STRESS AND THE THYROID GLAND:
We’ve all had a tough 2 years, and let’s face it, stress has been a big feature. When things happen that are out of our control, it’s completely normal to feel anxious or unsettled. However, if that anxiety is sustained in the long term it can have far reaching effects on our health.
HOW DOES MY BODY HELP ME COPE WITH STRESS?
The human body has built in support to help us cope with stress. Our adrenal glands are 2 pyramid shaped organs that sit on top of our kidneys; and have multiple functions including:
- Immune system support: anti-inflammatory effects
- Sex Hormone function: in small amounts
- Stress response: cortisol activates other hormones such as adrenaline.
- Metabolism and regulation of body temperature
- Blood sugar regulation (think healthy weight control)
- Blood pressure regulation
The adrenal glands, like all organs, have cyclic rhythms and are usually most active around 6-7am. In prehistoric times, this gave us an edge for hunting for food and staying safe. Hunger actually stimulates cortisol and keeps us more alert.
Our stress hormones are produced on demand; so when times are peaceful, the adrenals get to rest. But if stress is sustained long term, the adrenals become overworked.
Cortisol is the number one stress hormone that can play havoc with your thyroid gland. Whilst it’s important to help us in survival situations (e.g. avoiding a snake, or being hit by a car), long term stress keeps cortisol production continuously elevated.
WHAT DOES HIGH STRESS DO TO MY THYROID GLAND?
The thyroid gland makes T4, also known as thyroxine, which is the inactive form of thyroid hormone. In order for the body’s cells to take up thyroid hormone, T4 needs to be converted into an active form, T3.
When the thyroid gland is working efficiently, it converts T4 into 2 different compounds, T3 and reverse T3 (rT3). To ensure excess T3 doesn’t accumulate in the blood and rev the body up, rT3 is made, which is biologically inactive, so has no effect on the cells of the body. I like to call it a rubber bullet. However, in times of prolonged stress, cortisol influences extra rT3 production, blocking uptake of T3 and creating a hypothyroid imbalance.
WHAT EFFECTS WILL I SEE IF I STAY STRESSED?
If rT3 is produced over the long term, thyroid function will suffer. And because the thyroid gland controls so many bodily activities, people can display a wide variety of different symptoms. Here are a few common ones:
· Blood sugar handing becomes dyregulated, leading to higher risk of insulin resistance and weight gain.
· Poor circulation or constantly feeling cold
· Feeling flat, anxious or both
· Poor immune function: constant sore throat, glands up, or just feeling tired all the time. Or catching colds all the time.
· Fertility can be compromised (often you are told that nothing seems wrong.)
· Menstrual periods can be extra heavy and painful
WHAT CAN I DO TO SUPPORT MY BODY?
Naturopathy offers many wonderful tools to help restore thyroid regulation. However, getting on top of stress with a healthy diet and lifestyle is paramount to lasting recovery.
In order to reduce rT3 and cortisol production, we need to take time out to rest each day. That might be a 5 minute break away from the desk for some deep breathing and stretches, stopping to make a cup of herbal tea or a healthy snack, or sitting in the sunshine for a little fresh air. If we can reduce the fight/flight function regularly and allow our body to feel safe, then cortisol levels will start to decline.
Our opposite function to fight/flight (sympathetic nervous system dominance) is parasympathetic nervous system function. That’s the rest, digest and procreate state. We need to have more of this state in our day if we are truly to find a place of calm.
OTHER HACKS TO HELP YOU RELAX:
· Getting a massage
· A walk on the beach alone (or with your furry friend!)
· A long soak in the tub with your favourite bath salt s and essential oil
· Joining a yoga group
· Daily deep breathing and guided meditation
· A snooze in the backyard in a shady spot with a snuggly blanket
If you need extra support in reducing your stress or supporting your thyroid, I can help. Call me for a free 15 minute discovery call on 0402 539 020 and find out how we can find some more calm for you.