hours per night, and focus on a Paleo-style diet being sure to eat at regular intervals throughout the day. It is also important to make time to do the things that you enjoy in life. Making these lifestyle changes means taking a huge step in supporting your adrenal glands and ultimately supporting thyroid health.
If you are suffering from chronic stress, I encourage you to schedule a consultation with me where we can run thorough testing and determine if the stress in your life has impacted your adrenals. Catching it before it gets out of control is key to recovery and the sooner you get started the better you will feel!
If you are suffering with any health related issues, I am currently accepting new patients. To start the testing process and discover what is driving your health issues and to get on the road to recovery call our office at +1 (866) 498-1958 to schedule your initial consultation.
(1) Amy Myers. The Adrenal-Thyroid Connection.
The Adrenal Fatigue Solution. What are the Adrenal Glands?
Dr. Axe. 3 Steps to Heal Adrenal Fatigue