Stress and Thyroid Function
Stress is one of many factors that can influence the optimal functioning of the Thyroid Gland. ‘Stress’ may be defined as any situation which tends to disturb the equilibrium between a living organism and its environment. In day-to-day life there are many stressful situations such as stress of work pressure, examinations, psychosocial stress and physical stresses due to trauma, surgery and various medical disorders. (1)
The adrenal glands are small triangular shaped glands that sit on top of each kidney and one of their functions is to secrete stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline when required. Chronic stress results in an increased release of adrenal stress hormone cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol suppress immune function and may be linked to conditions such as Thyroiditis and Graves’ disease, due to a possible increase in the production of thyroid antibodies (2)
A relationship between thyroid and adrenal dysfunction has been recognized for some time. Certain human autoimmune conditions, for example, can destroy both the thyroid gland and adrenal cortex resulting in combined hormone deficiencies. (3) When adrenaline is chronically elevated, T4 output may fall to reduce the negative effects to the cardiovascular system. Adding thyroxine does not improve the situation as the requirement is to balance adrenal function. High levels of adrenaline also inhibit the function of T3 at receptor level. (4)
While many studies have shown a connection between stress and autoimmune disease, most of the evidence for stress contributing to the onset and course of autoimmune disease is circumstantial and the mechanisms by which stress affects autoimmune disease are not fully understood. The best circumstantial evidence for an effect of stress on autoimmune thyroid disease is the well-known relationship between the onset of Graves' hyperthyroidism and major stress but even this is debated. However, most of the recent case-control studies have supported stress as a factor that affects the onset and clinical course of Graves' disease. On the other hand, there have been few reports concerning the possible relationship between stress and Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Because the onset and course of Hashimoto's thyroiditis is generally insidious, the effect of stress on Hashimoto's thyroiditis might be overlooked. Numerous human and animal studies have demonstrated that psychological and physiologic stressors induce various immunologic changes. Stress affects the immune system either directly or indirectly through the nervous and endocrine systems. These immune modulations may contribute to the development of autoimmunity as well as the susceptibility to autoimmune disease in genetically predisposed individuals. Stress can be one of the environmental factors for thyroid autoimmunity. (5)
Supporting adrenal function will have a positive knock on effect on Thyroid function so it’s important we are including foods that contain nutrients to support the adrenal glands like B vitamins, Vitamin C and magnesium as well as Thyroid supporting nutrients like iron, zinc and selenium. Lifestyle habits that support stress management are also important like yoga, meditation, mindfulness and good quality sleep. A consultation with a Nutritional Therapist can support you put healthy dietary and lifestyle changes in place.
- (Arem, R. (1999) The Thyroid Solution. New York:Ballantine Books ) ( Biochemical Imbalances in Disease Pg 199).
- Hays, B. (2005) ‘Female hormones: The dance of the hormones, part 1’ Textbook of Functional Medicine(Biochemical Imbalances in Disease pg 200)
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