If only I knew then what I know now! Right?! I would probably still have a strong healthy thyroid, BUT I probably would still be working an OK job and not be following my passion, either.
There is a tight interplay between the thyroid, adrenals, and stress. The thyroid affects every cell in the body. It controls your metabolism, your energy, body temperature, …. The adrenals keep you safe and help you reproduce. We think of stress as a bad thing, but some stress helps us grow and learn. It’s when we are always under stress or have too much stress at one time that we start to have problems. Hurt your back trying to lift something way to big, run a marathon without training first, work all night instead of stopping to rest and sleep.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. It plays a crucial role in regulating the body’s metabolism, energy production, and growth. The thyroid produces hormones, primarily thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which are released into the bloodstream and travel to cells throughout the body, influencing various processes including heart rate, body temperature, and cognitive function. Brain fog, anyone?
Our body has these 2 tiny but powerful adrenal glands that weigh about 5 grams (about the same as a teaspoon of sugar) and sit on the kidneys. The adrenal’s job is to keep us safe. They play a crucial role in producing and releasing hormones that help the body respond to stress, regulate metabolism, control blood sugar levels, and maintain electrolyte balance. The adrenal glands produce several hormones, including cortisol, which helps the body respond to stress; adrenaline and norepinephrine, which are involved in the “fight or flight” response; and aldosterone, which regulates electrolyte levels; this is why we crave salt.
When you sense danger, your adrenals send hormones out to get you ready to fight or run. They are meant to keep you physically safe. Our bodies are designed to keep us safe from an attack or something falling. We are not meant to be running for our lives forever. We should quickly get out of danger and recover. When there is no danger, the adrenals release hormones to keep you calm, to experience pleasure, and to reproduce.
When you experience moments of stress like working out at the gym then rest and recover, give a big presentation then have an enjoyable meal with colleagues, or take a big exam and then celebrate and laugh with friends, your body adjusts, and your hormones stay regulated.
When you over-exercise or don’t give your body the time it needs to recover, inflammation occurs and muscles don’t get repaired, and the body kicks into protection mode. When we work on a project then quickly jump into the next one, we aren’t allowing our body to recover. We have to take time to repair and heal, even after mental stress. When we overeat or eat all day long, our digestive tract doesn’t get a chance to rest and repair, and our blood sugar stays elevated, and our insulin levels stay elevated, and this also leads to inflammation. BUT, when we chronically undereat or don’t eat nutrient-rich foods, our body thinks we cannot find enough food. It thinks we’re going to starve. It thinks we are in danger. We have to find the right balance for exercise AND eating.
We are not meant to be mentally stressed for more than a brief period, too. We have no hormones to help us manage mental stress. Have you ever been completely exhausted or drained after a big project or exam? Have you ever gotten really sick when you finally took a day off for vacation? Our body is so glad that you finally stopped, so it can go to work. You are sick, so you have to slow down. You don’t have an appetite, because the clean-up crew needs to get into your organs and clean everything up. It doesn’t want to spend time and energy on digestion right now. You have to rest, or your body will make you. Resting includes time between meals, quiet time, time away from electronics, and good quality sleep.
When we are under too much stress, physical and mental, the body is saying, “I need to repair these things. I need to keep this body moving. I have too many things going on right now!” A warning light comes on. The adrenals send out cortisol, so you can defend yourself. Sugar is released into the blood. If there’s not enough stored sugar, the body starts breaking down muscle. Do you know someone who keeps working out but can’t gain any muscle? The adrenals slow digestion and focus on secreting cortisol instead of sex hormones. It’s not safe to reproduce when you’re in danger. The thyroid slows down the conversion from T4 to T3 which slows metabolism. When you are in danger, you don’t have time to sit down and eat. Your cells are alerted to protect themselves. Cell walls get their structure from cholesterol, so more cholesterol is sent to the cells to stiffen the cell walls to protect them.
Stress is expected and our body should be able to manage it as long as we take the time to recover. We weren’t created to be on alert all day long. We shouldn’t be running from tigers all day. The body doesn’t know that your unending to-do list is not a predator.
The adrenals can keep up for a while. The first stage of adrenal dysfunction is “wired and tired.” You’re stressed all day long and alert all day but your body feels beat and you can’t get enough sleep. Then you move into stage 2. You can’t get out of the bed in the morning, you crash in the afternoon, then you get your second wind and can’t go to bed at bedtime. Stage 3 is when you are on empty. You have no energy, no motivation, and your get-up-and-go got-up-and-left.
The longer you stay in a stressed state, the more damage occurs to your body. The cortisol keeps your blood sugar too high which creates inflammation throughout the body. The insulin receptors get worn out. The pancreas cells get worn out from releasing so much insulin. Cortisol, in turn, can affect the thyroid gland by suppressing the production of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland, which can lead to a decrease in thyroid hormone production. This response is part of the body’s adaptive mechanism to cope with stress by conserving energy and prioritizing immediate survival needs. However, prolonged or chronic stress disrupts the normal functioning of the thyroid, leading to imbalances in thyroid hormone levels and injuring thyroid cell receptors.
So MY problem was probably all of the above and probably stemmed from too much stress in addition to mold and environmental exposures. I was always anxious and wound up tight. I would fly off the handle at every little thing. At the time, I thought it was just my personality. I was a go-getter and a perfectionist to the extreme. I had no idea that what I was experiencing were “symptoms” of an illness. I thought I was normal. In fact, if that doctor had not have checked my “other” thyroid numbers, I may have had a heart attack by now. I would not have known that I even had something “wrong” without this test.
I’m glad that I know this information now, because I can use this knowledge to keep my autoimmune markers in the single digits. I would not be diagnosed as having an autoimmune illness today. NOW…if I allow myself to get back into the go-go-go “do all the things” mode, my autoimmune markers will go back up, my anxiety will go back up, by digestion will slow down, and I’ll have trouble sleeping. When these things happen, they are MY red flag to take a break. “You’re doing it wrong.”
Find joy. Do something fun. Take a mini vacation or even a staycation. It’s time to get back into balance.
If you need help balancing your hormones and bringing your thyroid and/or adrenals back into balance, sign up for a call with me.
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