Partners in Hormonal Health:
The Adrenal-Thyroid Dance
By Jessica Bischof
In our rushed society most of us could use huge does of energy and stamina, topped off with a serving of something to boost our ability to deal with stress. If anyone had such a concoction for sale, they would do quite well–even in our uncertain economy. Unfortunately, no magic pill can provide a boost like this, but the good news is that, with proper care, support and lifestyle choices, you thyroid and adrenal glands can make a magical difference in how you feel.
Eight years ago, I could hardly make it through the day. A new mom in my mid-twenties, my energy levels and stamina were nil. Finally, I woke up one morning and thought dismally, “This must be what it feels like to be old.”
For a long time, I just sucked it up and pushed through, going about my responsibilities as a wife and mom. No one but my husband knew that, after attending church and Bible study three mornings a week, I would spend the rest of my week on the couch, doing only the basics of feeding and caring for my toddler. I tried improving my diet, being more faithful with vitamins, even exercising. Three times a week for a year and a half, I met a friend at the gym at 5am! But, no matter what I did, I couldn’t build up stamina and would often go home from a 45-minute workout and sleep for the next 4 hours. The final straw came when I experienced three miscarriages back-to-back. Although I still didn’t think anything was seriously wrong with me, my mom was wise enough to suggest one day, ‘You should look into thyroid problems. Miscarriage can be related to that.’
I started reading about thyroid dysfunction, and it was like reading out of my diary. I was horrified and thrilled at the same time. My problems weren’t all in my head–and there was a way to fix what was wrong!
The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland in your throat, just below the Adam’s apple. Place your fingers on either side of your windpipe, gently press as you run them up and down, and you will probably feel this soft, squishy gland.
The thyroid serves two primary purposes. Its foremost job is to produce thyroid hormone which “powers” each and every cell in the body. Think of your thyroid as the power plant, but instead of providing electricity, it “feeds” thyroid hormones with the energy cells need to function correctly. Since all cells have thyroid receptors, a deficiency in this hormone can cause many different symptoms, although the most common are low energy, feeling cold all the time (caused by low body temperature), weight gain, hair loss, tiredness (no matter how much you sleep), and “brain fog” where you feel like you just can’t think and everything is cloudy. I’ve compiled a list of more than 200 symptoms thyroid patients report resolving once they balance thyroid levels.
The second purpose of thyroid hormone is to be a “gatekeeper” to protect us from toxic substances. Radiation and excess iodine are both collected in the thyroid, often with disastrous results. The good news is that if you’re exposed to radiation, it will accumulate in your thyroid and potentially protect the rest of your body from destruction, but the thyroid is often killed in the process. Not only is our thyroid a gathering place for “big bad” toxins, but it is sensitive to chemical and toxin exposure across the board.
Topping the list of chemicals we should avoid for thyroid health are fluoride and chlorine, two toxic substances found in most municipal water supplies. These substances, along with bromine (often use as a preservative in baked goods!), compete for the same receptor site that needs to get plugged with iodine so the body can produce thyroid hormone. Even a little exposure to these substances will crowd out the iodine we need.
We have another hormonal powerhouse in our bodies, the adrenal glands. Even more critical than thyroid hormone–and more far reaching–the adrenals control nearly all the hormonal activities of the body. About the shape and size of a walnut, the adrenals are a pair of glands, one residing on top of each kidney. The health or impairment of these two tiny glands is felt by nearly every system and function of the body–energy levels, memory, immune system, processing sugar, and cardiovascular health.
Adrenals produce a host of significant hormones, among them adrenaline, cortisol, and DHEA. Adrenaline is the “fight or flight” hormone. We’ve all experienced the warm rush that makes our hearts pound and palms sweat and can give us a burst of energy to react quickly to a high-stress situation. Adrenaline is supposed to be an occasional hormone triggered only in the face of surprise, danger, or threat. In our modern world, though, we experience more adrenaline rushes than our forefathers. Everything from having to react quickly to the car in front of us slamming on its breaks to conflict in the relationships to being late for one of the many events we put on our schedule activates adrenaline.
Cortisol and DHEA are two hormones released to respond to “long term” stress. These stresses are more subtle but equally prevalent in our lives. Food and environment allergies, chronic illness, acute injuries, long-term financial problems, feeling “trapped” in an unsatisfying job or unhappy home life, environmental toxins, lack of rest, and pregnancy are stressors that our bodies must respond to continually.
Although our adrenals must “refuel” in order to have more to give, most of us habitually draw and draw and draw on our adrenals and fail to provide them with the nutritional fuel and rest and they need to keep meeting our demands. Some people, for example, who at one point are “super-achievers”, sail through a demanding period only to crash afterward and never regain their previous stamina. Others gradually experience their adrenals slowing down–by not recovering from illnesses or noticing that the adrenaline rush from watching a suspenseful movie last for 30 minutes instead of quickly going away. Either way, the adrenals are depleted to the point where they simply cannot provide the hormonal stress management the body needs.
