Thyroid and Adrenal Dysfunction
A Modern Undiagnosed Epidemic
The thyroid gland (located in the neck) largely controls the body’s energy production, immune system, mental function, metabolism, to name a few. Many people suffer from fatigue, weight gain, depression, constipation, cold hands and feet, and slowed mental functions, all of which are all symptoms of low thyroid function, yet are told their thyroid levels are “within normal limits".
This is because the “normal range” is much too wide, and actually includes many people who could greatly benefit form proper hormonal support. There is a big difference between the published “normal ranges” and optimal function.
Even when the treated, the standard thyroid medications (synthetic T4) for low thyroid function may not help, or may only help for a little while. At the 21st joint meeting of the British Endocrine Societies in 2002, Anthony Toft MD, a prominent thyroid expert emphasizes the importance of treating patients with low Free T3 levels, not just based on their TSH.
TSH is just a signaling hormone and does not measure the active thyroid hormone level, which is the most important, the Free T3 level. To get an average TSH level, you'd have to check your blood 21 times in one day. Most treatments also just consist of synthetic T4, levothyroxine, (the inactive thyroid hormone), which has to be converted into the active thyroid hormone T3 for your body to use. Unfortunately, the conversion can be blocked by medications, toxins, poor gut health, low vitamins & stress, making the standard thyroid therapy ineffective.
This is why we prefer doing full thyroid blood panels (including antibodies towards the thyroid to evaluate for autoimmune diseases), thyroid ultrasounds and replace thyroid with natural desiccated thyroid which has T4 and T3.
Over time, if the thyroid is consistently low, the adrenal glands become stressed, creating a vicious cycle. When the adrenal glands are stressed (meaning adrenaline and cortisol run high, and then cells become resistant to their function, better termed HPA axis dysfunction), the body cannot use thyroid hormones normally, so the adrenal glands must be addressed as well. In fact, many cases of low thyroid symptoms, as well as other common symptoms such as infections, allergies, anxiety and insomnia and are actually related to disturbed adrenal communication to the brain. The adrenals do not "burn out", they become resistant to signals and need to be rebalanced. If needed, therapies include natural desiccated thyroid (not patented chemicals) replacement with T4 & T3, along with nutritional support and inflammation management.
Common symptoms of low thyroid system function include:
- Low oral body temperature below 98.6
- Cold hands or feet
- Sleepiness, fatigue, and increased need for sleep
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight even when strictly dieting
- Dry skin, hair loss, brittle nails
- Depression, anxiety
- Slow mental functioning, difficulty concentrating, brain fog
- Reproductive system problems: infertility, heavy vaginal bleeding, irregular periods
- High cholesterol, triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, despite a good diet
- Ruddy complexion, puffy eyelids, loss of the outer third of the eyebrows
Common symptoms of HPA axis dysfunction include:
- Extreme fatigue and difficulty coping with stress, lack of stamina.
- Uneven energy and temperature fluctuations.
- Food and environmental allergies. Sleepiness after meals.
- Weakened immune function: sinusitis, bladder, skin, and respiratory infections
- Gastrointestinal infections such as Candida overgrowth.
- Digestive problems: indigestion, bloating and gas, malabsorption, leaky gut
- Pale skin, thin brittle nails. Pallor and fine wrinkles around the mouth. Sunken eyes.
- Low blood pressure. Dizziness when standing, low blood sugar between meals
- Sensitivity to light
- Intolerance of heat and cold. Excessive or reduced sweating.
- Anxiety, exaggerated startle response, palpitations, insomnia.
Your Endocrine System relies on the Thyroid and Adrenal Glands
The endocrine system is a tightly coordinated web that works through a chain of command residing within the brain. The hypothalamus integrates information concerning stress, needs, and available resources, and instructs the pituitary. The pituitary then synthesizes various “stimulating hormones” that instruct the endocrine glands, including the thyroid, adrenals, ovaries, testes, pancreas, thymus, and others, to produce their hormones.
As we discussed, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), orders the thyroid (from the brain) to produce thyroxine (T4). The various tissues of the body (muscles, etc) then convert the T4 into the active form, triiodothyronine (T3), which stimulates general metabolism and energy production. The causes of clinical hypothyroidism can thus occur at 3 different levels:
1) the pituitary,
2) the thyroid gland, and
3) the tissues which respond to the glandular hormones.
A problem at any level will produce the same end result: low thyroid system activity, and the typical hypothyroid symptoms. The adrenal hormones (located above the kidneys) help the body handle stress. They go into high gear to help meet challenges from physical, chemical, nutritional, or emotional stress. When the body is stressed, the adrenal glands at first produce tremendous amounts of adrenaline, then DHEA and Cortisol. High levels of cortisol prevent the conversion of T4 to T3, and cause the body to produce reverse T3, which puts the brakes on metabolism.
If the stress continues, the conversion of T4 to T3 may be persistently impaired. When this becomes chronic TSH will gradually be lowered to conserve energy. In this case, even though the thyroid gland itself may be healthy, thyroid hormone levels will be low because the thyroid obediently reduces its output in response to low TSH. Once the adrenals are resistant and cortisol levels are very low, the cell receptors do not respond to T3. The immune system suffers, and may develop initiate autoimmune and hyper-allergic responses. The resulting low metabolic energy (low body temperature) affects every system. In the brain, it causes depression; in the intestines, malabsorption; in the colon, constipation; In the connective tissue, slow-healing sprains and injuries; in the bones, osteoporosis; and in general, weight gain.
With a combination of increased nutritional need and intestinal malabsorption, the body exhausts supplies of key vitamins and minerals, the enzymes cannot function, and the cells can no longer perform vital biochemical functions. Various disease syndromes will appear according to genetic predisposition and the specific type of stress.
Treatment can involve the following approaches:
- Hormonal replacement when indicated, including thyroid replacement with a combination of T3 and T4
- Diet modification with intestinal support and healing
- In depth vitamin level testing and supplementation to rebuild the adrenal communication and thyroid with the raw materials they need.
- Targeted adaptogenic herbs depending on personal cortisol pattern (after evaluating results of the salivary cortisol test
- Immune support, with treatment of any ongoing infections.
- Strategies to reduce autoimmune responses
- Detoxification: removal of toxic metals and chemicals from the bowel, liver, and kidneys, if necessary.
The Lee Clinic Can Help
If you think you may have a thyroid and/or adrenal problem, speak to our staff. We can suggest specific tests to diagnose the problem and help you construct an individualized program to balance these vital glands and restore normal body function.
The Lee Clinic has been helping patients with thyroid and adrenal issues feel like themselves again for over 40 years.
Call us at 540-542-1700 or send us your information below and we'll get back to you shortly.