How Your Adrenal Glands Connect to Your Thyroid
There’s no doubt about it – we are a society filled with exhausted, stressed out, and sick people. Fatigue is high, digestive problems are common, and anxiety is widespread.
While countless lifestyle choices can lead to that overall “crummy” feeling – glands in your endocrine system may be playing their part too.
Let’s take a closer look at the ways your adrenal glands and your thyroid gland may be colliding and leaving you exhausted, over/underweight, achy, nervous…and simply unwell.
What is Adrenal Fatigue Anyway?
You have a small adrenal gland atop each of your kidneys. Their job is to produce these hormones:
- Cortisol: In charge of sleeping cycles; released during stress to increase energy; controls macronutrient usage and blood pressure; increases blood sugar; lowers inflammation
- Aldosterone: Regulates blood pressure and electrolytes
- DHEA: Male hormone (found on both men and women)
- Androgens: Male hormone (found in both men and women)
- Adrenaline: Controls fight or flight (boosts heart and blood, relaxes airflow, metabolizes sugar)
- Noradrenaline: Controls fight or flight (boosts heart and blood, relaxes airflow, metabolizes sugar)
As you can see, these are largely stress hormones and metabolism hormones.
The concept of adrenal fatigue is that we are overly stressed and overworked (can you relate?). We do not have enough time to rest and play. We are in a constant state of “fight or flight” even if we don’t truly need to fight or fly.
All that stress has flooded our bodies with these adrenal hormones and “worn out” our adrenal glands. In this theory, adrenals stop producing the correct levels of adrenal hormones (like cortisol levels, for example) and you feel symptoms such as:
- Brain fog
- Low immune system
- Sleep problems
- Poor digestive health
- Food cravings
- Reliance on caffeine
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Low libido
Here’s the thing: there is some controversy in the medical community over whether or not “adrenal fatigue” even exists. Many doctors say it doesn’t. Many alternative/holistic health care providers and naturopaths say it certainly does.
Whether or not “adrenal fatigue” is a true concept, there is no scientific doubt that stress itself causes all of those commonly associated adrenal fatigue symptoms.
What Is Thyroid Dysfunction? And Why Should You Care So Much?
Your thyroid is a small gland in your neck. Its job is to produce these hormones:
- T3 (triiodothyronine)
- T4 (thyroxine)
These hormones are chemical messengers sent through your bloodstream to control the metabolism process of all the other cells in your body. That means your thyroid has control over things like:
- Temperature regulation
- Brain development
- And more
There are two main thyroid disorders: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
- Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid is producing too little T3 and T4. This means your body’s metabolism gets sluggish. You may experience symptoms like: fatigue, weight gain, constipation, depression, sensitivity to cold, joint pain, dry skin, and hoarseness.
- Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid is producing too much T3 and T4. This means your body’s metabolism gets too speedy. You may experience symptoms like: insomnia, weight loss, diarrhea, anxiety, heart palpitations, sensitivity to heat, and sweating.
The Link: How Adrenal Fatigue and Thyroid Dysfunction Play Off Each Other
Your adrenal glands and your thyroid gland have a lot in common:
- The same job: produce hormones
- The same system: endocrine
- The same “master” gland: the pituitary gland
- Some of the same responsibilities: metabolism
So, it’s not surprising that they can become problematic at the same time. Here are 3 ways adrenals, stress, and your thyroid might be linked.
1. Stress Leads to Thyroid Disorder
Alternative practitioners who diagnose and treat adrenal fatigue often explain the adrenal and hypothyroid connection this way:
- Stress slows everything down including the pituitary and thyroid
- Stress creates inflammatory cells – called cytokines – which do not respond as well to thyroid hormone messages
- Stress does not allow T3 and T4 to switch to a more “active” form, leading to hypothyroidism
2. Inflammation from Adrenal Fatigue Leads to Thyroid Disorder
The more chronically stressed you are, the more inflammation you are going to experience.
The stress-inflammation connection is actually beneficial and even lifesaving for the rare occurrences of true fight-or-flight situations. Inflammation signals the body to repair itself and to defend itself against invaders like a bad virus.
But when you live in a state of chronic stress and your body responds with constant inflammation – problems arise.
Not only can you have inflamed parts of your body (say, your thyroid, for example), but it can also lower your immune system and make you more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria.
All of these scenarios can lead to thyroiditis, a fancy term for an inflamed thyroid gland. It can also potentially lead to an autoimmune disease.
What do thyroiditis and autoimmune diseases have to do with your thyroid dysfunction?
Both are proven causes of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
3. Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms Are a Hidden Thyroid Disorder
Another possibility is that what’s being mistaken as adrenal fatigue is actually a thyroid disorder. Many of the symptoms overlap, especially:
- Digestive problems
If this is the case, treatment to improve thyroid function may get rid of your “adrenal fatigue” problems within a couple months.
How to Improve Your Adrenal and Thyroid Health
If you have been feeling too sleepy, too sick, and too anxious for too long…it’s time to do something about it. Here are the lifestyle changes you should take to calm the stress and heal your thyroid.
1. Get Your Glands Checked
Step #1 will be to head to your doctor to get your thyroid checked. It’s a simple test – a quick blood draw. The results will show if your thyroid hormones are too low, too high, or just right.
