The Impact of Stress on Thyroid and Adrenals

The Thyroid Summit 2017

These are my notes listening to these speakers in the summit. For further information please visit their web pages linked below.

Psychology and Stress

Izabella Wentz PharmD
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When there is a buildup of toxins an autoimmune condition can arise, essentially the body does not believe we are in a safe place it wants to slow down our metabolism. The way it does that is it starts to attack the thyroid gland to slow it down. We know that in times of famine, war, or high toxicity, it’s really not beneficial to reproduce. The body through adaptive physiology whenever it feels or senses a stressor will try to slow itself down and a lot of times this happens through an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland. When you really think about the symptoms of an underactive thyroid you’re going to be more tired. This would actually be beneficial in times of war or famine because you would spend more time sleeping rather than be out in danger. The people who survived the Irish potato famine, many of them survived because they were low thyroid and they had Hashimoto’s. Their body helped them survive by slowing down thyroid hormone production, their body helped them conserve their calories and conserve their energy.

This is really a brilliant design of our body to help us survive tough and stressful times. Whenever I talk to women with thyroid disease I ask them what are you doing that is making your body think that you’re in a famine. It can be things that are in our environment like toxins that can lead our body to attack and slow down metabolism that this is not the best time to reproduce. Sometimes the toxic environment can be the people around us, they may be people that are not encouraging, or bringing us down. Just having toxic people in your life can flare up an autoimmune condition. It can start with the mind, feeling unsafe, the body moves to protect us. We are taught we need to be perfect and that stress can cause us to reject ourselves and our body senses that, it’s a coping mechanism.

Don’t listen to the people who say it’s all in your head and you’re not enough. Don’t identify yourself as your disease, imagine the power of what this thinking is doing to your body. Better is a person living with, thriving with, overcoming. Sometimes a little shift in language can be an important part of how we view ourselves because it shifts you out of victim mode. It shifts you out of identifying yourself as your disease and rather to identifying yourself as this is one of my challenges but it’s only a part of my picture it’s not my identity.

In today’s society it’s normal to not listen to our body’s when we have sickness, so many of us have tried to just press on, to keep going and to ignore our own body’s cry for help. In a world of deadlines, pressures and expectations it seems like the only way, this lifestyle of constant stress is not compatible with thyroid health. Proverb – What would profit a man if he gave his whole world and loose his own soul. It’s the idea that if you get every little single thing accomplished the thought that you would destroy your own health in the process what good really would all these achievements do for you. You wouldn’t even have the chance to enjoy the fruit of your labor. If you had a broken leg you wouldn’t just get up and walk on it. Are you willing to treat yourself with the love and respect you deserve, the care you need. Our adrenal glands is what controls our stress and the state of our adrenals is not to be taken lightly. When adrenal hormones are out of balance we loose our ability to be resilient. Stress and trauma can have a detrimental effect on our long term health. How does this relate to our adrenals, what are adrenals and what do they do for our body.

Balancing your blood sugar is one of the keys to recovering your adrenal health. I recommend that you need plenty of good fats and adequate protein and limit your carbohydrate intake. A 2016 study of people with Hashimoto’s found that they had greatly improved their thyroid markers as well as experience weight loss when they ate fewer carbohydrates. Sleep deprivation is one of the fastest ways to get your adrenals to malfunction. Getting adequate sleep is also one of the quickest ways to recover your adrenal health.

Michelle Corey CNWC, FMP
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There have been hundreds of studies that correlate emotional, physical trauma with long term chronic illness. One of the best studies was spearheaded by Dr. Vincent Filetti from Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. They followed 17,000 middle class, middle aged Caucasians, they assessed them for what they would consider an adverse childhood experience. Were one or both parents alcoholics, did one or both hit you, sexually molest you, neglected as a child, was there mental illness in your family, did someone go to jail. Based on your answers you would have a scoring system. What they noticed was individuals who had even one adverse childhood experience had a fifty times more chance of having a long term chronic illness. Which was also exacerbated by poor co-mechanisms. These individuals who had an adverse childhood experience typically drank a lot of alcohol, smoked cigarettes, didn’t take care of their health as much and in their middle age were winding up with chronic conditions.

There is a correlation between shame and inflammation. There was a study done where students were told to sit and experience a situation in their life that they thought was shameful and measured their blood afterwards and they found spikes in inflammatory markers. We know from that study that induced shame caused a lot of inflammation. We live in a global culture of shaming and blaming, it’s part of punishment to other people, how we get back at other people. The media is shaming, the health and wellness industry can be making women feel bad about themselves. Healing from that is recognizing that it’s there.

