Stress- related health concerns are the most common reasons patients visit their doctors. Experienced physicians understand that stress is at the root cause of some of the most prevalent health concerns. For many people, stress is chronic and long term, which can really take a toll on a person’s health and psychological wellbeing. To better understand the role of stress in disease, researchers conducted an animal study in 2018 to explore how stress can lead to thyroid dysfunction specifically, both directly and indirectly.
Hypothyroidism can be caused by a variety of factors, such as autoimmune disorders, nutrient deficiencies, or environmental toxin exposure. Chronic stress is also acknowledged as one of the underlying causes of thyroid hormone dysfunction. But interestingly, there may also be a connection between stress-related dysfunction in other organs, such as the gastrointestinal tract, and thyroid hormone deficiency.
To find clues, researchers induced ulcerative colitis (UC)- a condition that can be triggered by stress- in mice to see how thyroid hormone levels reacted. Inflammation, related to UC, was detected in the GI system, which led to an alteration of the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis (the feedback mechanism for regulating thyroid hormone levels). As a result, T3 and T4 thyroid hormones were greatly reduced. Researchers hypothesized that this decline in thyroid hormones could subsequently cause a chain reaction, leading to dysfunction in additional organs.
Scientists know that thyroid deficiency can cause disruption in gastrointestinal function, but this new data indicates that it might be bidirectional. Stress on the gastrointestinal system- in the form of ulcerative colitis- can also trigger thyroid dysfunction. It’s possible that other GI imbalances, such as irritable bowel syndrome, microbiome imbalances, and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) could also be a source of thyroid dysfunction.
It’s important to remember that imbalances in one part of the body can cause problems elsewhere. When treating hypothyroidism, it’s helpful to assess these interrelationships in order to identify the root cause of a thyroid imbalance.
Zhang J, Huang J, et al. Thyroid dysfunction, neurological disorder and immunosuppression as the consequences of long-term combined stress. Sci Rep. 2018 Mar 14;8(1):4552