Have you ever felt stuck in a vicious cycle of fatigue, anxiety, and brain fog? Do you often find yourself struggling to get through the day without reaching for another cup of coffee? If so, you might be interested in learning about the adrenal-thyroid connection, and how it all affects the body at a deeper level.
Keep reading to find out more.
The Adrenal-Thyroid Connection
The adrenal glands and the thyroid gland are two of the most important in the body, responsible for releasing hormones that regulate everything from metabolism, to energy levels and mood. Believe it or not, they’re intimately connected, with each influencing the other in ways that can have a profound impact on your overall health and well-being.
Let's start with the adrenal glands. These tiny, triangular glands sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for producing several hormones, including cortisol (the "stress hormone"), adrenaline (the hormone that triggers the "fight or flight" response), and aldosterone (which helps regulate blood pressure and electrolyte balance).
On the other hand, the thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck. It creates hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) that regulate metabolism, body temperature, energy levels, and more.
How are the two connected?
When the adrenal glands are overtaxed and produce too much cortisol, it can interfere with the thyroid gland's ability to produce hormones properly. This is because elevated cortisol levels suppress the production of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is responsible for signaling the thyroid gland to release hormones. What follows can create a vicious cycle of stress, cortisol production, and thyroid dysfunction, with each condition magnifying the other.
> If the adrenal glands are overworked and produce too much cortisol, the thyroid gland can become underactive. This can lead to symptoms of hypothyroidism such as fatigue, weight gain, and depression.
> If the adrenal gland isn't producing enough cortisol, the thyroid gland can become overactive. This can lead to symptoms of hyperthyroidism such as weight loss, anxiety, and heart palpitations.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
For anyone struggling with adrenal fatigue, it can seem like a never-ending battle. You may be exhausted all the time, no matter how much sleep you get. But what is it, exactly?
Adrenal fatigue is a condition that occurs when the adrenal glands weaken over time and are unable to produce enough hormones. Let’s break it down.
The adrenal glands are designed to respond to stress, whether it's physical (like a car accident or a marathon) or psychological (like a work deadline or fight with your partner). When you encounter a stressful situation, the adrenals release cortisol and adrenaline into your bloodstream, which triggers a cascade of physiological responses that help you deal with the stress.
Adrenaline (aka epinephrine) is released to prepare the body for the 'fight or flight' response. This redirects energy away from non-essential functions such as digestion and instead prioritizes areas like the heart, lungs, muscles, and brain. Cortisol follows shortly after to keep the body in an ongoing high-alert state. Although designed to handle short-term problems, these days our adrenal glands routinely encounter long-term stress triggers.
Now keep in mind, cortisol isn’t a bad thing. It's essential for our survival. In the short term, this natural process doesn’t cause problems. As soon as you get through the stressful event, your body settles down, cortisol filters out of your system, and your thyroid returns to normal. But with long-term or chronic stress, normal functions can be impacted by excessive exposure to cortisol, DHEA, and other stress hormones. If constantly triggered, the body will keep dumping stress hormones into the bloodstream. It tries to adapt to these changes until it no longer can.
Prolonged stress can cause a hormone imbalance that typically leads to more serious conditions, such as hormone suppression and hypothyroidism.
What does thyroid fatigue feel like? Common symptoms may include:
- Brain “fog”
- Cravings for sweet or salty foods
- Fatigue or “crashes” throughout the day
- Unexplained weight loss
- Body aches
- Trouble falling and staying asleep
- Low blood pressure
- Overuse of caffeine and other stimulants
- Hair loss or thinning
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Dry and thin skin
Can Adrenal Fatigue Cause Weight Gain?
One of the most significant effects of excess cortisol is weight gain. When your cortisol levels are high, metabolism slows down, and you tend to store more fat, especially around the midsection. This is because cortisol signals the body to store energy for later use, which is useful in times of stress, but not so helpful when you’re being triggered on an everyday basis. Over time, this can lead to significant weight gain, even if you’re eating the same amount of food and exercising the same as before.
To make matters worse, cortisol triggers the release of insulin, which can cause our blood sugar levels to drop. When blood sugar levels become low, we tend to crave foods that will provide a quick energy boost, such as sugary snacks and refined carbohydrates. Unfortunately, these are the same types of foods that also contribute to weight gain, especially when consumed in excess.
