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Are you having problems with your adrenal glands or your thyroid gland? Or both? It is not uncommon for individuals that suffer from Adrenal Fatigue to also experience some degree of thyroid dysfunction. If you want to find out why you should also look at your thyroid gland when you have adrenal gland problems, make sure you continue reading.
The thyroid gland, or just the “thyroid”, is a butterfly shaped gland, which is situated at the front of the neck, just underneath the Adam’s apple and is wrapped around the windpipe (see image above). The thyroid gland takes iodine found in many foods and converts it to the two primary hormones: Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3). T3 and T4 are then released in the bloodstream and travel throughout the body where they control metabolism (conversion of food and oxygen to energy).
Hypothyroidism (or underactive thyroid disease), occurs when your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormones. If your body doesn’t have enough thyroid hormones, your metabolism and body processes slow down (3). That means your body produces less energy, and your metabolism becomes sluggish. Symptoms of Hypothyroidism can resemble symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue and other diseases. There are however several “classic” hypothyroid symptoms related to a sluggish metabolism such as fatigue, tiredness, obesity, depression, coldness, high cholesterol as well as slow thinking, speech and movements.
Causes of Hypothyroidism are:
Both your adrenal glands and thyroid gland produce hormones and provide feedback to the brain via feedback loops. These feedback loops are crucial to maintain stable conditions in your body. They continually monitor and adjust your hormone levels to values that are within a safe range so that the body continues to function successfully. The adrenal glands are part of a broader neuroendocrine structure called the HPA axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis) and the thyroid gland is part of the HPT axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Thyroid axis). Both the HPA axis and HPT axis operate through feedback loops. As you can see from the diagram below, the hormones from each loop interact and thyroid hormone and cortisol work in concert.
Your body needs just the right amount of cortisol in order for your thyroid to function optimally. Too much cortisol as a result from acute stress or too little as a result from continuous stress over time may lead to problems. Imbalances along each axis may lead to either overactive or underactive adrenal glands and also an underactive thyroid. The working of the endocrine system is very complicated, so below is a simplified version that explains why stress may lead to thyroid dysfunction:
In response to a stressful experience the master stress hormone Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH) is released by the hypothalamus. This hormone signals the pituitary to release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which then sends a message to the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. But both CRH and cortisol can inhibit TSH and the conversion of T4 to T3, our most active thyroid hormone. That’s the reason why chronic stress over time, which results in adrenal imbalance, whether overactive or eventually underactive, also inhibits thyroid function.
Many Adrenal Fatigue symptoms are so similar to Hypothyroidism that the two are frequently confused or misdiagnosed. To add to this confusion, tests for adrenal and thyroid dysfunction are often hard to interpret correctly. But although Adrenal Fatigue may resemble Hypothyroidism in some regards, there are also significant differences between the two. The diurnal cycle of adrenal function usually means that certain times of the day/night will be more troublesome than others; this circadian cycle is not present in thyroid problems. Similarities between Adrenal Fatigue and Hypothyroidism as well as common differences are listed below:
|Fatigue: early morning & mid-afternoon||Fatigue: all day long|
|Feels worse in the morning & best after 6pm||Feels relatively same all day long|
|Body temperature low if severe||Low basal body temperature|
|Sensitive to cold||Intolerance to cold|
|Hair loss: in men on lateral calf||Hair loss: scalp, brows|
|Mild constipation, often alternates with diarrhea||Stubborn constipation|
|Normal eyebrows||Loss of outer 1/3 of eyebrows|
|Stamina varies, often within day||Can’t increase stamina|
|Depression more intermittent||Depression mores constant|
|Hypoglycaemia, especially under stress||Hypoglycaemia not as marked|
|Diurnal energy patterns||Energy more constantly low|
|Cravings for salt or salty foods, or high fats, with protein & caffeine||Cravings for sweets, refined CHO’s or high energy food that don’t require digestion|
|Addition of salt improves symptoms||Addition of salt doesn’t change symptoms|
|Frequently tired at 9.30pm, but can push themselves through||Crashes by 9.30pm at night|
|Second wind at 11pm is frequent||No second wind at 11pm|
|Often feels better if can sleep until 9am||Time they get up makes no difference|
|Cardiac: can have lower volume & weaker contraction if severe||Cardiac: bradycardia most common sign|
|Weight gain: not always present could be loss instead can be calorie related||Weight gain (not always present & not related to calorie intake)|
|Weight distribution: abdominal apron||Weight distribution: hips & thighs|
|Weight loss: usually decreases gradually with exercise, decreased stress & Carbohydrate intake||Weight loss: very difficult without treatment|
|Menstruation: heavy onset, often lighter by 3-4th day or may skip 3-4th & return on 5th day||Menstruation: heavy & longer|
|Estrogen/ progesterone therapy may help some but doesn’t change Adrenal Fatigue symptoms||Estrogen/ progesterone therapy may increase symptoms if thyroid is not treated|
One way of looking at thyroid-adrenal connection is to think of the thyroid as “generating” the energy whereas the adrenal glands need to be able to “handle” that energy. If the thyroid-generated energy is too much for the adrenal glands’ ability to handle it, the body will down-regulate the thyroid energy as much as it can to accommodate what the adrenal glands can safely handle. If the adrenal glands are weak even normal thyroid activity places a burden on them. Using thyroid medication that contains T4 and/or T3 then offers little or no benefit as the thryoid medication pushes the system to function at a higher energy level than the adrenal glands can handle. The improvement of hypothyroid symptoms is short lived if the adrenal glands are not supported, but when the adrenal glands are functioning well, the thyroid hormones can do their job and hypothyroid symptoms will improve.
The following website is an excellent resource for more information about Hypothyroidism and thyroid treatment: http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/
Also, if you wish to learn more about iodine deficiency, the most common cause of hypothyroidism, make sure to visit Jill Van Eps’ website at http://www.iodine-resource.com/. Jill personally lived through iodine deficiency and created her website containing helpful information that she gathered along the way.
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