We’re still on the topic of thyroid hormone PRODUCTION. Here is a little recap:
Last Thyroid School email, I reviewed nutrient deficiencies— why they happen, how to identify them, and what to do about them.
Now, I’d like to review one of the most influential triggers of hypothyroidism: STRESS.
While stress impacts the thyroid in the biggest way at the “conversion” step, it also has effects on production, absorption, and utilization.
Chronic stress is under-appreciated for the immense impact it has on our body. Most of us have grown accustomed to being stressed out ALL THE TIME. While culturally this is common, it is not “normal”. We’ve come a long way as a human species, but even with modern advances, our physiological design is still very primitive. We are designed to survive.
Stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, have an oppositional relationship with thyroid hormone status and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) release. This means that as stress increases, the brain tells the body to either down regulate thyroid hormone output and/or the triggering mechanism TSH. Remember that brain-body connection, the HPA-OT? If not, let’s review:
The brain is constantly scanning our environment for perceived threats— the keyword here being “perceived”. When the brain recognizes a threat or stressful situation, the resulting reaction is the production of stress hormones. This chain reaction occurs to varying degrees, regardless of the threat being real or not. For example, the same stress hormones will be produced when you’re in traffic and have to slam on your brakes or if you’re actively being chased by a vicious animal. What else triggers stress hormone release? Our thoughts. YIKES! Those can be a lot harder to manage.
When those hormones flood our system, our body transitions from a resting state (parasympathetic) to a hyper-aware state, survival state, otherwise known as fight/flight/freeze (sympathetic state). Transitioning into a sympathetic state from a parasympathetic state sends the message to the body to prioritize functions that are essential for survival— enhancing blood flow, increased heart beat, vision (like tunnel vision), rapid breathing— and down-regulating non-essential ( at that moment) functions like digestion, metabolism, good sleep, recovery, and reproduction. Specifically to the thyroid, stress mostly affects the pituitary (the “P” in HPA-OT Axis) and keeps TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) from being released.
Now, imagine this “stress” situation stretched out over the course of your life and happening daily. It may not be an obvious acute situation, like outrunning a predator, but all of the “micro-stresses” that add up to an overabundance of chronic stress. In fact, research shows that acute stresses (think minutes to hours) had less impact on overall thyroid hormone production while chronic stress (days, weeks) had more significant impacts.
What are some micro-stresses you may not be aware of?
Here are some:
Poor sleep (both quantity and quality)
Irregular eating patterns (skipping meals; not eating all day and then backloading at night)
Not eating enough for your needs
Over exercising or not exercising enough
Feeling under appreciated
Traffic and commuting
Pollution (both indoors and outside)
Self-criticism and/or self-loathing
Coming home to a messy house
Fighting with your significant other
Inflammatory food intake
Death of a loved one
Relationships (getting married, getting divorced, navigating friendships)
Social media overload
Gut infections or other stealth infections
Food insecurity and deprivation (whether intentional or situational)
… These are just a sampling
Stress is inevitable. We’re always going to be faced with it in one way or another.
The goal isn’t “no stress”, but rather “know your stress”. Recognize where stresses are adding up and offload what you can.
Are there areas where you can delegate? Or maybe even totally take off your plate?
Are the opportunities for enhancing nutrient density of foods? For example, if fresh vegetables are too costly or unavailable, opt for frozen.
Can you get to bed 30 minutes earlier?
Can you set time limits on social media and use that saved time to do something that brings joy?
How would it feel to do one less day of HIIT training and instead take a walk in nature?
Is there someone who can help ease the burden?
The main point being: control what you can control so that life doesn’t feel out of control.