Thyroid problems are more common in women than men, and often come to light during menopause, when natural hormones are all over the place. It is fairly common for menopausal and postmenopausal women to end up needing thyroid HRT – possibly for the rest of their lives. The stress of our modern lives contributes to thyroid problems, with the thyroid being affected both by high cortisol (short-term stress) and low cortisol (long-term stress) – the thyroid is, in fact, quite tied-in to the adrenal glands. Here are some ways in which stress affects your thyroid:
1. Thyroid resistance.
Sometimes your thyroid health is fine, but receptors designed for thyroid hormone action are damaged. It may or may not be associated with abnormal thyroid hormone (T4 and T3 production). High levels of cortisol are one way that these receptors can be damaged, resulting in a long-term impact from short-term stress. The reverse can also be true. Too little cortisol can lower the sensitivity of thyroid receptors, generally caused by adrenal fatigue as a result of long-term stress.
2. Decreased T4 to T3 conversion.
T4 is the hormone your thyroid produces. T3 is a hormone it is converted to by peripheral tissues. This can result in high levels of reverse T3, or in insufficiency of T3 (which then has to be supplemented). As a result, your overall metabolism slows down, including the activity of your thyroid, resulting in a vicious cycle. This is linked to an imbalance in D1 and D3 enzymes, which help activate and deactivate thyroid hormones.
3. Decreased T4 production.
On top of that, excess cortisol can also inhibit TSH, which makes your thyroid gland create and release T4 in the first place. This can all tie back to those thyroid receptors. Basically, if you don’t have the right amount of cortisol, your thyroid can be all over the place.
4. Elevated blood sugar.
Stress can cause insulin resistance, which raises blood sugar. This then decreases thyroid function (hence why diabetes and hypothyroid often happen together).
5. Physical stress and iodine.
Your thyroid requires iodine to create its hormones, and certain other chemicals can interfere with the ability of iodine to bind. If you have thyroid problems, you should filter your drinking water to reduce chlorine and avoid pre-packaged bread containing bromine. Fluoride (in toothpaste and mouthwash) and triclosan (in hand washes) may also affect your thyroid, but you should obviously balance with other health concerns.
6. It’s all in your head.
As mentioned before, the thyroid and adrenal glands are linked. One reason is that they are controlled by the same part of the brain. Disruption to one set of signals can feed back into your brain and affect the other.
7. Thyroid Health.
Stress can trigger autoimmune responses, and the thyroid gland is one of the things most likely to be affected by an autoimmune attack. This causes hypothyroidism that can become permanent.
So, high stress wrecks your thyroid. Also, the symptoms of stress and the symptoms of your thyroid being out of balance are very similar and easily mistaken for each other. This can result in a feedback loop.
What should you do? Stress levels are often at their highest during menopause (which can also affect your brain in ways that make you feel more stress. You should manage stress by increasing exercise levels, getting adequate sleep and good food and keeping your alcohol and caffeine consumption moderate. Pamper yourself. If you think you have thyroid problems, then you may want to talk to somebody about hormone balancing treatments, especially using bioidentical hormones to help bring your thyroid and adrenal glands back into balance. Personalized treatments can help take the stress off your thyroid and let it, and you, recover.