The adrenal and thyroid connection is often missed by doctors checking only the thyroid. Understand how these glands affect each other to help address adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism at the same time.
The goal of natural (Functional Medicine) health care is resolving the cause of the problem, not just the symptom. If you’re treating your thyroid lab numbers but not checking adrenal function, you may be missing something!
What are the Adrenal Glands?
The adrenals are small endocrine glands sitting on top of the kidneys. They produce a variety of hormones affecting neurotransmitters, other hormones, blood pressure, and ultimately all body processes. Chances are if you have adrenal fatigue you also have thyroid problems.
And vice versa…
What does the Thyroid do?
The thyroid sits like a butterfly at the base of the throat. Like the adrenals, thyroid hormones affect every cell of the body. The thyroid is affected by neurotransmitters, diet, toxicity from dental fillings, infection, lack of nutrients and more. The gland is frequently a target of auto-immune antibodies as Hashimoto’s or Graves Disease. (I used to have Graves but resolved it without medication or surgery).
Thyroid hormones affect metabolism, hair, fertility, skin, heart rate, the bowels and much more. This article on Thyroid Toxins, Nutrients and Goitrogens may be useful.
The Adrenal and Thyroid Connection
Imagine the adrenals as the engine of your car, and the thyroid as the accelerator pedal.
If the engine is broken, you can press the accelerator but you aren’t going anywhere. Likewise, if the accelerator is broken, the best engine in the world can’t respond.
This see-saw relationship between the thyroid and adrenals is controlled by the Hypothalamus with a sophisticated feedback loop. It wants the thyroid and adrenals in balance.
If one is too high, the Hypothalamus pushes the other lower. If one is too low, the other is raised to compensate.
This is the body’s wisdom to give you energy but help you avoid burnout.
Here’s another popular article on the hidden link between the thyroid and adrenals.
Are Your Adrenals Affecting Your Thyroid?
I see many clients on thyroid medication who really have an ADRENAL problem, not just a thyroid problem. One sure sign of this: when I hear “the thyroid meds worked great for a while but stopped working so I had to increase the dose”.
What happened is that tired adrenals told your thyroid to SLOW DOWN because the engine (the adrenals) is in danger of burn-out. Thyroid metabolism then downregulates – the correct response while the body waits for you to get physical or emotional stress under control.
By adding thyroid medication, you circumvent this feedback mechanism. Then the adrenals have to insist even more that the thyroid slow down. Thus, higher and higher doses of thyroid medication are given.
The opposite can be true too. If your adrenals are cranked up, producing excess cortisol, your body may suppress the thyroid to protect your adrenal engine from burnout. Neurotransmitters such as GABA and Serotonin help regulate all this, and most Clients need GABA support to help regulate excess adrenaline, anxiety and stress.
While straight GABA is available in stores, it doesn’t work very well – I prefer Passion Flower as GABA support (here is the extract in alcohol or glycerite tincture in my store). And this Pharma Gaba chewable which is hugely popular.
What if I’m Already on Thyroid Medication?
Good question! You cannot stop your medication. BUT you can do a Salivary Adrenal Cortisol test with me or other enlightened wellness providers (not a cortisol blood test – it’s basically useless) and see where you are. I have many clients I start on adrenal support (FIRST changing the diet to low-inflammatory correct Paleo, and getting the anxiety and high-speed lifestyle under control). As we get the adrenals working better, some clients are able to work with their doctors to reduce thyroid medication. Don’t do this on your own.
What happens when both the adrenals and thyroid become exhausted?
If you have chronic adrenal fatigue, you use more thyroid hormone to make up for the lack of Cortisol. This leads to thyroid fatigue! Test the adrenals before treating the thyroid — before starting thyroid hormone, take a cortisol saliva test which measures total daily cortisol and how it’s distributed over your day.
The two products shown here include my top-selling adrenal support product. I’ve carried Systemic Formulas Ga – Adrenal for decades in my clinic. It can help rebuild the adrenals and can be taken for many months. Or use occasionally for fatigue. It makes you feel better but without stimulants. Take one daily at 3 PM to avoid the afternoon crash.
This Adaptogenic herb shown with Ga-Adrenal helps the body deal with stress. Stress is what exhausts the adrenals. These herbs are very premium quality – much better than store-bought herbs with “familiar” names. Herbs have quality differences, just like pasture-raised meat vs. feedlot meat. Quality counts.
Break the adrenal and thyroid connection and it’s easier to rebuild them both. The body WANTS to heal. You just have to stop stressing it….