I feel like thyroid problems get a lot of attention – many of us recognize the problems of low thyroid function, including fatigue, constipation, depression, weight gain, and dry skin and hair. Being that thyroid hormones are metabolic hormones, many of us women secretly hope for a thyroid problem, because it would explain these sneaking pounds we’ve accumulated; and subsequently we hope that thyroid treatment might help shed them away without too much extra effort on our part (oh wait, maybe that was just me.) We often don’t think about the adrenal-thyroid connection.
We run blood tests, often show low levels, and get started on thyroid hormone support, whether that be Armour thyroid, bio-identical thyroid or thyroid medications such as Synthroid.
And all this time our poor little adrenal glands sit quietly atop our kidneys, struggling along, with no one asking them how they’re feeling.
The truth is, if your adrenals are depleted, there is no amount of thyroid that will help. Well, let me rephrase, thyroid hormone may help and may correct some of the blatant thyroid deficiency, but looking from a whole-body, deep-seated, forever-and-always health perspective, to truly affect change that is long lasting and health promoting, you must look at your adrenals too, and give them a helping hand when they’re struggling.
The adrenal glands are our stress management centers. Any kind of stressor on the body will tax them – that may be “lifestyle” stress such as busyness, relationship issues, work stress, screaming kids etc. But it can also be physical stressors such as chronic infections, nutritional deficiencies, food intolerances including gluten intolerance, intestinal parasites, heavy metal toxicity etc etc. Really, any stressor on the body, whether physical, mental or emotional, can tax the adrenals.
The adrenals will pump out extra cortisol to help to adapt to all these stressors, but over time, they will get tired and cortisol levels will fall. Sometimes we’ll end up with a very unhelpful combination where we have cortisol slumps mid afternoon when we need our energy most, then a spike at night when we really would like to be sleeping.
So how does this relate to the thyroid? Well, there are covert relationships between the adrenals and the thyroid. For example, cortisol can suppress TSH production. TSH is Thyroid Stimulating Hormone – the hormone that tells your thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone. So if our cortisol is out of whack, it can interrupt the normal signals of the thyroid and cause shenanigans in thyroid hormone production.
I also think about thyroid treatment and what it does to the body if the adrenals are struggling. I liken this to putting your foot on the gas pedal while the hand brake is on. You think you’re going places, but really you’re just causing a lot of noisy revving and ultimately burning out your engine.
So thyroid testing is fine, and thyroid treatment is fine. All I am saying is please don’t neglect your adrenals – have a look at them too. And not just with a morning cortisol blood test either – if you can, do a saliva test with measurements morning, noon, afternoon and night so you can get a sense of the circadian rhythm.
Nothing exists in isolation in the body – all our hormones are intermingled, all our organs and systems are intermingled. The thyroid and the adrenal glands are connected so working on both together will give you the best possible health outcome.