The Adrenal Thyroid Connection
The adrenal glands and thyroid gland both affect metabolism, so they have something in common. Extreme tiredness can result from an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or adrenal fatigue, so how can you tell these two conditions apart?
You might know that your adrenal glands are two small glands on top of your kidneys. The outer part of each gland, called the adrenal cortex, produces vital cortisol and aldosterone hormones. Cortisol regulates metabolism and triggers the fight-or-flight response to sudden stress by giving the body energy. It also reduces inflammation. Aldosterone helps with kidney function.
The thyroid gland is a small gland at the bottom of the neck. If it doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone (i.e. if it is underactive), the body’s metabolism slows down. This causes similar symptoms to adrenal fatigue, including exhaustion, irritability, depression, and weight gain.
Adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism are two distinct conditions, but the first can create the second. Unrelenting stress during the early phases of adrenal fatigue generates excessive cortisol in the body, and this adversely affects thyroid hormone production. Cortisol does this by suppressing the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which both control the thyroid. It can, therefore, induce an underactive thyroid.
Stress causes other hormonal imbalances in the body, too, creating hypothyroid symptoms that might be difficult to trace. For instance, cytokines are chemicals released in the body as a response to stress or inflammatory conditions. Inflammatory cytokines suppress TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and thyroid hormones T4 and T3. Even if these hormones are present in normal levels, their function can still be impaired and the problem may go undetected by doctors.
Not all medical doctors recognize “adrenal fatigue” as a specific illness, but it’s important to seek the help of a doctor either to investigate thyroid problems or discuss the negative effects of ongoing stress.
Stress management is vital to keeping your adrenals healthy and may prevent hard-to-detect thyroid problems. You can try relaxation techniques, therapeutic treatments or supplements such as adaptogenic herbs (e.g. Chinese Hawthorn, Ashwagandha), all B vitamins and vitamin C.