In the traditional medical world, only complete adrenal failure or severe adrenal “overdrive” is recognized as treatable conditions. Common sense, though, would suggest that most things work poorly before they stop working altogether. You take your car to the mechanic when your brakes are squeaking and don’t expect to be told “brakes problems are only real if the brakes completely fail or it they lock up your tires.” Just as no one wants to wait until their brakes fail to take care of them, so we should not wait until our adrenals fail before nourishing and protecting them.
Partners in Health
The thyroid and adrenal can be thought of as partners in a dance. They each have unique moves, but depend on each other to operate the way they were created to. The adrenals are the lead or male dancer and set the pace. Adrenals influence thyroid hormone indirectly by controlling the organs that control the thyroid. The thyroid controls the “energy” of all cells, including the adrenals. In this way, the two systems are mutually dependent.
It’s rare to find a person with thyroid imbalance who does not also suffer from compromised adrenals. But sadly, many people fortunate enough to have a thyroid problem diagnosed are never told about or tested for adrenal function. Often, the patient with low thyroid will be started on a dose of thyroid replacement medicine, only to feel worse and have new symptoms pop up. This is because, over time, the adrenals have slowed the manufacture of thyroid energy because they’re so burned out they can’t keep up. They’re trying to work less and recover. When you introduce a bunch of thyroid hormone in this scenario, it stresses the adrenals further with unpleasant side effects.
For this reason, wise practitioners will try to determine both a patient’s thyroid and adrenal health. In some people, adrenal healing needs to begin before introducing thyroid hormones. In others, the adrenals are trying to perform their half of the dance, but the thyroid partner is lagging, and the extra energy from a higher supply of thyroid will balance the dance.
By taking steps to fuel and nourish adrenals and to provide the thyroid with nutrients specific to making its powerful hormone, you can reverse adrenal burnout and support thyroid health. If you have been told your thyroid is “low normal,” you may be able to resume balance by strengthening your adrenals and providing supporting nutrients to you thyroid. If you low thyroid is due to adrenals slowing down thyroid production, adding thyroid nutrients is not going to help. Supplementing with thyroid nutrients in appropriate doses is the safe solution for most people (check with your health professional to see if you’re a candidate).
Regardless of which dance problem you have, good health for thyroid and adrenals will help. The top five ways to nourish your thyroid are (for in-depth explanations of each, visit http://www.thyroidadvisor.com):
1. Drink and cook with fluoride and chlorine free water.
2. Avoid soy and soy products
3. Consider supplementing with the amino acid L-tyrosine.
4. Consider supplementing with the trace mineral selenium.
5. Eliminate as many chemicals from your life as possible. Makeup, skincare, shampoo, cleaning supplies, and food with additives are all areas to work on. Anything you ingest or rub on skin is especially important.
The top 5 ways to nourish your adrenals are:
1. Get adequate rest–best if you can be in bed by 10pm.
2. Be ruthless about avoiding known food allergens–get tested if you suspect allergens are a problem for you.
3. Maintain blood sugar levels. Eat small meals more often and avoid processed carbs.
4. Consider supplementing with L-tyrosine.
5. Take Vitamin C daily, to bowel tolerance.
To learn more about physical clues that indicate adrenal and thyroid problems, please visit http://www.thyroidadvisor.com and read about the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and thyroid imbalance. It’s a great step toward getting the adrenal-thyroid dance in rhythm.
Beeyoutiful co-owner, Stephanie Tallent, and I have talked a quite a bit as she has sought to better understand her thyroid and adrenal problems. As a result of some of my suggestions for her health, Beeyoutiful now carries two products specifically designed to provide foundational support and healing of the thyroid and adrenal systems. Thyro-vival, and Selenium Secure can be found on page 24 and page 23 of this catalog.
Jessica is a Nutritional Therapy Consultant and the owner of Simple Steps Nutrition where she works with clients both in the US and internationally to create customized nutritional protocols to support their health, using nutrition, diet, and lifestyle modifications to support healing and function in the body.
Her own health challenges started in her early 20’s after the birth of her first child and forced her to become educated about what her body needed to heal. She believes that through healing and supporting the underlying cause you can actually regain health – not just treat symptoms.
Jessica specializes in restoring energy, resolving fatigue issues, hormonal balancing, digestive issues, and adrenal healing. Jessica offers a complimentary 15 minute consultation for anyone who would like to find out more. Visit www.simplestepsnutrition.com for information.