I am often asked if the adrenals are important in relation to the thyroid. My answer is YES- very important! For such a small pair of organs, the adrenal glands have a lot of influence over our entire wellbeing. They are part of the endocrine system, a collection of tiny organs that work in concert to control the production and secretion of the chemical messengers produced in our body. Some of these include hormones and neurotransmitters, which send signals and instructions to different parts of our body. Similar to the conductor of an orchestra, who signals certain players on or off in order to make beautiful music, the endocrine system signals individual organs to work efficiently as a whole. But instead of making music, endocrine signals control our mood, sex drive, energy level, metabolism, and more!
The adrenals are the part of the endocrine system which is particularly sensitive to stress. They produce low levels of cortisol as part of our daily rhythm, but surges in response to stressful moments to help the body react quickly, such as in a “fight or flight” situation. Cortisol is meant to be used sparingly, but when we subject the adrenals to constant stress and strain, it forces cortisol levels up for long periods of time. Some of the detrimental effects of excess cortisol are weight gain, high blood sugar levels, immune suppression, and eventually adrenal fatigue. Excess cortisol can also hinder the conversion of T4 to T3, resulting in thyroid symptoms.
When under stress for the long term, the adrenals trudge along as best they can, until they finally tire out and can no longer produce enough cortisol for normal daily function. That’s the stage when people really become aware that something is wrong. They simply feel like they ran out of gas.
When the adrenals reach this level of fatigue, the effect sweeps through the rest of the endocrine system. The conductor can no longer keep his orchestra working in concert to produce beautiful music. All of the endocrine glands are affected, especially the thyroid, so symptoms of low body temperature, fatigue, and weight gain may occur (even despite “normal” lab tests!). This is why I recommend getting the adrenal glands back in shape while working on restoring thyroid balance.
Putting on the Brakes
What’s the best way to support the adrenals and ultimately the thyroid? In addition to a lot of lifestyle adjustments, which we discussed in this previous blog, you might consider trying adaptogenic herbs. This unique class of herbs do what they suggest- help the body “adapt” to stress. They don’t push the body in one direction or another, but they help glands find their balance. They gently support how the adrenals handle stress and function properly. The herbs don’t take effect instantly, so plan on taking adaptogenic herbs continuously for a few months. The results you will experience are more stable energy levels, better stamina, healthy immune function and a calm nervous system. As the adrenals improve, body temperature may even normalize.
Some of the herbs in the family of “adaptogens” include those from Eastern medicines, such as ashwagandha , astragalus, and eleuthero. These herbs have a wide range of actions and are used by Eastern practitioners for a variety of reasons, but their common thread is being gentle and safe. They offer a balancing effect that is advantageous when the endocrine system is out of whack. For example, they can help maintain a good energy level, but don’t make you wired or overstimulated, like a caffeine-boost would.
Stress is an almost unavoidable phenomenon in American life, but you can help protect yourself from damage with some lifestyle adjustments and herb and nutrient support. I’ll be discussing this topic more in my blog next week!