Stress has become common place in our day to day lives. Whether it be associated with work, money, family, or something else, stress can have a massive impact on our lives.
While short burst of stress are actually good for you, chronic long term stress has been clinically proven to cause a vast array of negative effects on health including thyroid health.
You see in prehistoric times our bodies produced stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in response to danger as a survival mechanism. In today's society however the threat of being attacked by a predictor may no longer exist, but the same instinctual fear does. This fear may present itself in a number of different ways causing this stress response to continually stay active. See my post Stress & the Female reproductive system for more on this.
It's these stress hormones produced by the adrenals and brain that are responsible for interfering with thyroid function in a number of ways.
1. Cortisol is in a negative feedback loop with the hyperthalamus and pituitary. When your blood levels of cortisol reach a certain point, your hyperthalamus and pituitary slow down in an attempt to stop production of more stress hormone. But the high cortisol also signals to your hypothalamus to slow down thyroid hormone production. This in turn slows down metabolism and cellular function.
2. Stress hormones also affect the enzymes responsible for converting T4 to T3. So when we are in a state of increased stress, less active thyroid hormone (T3) is available for our cells to use.
3. Stress hormones can also cause production of inflammatory cytokines, which can cause thyroid receptors to become less sensitive to thyroid hormone. This means that more thyroid hormone is required to get the same effect, if at all.
4. Stress hormones can cause excess oestrogen to accumulate. Excess oestrogen causes an increase in thyroxine binding globulin (TBG), one of the proteins responsible for transporting hormones through the blood. When thyroid hormones are attached to TBG they are inactive and can't be stored or converted to active thyroid hormone by cells.
5. When the body is in this fight or flight mode digestion slows down causing reduced nutrient absorption. This means nutrients required for thyroid hormone production and conversion such as B vitamins, iron, vitamin D, selenium and tyrosine may not be absorbed from the diet.
These are just some of the ways stress can affect the body and why the management of stress in our every day lives is vitally important for health.
Signs of thyroid dysfunction include:
Unexplained weight gain or loss
Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
Digestive symptoms such as IBS, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhoea
Poor appetite or never feeling satiated
Dry, rough skin
Anxiety and/or depression
Swelling of the eyes and/or face
slow thinking and mental activity
Irregular or heavy periods
If you think stress may be having an impact on your thyroid health feel free to get in contact to discuss how naturopathy and nutrition can help you regain your health.