There has been a lot of abuse and autoimmunity connection in my practice and there is a lot of shame there. Having someone that will listen to you without judging you and just listen helps because empathy is the antidote to shame. If we can have empathy for ourselves, if others can have empathy for us. If we could start to look around at our environment and the media and everything we look at and try to make it a project of I’m going to find out the areas where shame is being projected onto me, but no one talks about it. Shadow work is another therapy where we look at the dark side of our personality that isn’t so sweet or kind or appropriate. Working with those energies because we do have them, everyone has them. It’s really good to journal, to get clear about your childhood and feelings you have about something that happened. To be witness and to tell your story to a non judgmental person who can hear you and acknowledge what happened to you.

Marc David MA
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When it comes to eating psychology there are so many people who are walking around I hate my body. I’m too fat, this isn’t good enough, I want to change this or that. When we are hating on the body we are essentially attacking the body, just like an autoimmune disease. In this case it’s our mind, self attacking self. We know mind and body track one another so if I’m attacking self with negative thoughts physiology can often follow where all of a sudden the body starts to attack itself. It’s not the only factor but we really have to look at the thoughts we are thinking, the fears we are holding, and the beliefs that we have about the body because they will impact the efficiency of any treatment protocol.

Dr. Mark Mandel PharmD, IACP
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One of my friends that is a functional medicine doctor asks his patients – How much of your health do you believe is my responsibility as the doctor, how much of your health is your responsibility as the patient? It doesn’t make sense that it would be the doctor who is seeing you 1/10th of 1% of your life in order to guide you and you’ve got the other 99.99% of your life that your with you that the doctor is not. The clinician can guide you as a patient but you have to be onboard, you have to be able to take responsibility for yourself. You have to able to move yourself forward. Unless you don’t have that intellectual capacity, which certainly there are many people who don’t, you should have that intellectual interest in guiding yourself.

Tiffany Mladinich Medical Liaison
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Sisterhood is important otherwise you feel so alone. You can ask for things from your doctor, you need to ask for things from your doctor. You can’t just take their word as smart as they are and leave it alone. I had to fight for my life, fight for proper testing. I found with fuctional and integrative practitioners it’s much easier but with a mainstream physician you really have to fight for proper testing to make sure that you are well.

Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo MS, DC, CCN, DACBN
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Adrenals are little glands and they sit on the kidneys and they help support us when we’re under stress. They are really well adapted to the kind of stress we used to have in the olden days when there were tigers, lions and bears. You would be out there looking for food and suddenly one would be chasing you and you had to jump up and run and fight. So your blood pressure went up and your blood sugar went up, your heart rate went really fast, your breathing increased, and those are great things. In the olden days when the danger was gone you could settle down and go back to normal. Now we’re running around with tigers chasing us 24/7 because our modern day stressors, they’re not the physical stressors, they’re the mental and emotional stressors. How are we going to pay the bills, how are we going to get the food, how am I going to have enough time, will I make it to the kids dentist appointment in time because I have to get from work to across town , is there going to be traffic.

I love the blood sugar stuff because it’s so often overlooked. People are jumping in and they are trying to fix their thyroid, and fix their sex hormones when the blood sugar is out of balance and you’re really not going to get very far with fixing the thyroid and repairing it. Stories of people with years and years on medication and they balance their blood sugar and all their thyroid stuff went away, it just happens. It’s totally amazing, within four months completely gone, completely off, all the antibodies gone.

Dr. Alan Christianson NMD
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We think about symptoms, we think about sleep issues, symptoms that fluctuate throughout the course of the day. The strong one is that afternoon I always crash, or 9 O’clock and I had to get a second wind. There is many possible symptoms but I think the real big flag one’s for me are the symptoms that are repeatable within a day’s cycle, that’s almost sure fire going to be some adrenal factor. Also we think about blood sugar regulation, craving sweets, you know you’re going to be edgy if you miss a meal that can be part of that. Sugar or salt cravings can be a sign that someone’s adrenals may be impaired. The adrenal hormones, there’s actually more than fifty seven that are made but the big one is cortisol. We call cortisol a glucocorticoid, so it’s about regulating glucose and when our blood sugar levels get lower rather than go into a coma we make our own sugar. We pull that from muscle tissue, from our liver, we make glucose to keep our body running but we use stress hormones to do that. That’s where angry comes from, you’re missing a meal and you’re stressing yourself out internally to raise your blood sugar back up again.

