The Thyroid-Adrenal Gland Connection

endocrine_cutoutTwo small glands, one in the neck, one atop the kidneys, both intertwined in the delicate balance of hormonal control of your body. The adrenal glands, which are command central for adaptation to stress, produce the powerful stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is secreted accordingly to your Circadian rhythm in sync with when you eat and sleep. Like thyroid hormones, it also affects metabolic rate by increasing insulin levels and utilization of blood sugar. In fact, cortisol most important function is to act in concert with thyroid hormones to keep your metabolism in check.

Let’s take a closer look at the cortisol-thyroid hormone team. Cortisol from the adrenals makes the thyroid work more efficiently, not too low, and not too high.  When cortisol levels are low, caused by chronic stress and adrenal exhaustion, the thyroid become sluggish and less proficient at its job.

When cortisol levels get too high, again due to adrenal response to stress, it causes the body to no longer respond to what the thyroid hormones are signaling it to do. This is called thyroid resistance, similar to insulin resistance, and means the thyroid hormone levels may be normal but the body fails to listen. Actually, resistance due to elevated cortisol levels applies to all other hormones such as insulin, progesterone, estrogens, testosterone and even cortisol itself. Every cell in the body has receptors for both adrenal cortisol and thyroid hormones and nearly every cellular process requires optimal functioning of the thyroid and adrenal glands. When cortisol is too high you get resistance from the hormone receptor sites and it suddenly requires more of the hormone to create the same effect.  This is exhausting for the gland producing the hormone!

Over a life time of adrenal and thyroid overload, these two little organs eventually bottom out simultaneously. Many people who have an imbalance in adrenal cortisol levels usually have thyroid insufficiency symptoms. It is common for women in their peri-menopausal and menopausal years to have symptoms of thyroid over or under activity.  If this condition is not detected and treated further depletion of both thyroid and adrenal function will demand more aggressive treatment with hormone replacement therapy. However, most women given estrogen replacement for their menopausal complaints experience a further decrease in  thyroid function. Both thyroid and adrenal imbalances need to be considered when treating hormone resistance due to chronic stress. The best way to avoid adrenal overload that compounds thyroid problems is to stay in touch with your stress levels and actively manage it with proper nutrition, exercise, adequate sleep and joyful living.


The Adrenal Stress Connection

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