The Thyroid-Adrenal Link

If you’ve been on thyroid medicaiton for quite some time and all of a sudden feel that they’re no longer benefiting you, then this article is for you.

I see many patients on thyroid medication who really have an adrenal problem, not a thyroid problem.  One sure sign of this is 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 and producing excess cortisol, your body will suppress the thyroid to protect your valuable adrenal engine from burnout.

Finding the Cause

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 all you want 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 the adrenals is controlled by the Hypothalamus with great care. It wants to keep the thyroid and the adrenals in balance. If one side is too high, the Hypothalamus pushes the other side lower. If one side is too low, the other will be raised up to compensate. This is the body’s wisdom to give you energy but help you avoid burnout.

The problem I see with may of my patients is that when they try to support their adrenals or thyroid, some symptoms would improve, such as their energy, but sleep and anxiety would get worse. Challenges with both of these glands are always downstream, or secondary, to the true cause upstream. In many cases toxins. For so many, the pituitary gland, which is located in the center of the brain and controls the thyroid and the adrenals, is the main problem. You see, toxins like heavy metals or even mycotoxins from mold and even viruses,  can accumulate in the pituitary, which is the control tower of our hormone system, which means it won’t be able to receive or send the correct messages to the rest of the body.

Support

The downstream hormonal glands, like the thyroid and adrenals, need support while you are working upstream on removing the cause. But the dance is very difficult. I will give you a trick that I learned in my battle that helped me sleep better and took the edge off my anxiety. This was the only thing that worked for me, but it’s important to know that it is always different for everyone, and it is best to work with a practitioner who understands this complicated hormonal axis. It is even more important to work with someone who knows how to remove toxins while balancing hormones.

A Diagnostic Tool

The tool that provides information to allow you to best address this hormonal cycle involves taking your orthostatic blood pressure. It works like this: lie down for five minutes and then take your blood pressure (BP). Waiting 5 minutes allows for a more accurate reading. Record or remember the systolic number, which is the top and larger number. For example, the 120 of a BP of 120/80. The use of a simple electronic BP device you can buy at most pharmacies is the easiest, and costs between $30-50 dollars.

After taking your BP lying down, push the air out of the cuff and stand up as fast as you can while pumping up the cuff again to get a second reading while standing. Once again, record or remember the top systolic number and compare it to the one taken while lying down. A normal reading is when the systolic BP rises between 10-15 points. For example, if you were 120 lying down it should rise to 130 once you’ve stood.

If your systolic number only raises 5 points, or shows no rise at all, this is a sign of adrenal exhaustion. If the number drops, say from 120 to 115 points or more, this is a sign of more severe exhaustion. If the number rises more than 15 points, for example from 120 to 140 or even 160 or more, this indicates the adrenal, hypothalamus, pituitary axis is overcompensating and trying to fight back from the stressors. During this phase, anxiety and sleep are the worst. Most of the time you can’t even get to sleep.

If you discover that your adrenals are in need of an immediate kickstart, this will help to provide you with more clarity as to what your body is trying to tell you.