When I was first trying to figure this all out I was like lets change all the triggers, diet, avoid the stressors, detox. The thing is you can’t change every element of modern life. If we could all be in a cave and be fed freshly picked food and given a massage. I wanted to figure out what’s the big needle mover, what’s the big leverage point on this rhythm. I realized that because cortisol is a glucose regulating hormone that the diet is a big opportunity. The diet which is a way that can be thrown off, but the diet can also be a way to heal it. The first step is to make sure diet is not throwing it off. Avoiding processed sugars, being strategic and minimal about things like caffeine and alcohol, avoiding other foods that can act like toxins especially if your body’s immune system is reactive to them.

The next step is carbohydrates, lower cortisol, so you want that to occur at night, you want to be able to sleep at night. You want your cortisol down but you don’t want to be sleeping in your breakfast. You don’t want to be dead to the world and foggy when it’s time to go do stuff and live your life. You want to have less carbs in the morning and healthy carbs at night. That simple strategy alone can help those rhythms. We did a clinical trial on this and I encouraged everyone in the study, I said, I don’t want you to start meditating. I don’t want you to go on some botanicals, I don’t want you to make some radical changes I just want this one dietary shift. We saw a before and after how their adrenal rhythms changed, it was pretty dramatic because some were high and some were low but regardless of where we started out we saw that there was about a 50% correction back to target within the first month. Just by having some good carbs at night but avoiding them early in the day.

Dr. Brian Mowll DC, MLDE, CDE, IFMCP
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We are going back twenty years at this point, I have been helping people using a nutritional functional medicine approach for almost two decades. Something in me really wanted to solve diabetes and solve blood sugar problems. My own health problems made me ask what was going on, I was under a lot of stress it was a wakeup call and said I’ve got to do something different. I put myself on my own program. At that point I started getting better, felt twenty years younger, all my numbers got in line. That gave me that renewal passion and getting some empathy for people and really understanding what they are going through. That is where diabetes became my passion. I see it now with women who have thyroid problems, men who struggle with their weight, adrenal dysfunction and other hormone imbalances, that there is this link between hormone problems and a strong link with thyroid and blood sugar. If we can find a way to optimize blood sugar and take that stress off the body people loose weight, they feel better and they protect their health.

Dr. Michael Breus PhD
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If you had to do one thing besides eat it’s sleep, sleep effects every organ system, every disease state. There is no known animal that has a nervous system that doesn’t have a period of inactivity and recovery, everybody needs it. What’s fascinating is we don’t know exactly why, there is a lot of theories and it’s probably multifactorial. We know that sleep helps you from the physical standpoint, rejuvenate cells, regrowth, and to help injury and healing. But we also know on the mental side it helps with memory, it helps you be able to think clearly, solve problems. From a mental health perspective it helps lower your levels of depression and anxiety. There is nothing that you do that you can’t do better with a good nights sleep.

The first thing you should do if you realize you are sleepy is look at the total amount of sleep that you are getting. Step two is look at caffeine, if you are drinking caffeine past two o’clock in the afternoon it could be having an effect on the quality of the sleep that you’re getting. Sometimes people have hyper-somnia not because they don’t get enough minutes but because the quality of their sleep isn’t so good. Caffeine is a big effect so stop caffeine by two PM. Alcohol is another big effect, I don’t mind you having a glass of wine or two with diner, it takes the human body approximately one hour for an alcoholic beverage to digest. So for every alcoholic beverage have it come well away from one hour before your bedtime. If you are having two glasses of wine and you are going to bed at ten you need to stop drinking by eight. Giving your body these two hours to digest that alcohol so it doesn’t effect your sleep.

The fourth thing I have people do is exercise, the single biggest way to improve the quality of your sleep is to exercise. If your doctor says it’s OK twenty minutes a day is one of the best things you could possibly do to improve your sleep. The final one is to get fifteen minutes of sunlight every morning, a lot of people feel tired and sleepy because their melatonin is still going. Sunlight turns that off for them so one of the best things they could do is actually go outside, get 10-15 minutes of sunlight in the morning it resets their circadian clock and they are good to go.

Dr. Tami Meraglia
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We really do need to take that break, I actually prescribe news fasts. I think that the core problem is the news, Facebook, and all of these things. They light up the reward center of our brains, they give us an immediate stimuli to feel alive. It’s kind of like candy, it’s an immediate stimuli, no digestion needed, no thought needed. I challenge my patients all the time, what’s happened all day that left you needing that stimulation, why was that reward center not nourished throughout the day. I encourage them to literally schedule as an appointment time to nourish themselves.

