Welcome to Episode 34. I’m so glad you are here. Today we are talking about adrenal health and why it is soooo important to have healthy adrenal function when you have hashimoto’s or other thyroid conditions.
The adrenal glands are little walnut sized glands that sit right on top of our kidneys. We would die without them, they are that important. These little glands help us deal with stress in our every day lives and with chronic stress which is a part of most people’s every day lives.
Your ability to be resilient, have energy and endurance all depend on our adrenal glands ability to do their job. They secrete cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) and impact how your body uses carbohydrates and fats, how well you convert your food into energy and if your body will store fat, how your blood sugar is managed, and helps your cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal system work as they should.
The adrenal glands also make your sex hormones after menopause and andropause. They have anti-inflammatory properties and help to minimize the effects of alcohol, drugs, foods and toxins.
All this said, they are pretty important and they manage a lot of stuff in our body which means they can “wear out” or become fatigued. This is what many now call HPA axis dysfunction or dysregulation.
Basically this means that when our body perceives a stressful event our brain signals our adrenal glands to release cortisol, adrenaline or noradrenaline to deal with the stress.
As this happens more often in our body due to chronic stress, food sensitivities/allergies, inflammation, mismanaged blood sugar etc., our adrenal glands become less able to recover and respond again and they become depleted. The adrenals are not able to respond and this affects all parts of our body in a physiological way.
This disrupts how much cortisol is released and when it is released which will affect our sleep patterns as well as the production of some hormones and neurotransmitters but not necessarily the levels of cortisol put out by the adrenals.
It is the brain that signals the adrenals to release their hormones, the adrenal glands don’t do it on their own, so it is believed that the problem is in the brain and the signaling in the nervous system.
The package insert for your thyroid medication will specifically state that you should not use your medication. Here is what the package insert says for Synthroid (Armour says something similar)
Do not use SYNTHROID if you have uncorrected adrenal problems.
Taking too much levothyroxine has been associated with increased bone loss, especially in women after menopause.
Once your doctor has found your specific SYNTHROID dose, it is important to have lab tests done, as ordered by your doctor, at least once a year.
Foods like soybean flour, cottonseed meal, walnuts, and dietary fiber may cause your body to absorb less SYNTHROID from the gastrointestinal tract. Grapefruit juice may cause your body to absorb less levothyroxine and may reduce its effect. Let your doctor know if you eat these foods, as your dose of SYNTHROID may need to be adjusted.
Use SYNTHROID only as ordered by your doctor. Take SYNTHROID as a single dose, preferably on an empty stomach, one-half to one hour before breakfast.
What does this mean for you?
Here is a list of symptoms that will tell you if you are having an issue with your adrenal health:
You tend to be a night person
You have a hard time falling asleep
You are a slow starter in the morning
You might feel keyed up and have trouble calming down
Your blood pressure is higher than 120/80
You get a headache after exercising
You feel wired after drinking coffee
You clench or grind your teeth
You have chronic low back pain that gets worse when you are fatigued
You get dizzy if you stand up too fast from sitting/lying
You crave salt
You have afternoon yawning, afternoon headaches
You have a tendency towards shin splints
You tend to need sunglasses outside even if it isn’t sunny
You may also see lab work that shows high T3 yet you are feeling like you are still hypo or if you are on a natural desiccated thyroid medication and just not feeling well or you’re having symptoms that make you feel hyper like heart palpitations, racing heart or even anxiety.
This can be because the cells are not getting the T3 and it is just sitting in your blood stream which can cause the feeling of anxiety or a racing heart among other things.
Your thyroid function often is affected by how well functioning your adrenal glands are.
Chronic adrenal stress will affect how your brain is able to tell the adrenals to work so they will have extra output of adrenal hormones at certain times and at others you will have very little leading to the symptoms listed earlier.
When your adrenals are not functioning well, aside from keeping T3 from getting in to the cells, you will also have trouble converting T4 into T3, your cells can become less sensitive to your thyroid hormones which is probably what is happening when your T3 is high yet you feel hypo.
Hashimoto’s can be triggered by chronic adrenal stress because adrenal stress will wreak havoc on the immune system which can result in the antibodies against your thyroid being made.
What causes adrenal stress?
Your diet- consuming too much processed food, too much sugar and having food intolerances or food allergies. Your adrenal glands, cortisol especially, play a major role in blood sugar management. Food intolerances cause inflammation and an immune system response so continually eating foods you “shouldn’t” will cause an issue for your adrenals and can raise reverse T3 which means your body is converting your needed free T3 into Reverse T3 leaving you feeling hypo.
Your body makes less Progesterone which is needed to even out the effects of estrogen in our body when we are dealing with chronic stress.
Too much estrogen in your body binds up your thyroid hormones in your blood. High cortisol contributes to estrogen dominance in your body.
Your adrenal function is affected by your ability to deal with stress of all kinds. We turn on that stress response when we:
Don’t get enough sleep. Sometimes we can’t control getting enough sleep if we work a night shift or we have young children or whatever. Being deprived of sleep is not good for your adrenal health which isn’t good for your thyroid health.
Make sleep a priority. Sleep in a dark, cool room. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning. This will help to reset your internal clock and will help you sleep better and deeper in the long run. Also, keep electronics out of your room, wear the blue blocking glasses after the sun sets- this will help increase your melatonin production allowing you to feel tired but also fall asleep.
Do something to help deal with mental and emotional stress. Therapy, meditation, journaling. Find what makes you feel better and do it. Lose the things in your life that are contributing to your stress. Sometimes we have to see less of those toxic people in our lives. Take care of you first. You are no good to anyone else if you are not well cared for first.