- If your thyroid is off and you discover a thyroid disorder, read through steps 2 – 6 to start the process of becoming well again.
- If your thyroid is fine, don’t just automatically assume it’s adrenal fatigue. There are many underlying conditions that produce similar symptoms – from depression to heart problems.
Step #2 will be to visit an endocrinologist to have your stress hormones and adrenal glands checked. He or she may find other adrenal conditions like adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease.
- If you are experiencing adrenal issues related to a disease, your healthcare provider can guide you toward a treatment plan.
- If you are not diagnosed with an adrenal disease, you can ask your endocrinologist about adrenal fatigue. He or she may be on board with that concept – you may have to make your next stop to a functional medicine practitioner.
2. Start Thyroid Treatment
The foundation for healing the adrenal and thyroid dysfunction connection is through thyroid medication.
- Hypothyroid treatment: Here you will take synthetic T3 and T4 to replace the hormones you aren’t producing on your own. An alternative is desiccated thyroid hormone (AKA: T3 and T4 from animals!). Some studies are also showing the ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha may elevate your natural T3 and T4. Ask your doctor about what’s right for you.
- Hyperthyroid treatment: The most common medication is anti-thyroid, which helps reduce your hormones. This may or may not be fully effective. You may need radioactive iodine (which shrinks your thyroid) or, in extreme cases, surgery to remove some or all of your thyroid. Beta blockers may be prescribed to deal with symptoms until the treatment begins to work.
3. Exercise Properly
The management of stress and general wellbeing of your body through exercise is paramount for both your adrenals and your thyroid.
But jumping right into a super intense exercise regimen may backfire.
Exercise, though good for you, is still a stress on the body. It’s better to start with regular, low-intensity workouts so you don’t exacerbate inflammation or anxiety.
- Start with easier workouts with a low to moderate intensity level like Hatha or yin yoga, walking, swimming, or leisurely bike rides around the neighborhood (stay under 10 miles per hour)
- Keep your workouts less than an hour for the time being
- Take rests when necessary
Once your thyroid treatment is working and your stress levels have gone down, you can begin powering up your workout routine a little at a time.
4. Eat Right
Both your thyroid and adrenal glands are best supported through a healthy diet. Keep it high in produce, good fats (like avocado or nuts), and good protein (like lean organic meat or lentils).
Not only does a well-rounded diet keep you in good health, it also delivers some essential nutrients you need for these glands in particular, like:
- B12: Dairy, eggs, fortified plant-based milk, nutritional yeast
- Zinc: Grass-fed beef, beans, pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas, yogurt
- Selenium: Brazil nuts, mushrooms, and beans
However, one of the hallmark signs of the overstressed is food cravings. We want fatty, sugary goodness to help us cope with the overwhelm all around. Those cravings can derail your diet quickly.
How do we fix this? The best bet is to focus on tasty replacements:
- Instead of regular dessert, try apple and peanut butter, raspberries and a square of dark chocolate, or a yogurt “sundae” with fresh fruit.
- Instead of a whole bag of processed potato chips, try kale chips or roasted sweet potato fries.
- Instead of fast food again for dinner, try any of these healthy and easy recipes well under 30 minutes each:
5. Boost Your Vitamins & Minerals
Though your high-quality food will deliver plenty of nutrition, it is possible you may need an extra supplemental boost.
These vitamins and minerals can come in to support your thyroid, your adrenals, and your general stress or fatigue levels. You can add them individually or in a supplement blend.
- B vitamins: People with low B vitamins are often fatigued and stressed…and they just may have a higher risk for a thyroid disorder (if they already have a thyroid disorder, low B vitamins can worsen the severity).
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a common deficiency with links to both thyroid disorders and stress.
- Magnesium: It’s also common to be somewhat deficient in magnesium, and those symptoms are just about identical to adrenal fatigue symptoms. Anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, cramp/aches, and even rapid heartbeat.
- Zinc: Not only can zinc improve a poor immune system, but it can also help with thyroid hormone levels.
- Vitamin C: Studies show that vitamin C is one of the most important nutrients for optimal adrenal function.
- Turmeric (Curcumin): The anti-inflammatory properties of this spice can help with the inflammation cycle that can lead to thyroid issues.
6. Reduce Stress
Finally, we get to an obvious, yet important point for healing your adrenal and thyroid problems: you must lower your stress levels.
There is not one stress-busting method that works for everyone, so experiment until you feel that you have found a few avenues for feeling Zen. Make it your mission to try one or more of the following on a regular basis:
- Infrared Sauna
- Volunteer work
- Chiropractic care
- Hot baths
- Essential oils
The adaptogenic herb Ashwagandha may be a great choice for those who have high stress and hypothyroidism (not the right choice for those with hyperthyroidism, though). Get approval by your doctor before taking it if you are on thyroid hormone replacement.
No More Adrenal Fatigue and Thyroid Dysfunction
If you have been struggling with feeling crummy all the time and dealing with exhausting, achy, uncomfortable symptoms, it’s time to check on our stress levels and on your thyroid.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, talk to your doctor to see if stress and your adrenals are making the situation worse.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, it’s time for a blood test. You can either start down the path toward healing or you can rule out your thyroid and discover what’s truly behind your symptoms.
And in either case, take lowering stress seriously. Make active steps starting today, so your mind and your body can feel better.