Dr. Sachin Patel DC, AFMCP, CFMP
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Meditate, take some time to breath, spend some time with yourself alone. Doing nothing has become the hardest thing for people to do. The average person before they invented the light bulb used to sleep ten hours a night, now the average person sleeps six and a half a night. That three and a half hours that we have lost are not filled up with Yoga, meditation and drumming circles they are filled with chronic, persistent stress. We have shortened the amount of time we’re in a para-sympathetic state where we are sleeping and relaxing. We have lengthened the amount of time we are in a sympathetic state. There is no wonder that people’s health is shifting in this wrong direction and this is why people have a hard time recovering.

Don’t change the signal to the cell, meaning our body is in a constant state of replacing itself. My nails grow, my hair grows, my skin, everything is constantly replacing itself. You have to wonder, if our body is replacing itself with brand new cells why do people stay sick? It’s because you haven’t changed the signal that you’re sending to the cell. The communication to the cell is the same, the mindset is the same, the environment is the same. The diet may have changed but the diet is not the signal. Putting healthy fuel in your car, putting rocket fuel in your car, doesn’t make you a better driver. We have to understand the message that we send to the cell which then dictates the function of the organ and the systems in the body needs to be coherent and congruent with health. If it’s not and we are sending the body a catabolic stress message all the time it’s never going to heal and repair, at least on the timelines that some patients expect.

It’s when they change that they go into a healing response and you can prove this to a patient very quickly, you just ask them how do they feel when they go on vacation. If you feel better on vacation than there is nothing wrong with you, there is something wrong with your environment. Because you didn’t change, I changed the way you wake up in the morning, I changed what you’re going to do that day, how excited you are to start that day. I changed how active you’re probably going to be that day. Because you’re on vacation you are outdoors, you’re walking more, but I didn’t change you. I changed all these other things which are things we can change instantly.

Dr. Pedram Shojai OMD
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I just know meditation works, it works for everyone who puts time into it. Maybe it’s a Mantra meditation, maybe it’s a sound meditation, a visual meditation, there is a million kinds of meditation you have to find one that works for you. Because at the end of the day if you want to make everything happen in your life you need willpower, which most people have tried and have failed because willpower alone doesn’t work, coupled with focus. And focus is scarce in our culture. For me I decompress and do my mental hygiene, clearing my mind and meditating. A lot of my patients their mind clearing is actually mind numbing. They will go home drop on the couch and binge watch shows on TV. That’s not mental floss, that’s mental pollution working it’s way in and so your decompression ritual is actually dirty. If you had a clean decompression for clean mental hygiene what would that look like. It’s breathing, it’s chanting, it’s praying, it’s humming, there is a lot of ways to do it but watching TV ain’t one of them.

Dr. Aviva Romm
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Adaptogens are an amazing class of herbs that were originally studied in the Soviet Union. There was a whole program to try to increase endurance, resilience, and productivity from workers, military, athletes, and cosmonauts. It was found that this group of herbs, which interestingly are some of what are called the kings and queens of herbs and part of this herbal tradition like Ayurvedic Medicine. It has ashwagandha, holy basil or tulsi, Chinese Medicine has ginseng in Russia their traditional medicine was Siberian ginseng. These herbs were actually found to do all these things, improve stamina, increase endurance, boost immunity and regulate productivity by helping us to have better cognitive function and better long term performance. As science kind of got a better understanding of where these benefits were coming from it turned out that what they were doing is modulating that HPA axis, they modulate the stress response from the brain all the way to the adrenals. The adaptogens can help promote sleep, they can reduce that tired and wired feeling and they can help you have more energy when you wake up in the morning. There are many of these herbs and one of the beautiful qualities of adaptogens is an herb has to be non-toxic and non-specific, it has to help the whole body not just an organ, it’s helping the whole body to respond.

Natalie Jill
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I am a fan of using your own body weight, you can gauge and increase your own intensity and progress, your own exercise to really challenge yourself.

Natalie did a wonderful presentation of simple and very different exercises anyone can do without any equipment. Explaining what she did does not work, you have to see it. I have linked her web page and her video page for you to get more information. I would not have included her if I wasn’t impressed.

The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment from a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems you may be experiencing.

M. Scherker medical researcher