Manage your blood sugar! So important. This is second in importance to sleep. If you want to see improvements in your hashimoto’s or adrenal issues then you have to manage your blood sugar. Consuming large amounts of sugary processed or high refined carbohydrate foods will affect your adrenal health for the worse. Even consuming too much fruit at one time can be hard on your blood sugar. If you get hangry then you have an issue with blood sugar. If you wake up between 1 and 3 am then you have an issue with blood sugar.
Inflammation in any form will stress your adrenal glands but most especially the chronic inflammation that most of us with hashimoto’s are dealing with. Chronic inflammation is increased by all the things I have just talked about along with things like parasites or infections you might not be aware you have.
Exercise, gently. Autoimmune Strong is a good place to start. They have the most gentle exercise program I know of for chronic illness and it won’t tax your adrenals.
Your thyroid health and your adrenal health go hand in hand. If one is not working well, the other one won’t be either.
You can have your cortisol levels tested by a salvia test that measures your levels throughout the day. It will give you a good picture of what time of day you are lacking or having too much cortisol and then you can make a plan with your practitioner to fix it. I don’t recommend doing this on your own. You might not find a conventional doctor who would test this or even know what to do with it so it might be a good idea to find a functional medicine practitioner who can help you.
Some things you can do on your own to help your adrenal function are:
Eat protein and fat at every meal, including the first meal of the day and do so within an hour of waking. This will make your blood sugar stable and your adrenals won’t have to get busy raising your blood sugar right away in the morning. Eating protein and fat in the morning will also help keep your blood sugar stable all day.
Until your body starts to get back on track, you may need to eat some protein every few hours to help stabilize your blood sugar. If you are dealing with insulin resistance or blood sugar issues, this will help your body adjust and remain in a stable state. If you tolerate a small amount of nuts, seeds or eggs or even a can of tuna or sardines. These would be great options for you. A protein shake made of just a single ingredient protein powder (I like Designs For Health Pure Paleo Protein Powder) or even high quality beef jerky.
You will need to figure out how well your body tolerates the starchy or more sugary carbohydrates. As I have said before, I don’t tolerate starches well, especially at lunch time so I tend to have a small amount at dinner which helps me to sleep better. If you feel sleepy after eating you know you have eaten too many carbs. Avoid grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, parsnips, beans and sugary things.
Avoid fruit juices and instead consume the whole fruit so the fiber keeps your blood sugar stable by slowing down how quickly your body absorbs the sugar.
Avoid coffee or caffeinated teas, no decaf coffee either- it usually has some caffeine in it. These stimulate the adrenals- if you are dependent on caffeine to get you going in the morning, you likely have some adrenal issues.
Eat lots and lots of vegetables, high quality protein and high quality fats. Stick to a palm sized portion of protein, a thumb sized portion of fat and fill the rest of your plate with veggies- greens, fibrous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, brussels sprouts, carrots, celery, radish, onion, garlic and so on.
Find out if you have sensitivities to foods and eliminate them. An elimination diet is particularly helpful and a cheap way to figure out which foods cause inflammation in your body.
Don’t fast if you are dealing with any blood sugar dysregulation and/or adrenal stress. This will only make things worse. You may want to stick to a 12 hour window of opportunity for eating and make sure you are eating enough. You need more than 1200 calories to sustain yourself and to ensure your body can heal. Eat until you are full and satisfied- this will ensure you don’t have blood sugar issues as long as you are eating as suggested.
You may want to supplement with magnesium. It is needed for so many biochemical reactions in the body and the adrenal glands are no exception. Magnesium can act like a spark plug in the body and stress depletes it. Magnesium citrate can be found in a product called Natural Calm which is readily available. It can loosen your stools though so be aware of that and back down how much you take if you need to.
B vitamins are essential for your body and play a role in energy production. A high quality B complex is recommended. Know your source when you buy it. I don’t recommend Amazon as a place to buy supplements.
Vitamin C is good for your adrenal glands but it also stimulates the immune system so if you are dealing with high or elevated antibodies for thyroid, you might want to be cautious.
Licorice root is great for sluggish adrenals. It is stimulatory so don’t take it after 1 or 2 pm. It can increase energy and endurance and helps to manage low blood sugar issues.
Ashwaganda is an herb that is known as an adaptogen which means it will help your body get or stay in a more balanced state and it can help stabilize your cortisol if it is either too high or too low. It is also a nightshade and can be inflammatory to some or stimulate your already overactive immune system.
Ginger root also helps to keep your cortisol levels even and balanced. You can make a tea by grating 1 teaspoon of ginger and let it steep in hot water for about 10 minutes. You can strain it or just drink it.
I think this is a good place to stop. Thanks for joining me. Have a question about your thyroid or how to manage it? Go to my website- helpforhashimotos.com and fill out the contact form.
Please leave a rating and review on iTunes so other people can find the podcast and be helped. There are 14 million people just in the US that are diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. That is a lot of people. The more you share about the podcast, the more people that can be helped. I’d really appreciate your help on that.
You can find me on social media at stephanieewalsntp on instagram and at Out of the Woods Nutrition-Help For Hashimoto’s on facebook. I also created a facebook group for the podcast called Help For Hashimoto’s which is a positive support group but all the action is happening in my newsletter where I send out recipes and tips for living well with Hashimoto’s. You can sign up on my website. I was thinking of making a grocery shopping list or a guide to understanding your thyroid labs to give you when you sign up for my newsletter. Will you let me know which one you prefer?
Talk to you soon! Have a great week!