Naturally Healing the Thyroid, part four: the adrenals
We’ve already talked about how blood sugar balance, digestion, the liver and detoxification can affect the thyroid, but there is one glaring fact that I’ve meant to get to. Except that the last couple of weeks have been a bit more stressful than normal and I’ve been dealing with some crashes myself due to…..
If you’ve been a reader here for a couple of years, you may remember when I was actively trying to heal my adrenals. For six months I worked with my chiropractor and supplementation as well as dietary and lifestyle changes.
I saw great results and within about 6 months I was feeling a million times better, had plenty of energy, and all around felt good. That all ended a few months later as I dealt with the physical and emotional stress of a miscarriage and has carried on for over a year.
I tried my darndest to get my health back, but I just couldn’t fix myself this time. I tried everything I had tried before; desiccated adrenal supplements, vitamin C, no caffeine or sugar, lots of rest, reducing stress. Last fall I kept trying to make it in to my doctor’s office, and in November and December I took most of that time and stayed away from my computer, focusing on my health and my family, but something was still not right. I just couldn’t get over my fatigue.
And while my original lab tests (for vitamin D and B12 and a full thyroid panel) were back at an earlier date, I was just able to meet with my new holistic doctor and go over my lab results for the 24 hour adrenal saliva test. The appointment in which she told me that my adrenals suck.
Ok, so maybe those words are mine.
But my cortisol levels are extremely low throughout the entire day, which is the reason that some mornings take what seems to immense strength just to get out of bed. Or you know….deal with people.
So, soon we’ll be getting into a bit more about recovering from adrenal fatigue and I’ll share a bit more about what I’m doing, but today let’s just chat a bit about why the adrenals affect the thyroid.
Because sometimes the thyroid is low, or not functioning properly, and it can instead be traced to the adrenals. And most medical doctors don’t test the adrenal hormones.
In fact, mine thought it was silly that my new doctor requested the lab test and said it wouldn’t really help, so there wasn’t a lot of reasons to spend the money to get it done. (at $175.00 I was actually going to skip it, but for some reason decided on day 20 that I would. It’s a test you do on day 21 of your cycle if you want a bit more accurate results for progesterone/estrogen, etc) This is probably because adrenal fatigue is not a recognized medical term, with medical doctors only looking for true adrenal shutdown, known as Addison’s. So adrenal fatigue is often called a “theory” that mostly alternative health practitioners “diagnose”.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
The adrenals are two small glands, one on top of each kidney, and they help our bodies react and deal with stress through the production of adrenaline and cortisol. They also produce other hormones that are precursors to reproductive hormones.
Dr. James L. Wilson coined the term ‘adrenal fatigue’ back in the 90’s and it is basically an issue with the adrenals, whether they produce too much cortisol or too little, and the major symptom is fatigue. The direct cause is different for everyone, but it’s brought on by frequent stress, either physical, emotional, or mental.
It’s our bodies fight or flight reactions gone awry.
On Dr. Wilson’s website AdrenalFatigue.org (a wealth of info) he states that:
“With each increment of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body is more profoundly affected. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive. Many other alterations take place at the biochemical and cellular levels in response to and to compensate for the decrease in adrenal hormones that occurs with adrenal fatigue. Your body does its best to make up for under-functioning adrenal glands, but it does so at a price.”
Some of the basic symptoms listed on the AdrenalFatigue.org website:
- You feel tired for no reason.
- You have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour.
- You are feeling rundown or overwhelmed.
- You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
- You crave salty and sweet snacks.
- You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6PM than you do all day.
Other symptoms that could point to adrenal fatigue:
- low libido
- everyday tasks take a lot of strength and effort
- little annoyances can drive you bonkers
- mild depression or anxiety
- thoughts are fuzzy/hard to put them together
- decreased memory
- decreased immune response
Adrenal fatigue usually begins with frequent stress and ramps up the cortisol production. “As the adrenal glands become increasingly compromised, it’s harder for them to make cortisol. Instead, extra adrenalin is produced to compensate, which can make us irritable and shaky.” (source)
Adrenal and Thyroid function begin in the brain.
These glands are being told what to produce and how much of it to produce by a gland in our brain called the hypothalamus. I love how WomantoWoman.com describes this action:
“Hormones are molecules released by one area of the body to carry messages to another area in the body. The thyroid’s main job is to produce the right amount of thyroid hormone to “tell” your cells how fast to burn energy and produce proteins. The adrenal glands’ primary job is to produce the right amount of stress hormones that allow you to respond to stress of a zillion kinds.”
You can also check out their info picture and description to get a better idea of how this all works.
When the body is exposed to stress of any kind, the hypothalamus sends out a signal (the corticotrophin-releasing hormone) to the pituitary for the adrenals to increase cortisol. Both the signal hormone and the cortisol can then inhibit TSH as well as block the conversion from T4 to T3, causing symptoms of low thyroid.
In some women, they may also have decreased progesterone levels due to adrenal fatigue as some sources mention that the precurser to progesterone, DHEA (dehydioepiandrosterone). DHEA is used to metabolize cholesterol and make the conversion to estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, so poor adrenal function can directly affect the reproductive system.
If you have thyroid problems, most alternative practitioners recommend testing the adrenals and if they are not functioning properly, that the adrenals be properly treated before the thyroid. (of course, thyroid support is essential depending on its function – always work with a doctor or health care professional.) Because the thyroid wont’ function properly no matter the treatment if the adrenals aren’t functioning well.
The issue of adrenal fatigue is one that is, thankfully, getting more and more attention over the last few years. Here are some other resources to help you learn more:
- Adrenal Fatigue, the 21st century stress syndrome a book by Dr. James L. Wilson
- How adrenals can wreak havoc – Stop the Thyroid Madness
- Eating to support adrenals
- Low metabolic energy therapies – an in-depth look at the adrenals and thyroid, the differences in symptoms, and the treatments.
- Adrenal Fatigue Signs and Symptoms – a metabolic chart
- The truth about adrenal fatigue – a look at the connection to the brain (it’s a great article, but please be aware of the scantily clad woman on the screen about halfway down…..wouldn’t want y’all to be shocked!)
I know many of you have dealt with adrenal fatigue, so I’d love it if you could share your story here in the comments of your symptoms and maybe how you began to heal! Patient wisdom is a helpful thing for everyone when we share and get new ideas to research for ourselves.
If YOU think you might be experiencing health problems due to your thyroid not functioning properly, or if you’re unhappy with your current treatment plan, I highly suggest buying the Thyroid Sessions*. Hosted by Sean of Underground Wellness, this team of experts is covering everything you need to know about thyroid disorders and treatments.