What Factors May Contribute to Adrenal-Thyroid Dysfunction?
Many factors can contribute to adrenal and thyroid dysfunction, but some of the most overlooked is - stress and diet.
In this day and age, when stress and exhaustion take a toll, many try to cope with these symptoms by relying on energy drinks or high-carb foods, without recognizing the underlying root cause. Common causes of adrenal fatigue may be related to stress, poor nutrition, inflammation, an underactive thyroid, or the prolonged use of antibiotics/medications. Let’s highlight a few.
Stress alone has a huge influence on adrenal, sex, and thyroid hormone production. When it flies off the handle, our adrenal glands pump out cortisol. But cortisol competes with DHEA for the same precursor, pregnenolone.
This means that as cortisol levels continue to rise during moments of stress, more pregnenolone is depleted - which cuts off DHEA production. The hormone DHEA is necessary to create sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. So when these levels fall, the body's thyroid function becomes impaired and essential sex hormones are also depleted. This can create a state of chaos, leading to common symptoms including low libido, restlessness, joint pain/stiffness, muscle weakness, anxiety, and more.
Another potential cause of adrenal fatigue is a poor diet. Our adrenal glands need certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, B vitamins, and magnesium, to function properly. Without enough of these nutrients in our diet, the adrenals can’t keep up with the demands placed on them, leading to fatigue and other symptoms. One solution may include adopting a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein, as well as looking into supplements to help fill in the nutrient gaps.
Certain medical conditions may contribute to adrenal fatigue. For example, if you have an autoimmune condition, such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis or rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system may be constantly activated, which can put extra stress on your adrenal glands. Similarly, if you have a chronic infection or are undergoing medical treatment.
So, how can you tell if you have adrenal fatigue? Unfortunately, there is no specific test for this condition, and the symptoms associated with it can also be caused by other underlying health issues. However, if you’re experiencing fatigue, body aches, digestive issues, and other symptoms, it may be worth talking to your trusted health professional to rule out any underlying health issues.
Best Vitamins for Adrenal Fatigue
It's well known that vitamins and minerals are essential for great health, but many don't realize how some of them support adrenal function in a powerful way. In other words, if you aim to get enough of these key nutrients, you may be able to manage the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and stress more effectively.
When it comes to adrenal health, magnesium is one of the most important minerals to focus on. That’s because magnesium status is highly associated with stress. Part of magnesium’s job is to help regulate cortisol levels, allowing for more balanced hormone production.
Magnesium also supports better sleep quality, which is integral to managing adrenal fatigue. Without enough rest, your adrenals have to work that much harder to produce hormones and keep your energy levels up. When stressed, your body burns through your magnesium stores rapidly, which can lead to a deficiency, and in turn, the body is thrown into a vicious magnesium and stress cycle.
B vitamins, including B5, B6, and B12, are all important for adrenal gland function. B5, also known as pantothenic acid, is especially important for producing cortisol. B6 is involved in the production of neurotransmitters that help regulate mood and stress, while B12 is important for energy production.
Studies have shown that vitamin C can help reduce the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency, including fatigue, weakness, and depression. Vitamin C may also help improve thyroid function by increasing the production of major thyroid hormones, T3, T4, and TSH.
Chronic stress often leads to adrenal fatigue, which can deplete your levels of zinc along with other essential minerals. Zinc is necessary for the proper function of the pituitary gland, which regulates hormone release by the adrenal glands. This nutrient plays a major role in the conversion of adrenaline to noradrenaline and may play a role in balancing cortisol levels.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s important for bone health, immune function, and regulating both the adrenal glands and the thyroid gland. Research shows low vitamin D can lead to an overproduction of cortisol. Conversely, too much vitamin D can suppress the adrenal glands and thyroid gland function. It’s important to maintain the right balance to keep both systems running properly.
Adrenal fatigue is a condition that can affect anyone, and yet it’s often overlooked or misdiagnosed.
Understanding the adrenal-thyroid connection is vital for those who wish to be in control of their health and have more energy. Taking this into account can have a major impact on how your body functions, and make it easier to identify problems and get back on track.
If you do have adrenal fatigue, there are several steps you can take to help support your adrenal glands and alleviate your symptoms. A proper diet, regular exercise routine, supplementation, as well as effective stress management, are all necessary components of maintaining balance in this delicate system.