In continuing with a discussion about stress, I want to address the profound effect stress has on the adrenal glands, as they control the body’s reaction to stress and trauma.
The adrenals are two walnut-shaped glands that are situated on top of the kidneys. They secrete hormones – cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine – that regulate the stress response, and are closely related to thyroid health. It is important to address that healthy adrenal glands contribute to proper thyroid function as well.
Stresses that affect adrenal health and constantly release stress hormones, include many of the emotional and physiological challenges of modern life:
- Impossibly full schedules
- Driving in traffic
- Financial problems
- Marriage problems
- Losing a job
- Blood sugar swings
- Gut dysfunction
- Food intolerances, esp. gluten
- Chronic inflammation
- Autoimmune problems
- Environmental toxins
- Chronic infections
The symptoms of adrenal stress are diverse and non-specific as they affect multiple systems in the body:
- Decreased immunity
- Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up
- Mood swings
- Sugar and caffeine cravings
- Irritability or lightheadedness between meals
- Eating to relieve fatigue
- Dizziness when moving from sitting or lying to standing
- Gastric ulcers
Adrenal stress disrupts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is a complex neural network between the hypothalamus, the pituitary and the adrenal glands that regulates physiological functions, such as temperature, digestion, immune system, mood, sexuality and energy usage.
Adrenal stress further weakens immune barriers – GI tract, lungs, and the blood-brain barrier – in the body, by allowing foreign substances to enter the bloodstream and brain, weakening the immune system, and promoting inappropriate immune system regulation.
Inappropriate stress response will affect the hormonal balance in the adrenals due to chronic stress exposure, with prolonged cortisol elevations and excess estrogen in the blood, since the liver has a decreased ability to filter them.
How adrenal stress affects thyroid function:
- Inflammatory cytokines disrupt the HPA axis and suppress thyroid receptor site sensitivity
- Disruption in the HPA axis suppresses thyroid function
- Thyroid receptor sites do not respond properly to the presence of the thyroid hormones –> leading to more inflammation
- Weakened immune system becomes more prone to autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto’s
- Excess estrogen increases levels of thyroid binding globulin (TBG), making the thyroid hormone levels appear low as they are inactive when bound to TBG
So what can be done to help reduce the stress on the adrenals, and thereby aid thyroid function. Here are a few suggestions to try:
- Decrease gut inflammation through dietary management
- Eat non-toxic food without refined white flour, white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, processed soy, and industrialized seed oils
- Decrease food intolerances, esp. gluten
- Maintain an adequate intake of essential fatty acids, DHA & EPA
- Avoid stimulants (caffeine, sugar, nicotine)
- Avoid environmental toxins in your home
- Decrease chronic emotional and psychological stress
- Practice relaxation techniques, deep breathing, yoga, regular exercise, chiropractic, spend time outdoors, have fun, take pleasure in life, etc.
Be healthy & happy, Dr. Tijana