by Dr. Isabel Sharkar
Your adrenal glands are part of your endocrine system and they produce hormones that regulate your blood pressure, electrolyte balance, blood sugar, immune response and digestion. Both your adrenals and thyroid are regulated by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. When emotional, mental or physical stress is experienced, your hypothalamus releases a chemical that signals your pituitary gland to signal your adrenal glands to produce and release stress hormones. Cortisol is one of these stress hormones.
When your body experiences stress, the cascade of stress hormones is triggered. Functions like digestion, immune response, thyroid hormone production and distribution are put on hold until the stress has surpassed. However, with chronic stress well on the rise, our bodies are constantly bombarded with stressors. Consequently, chronic stress floods our bodies with cortisol until our adrenals give out, chronic fatigue sets in and our thyroid function slows down.
Stress hormones negatively impact the thyroid gland by signaling the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to slow down. They also affect the enzymes that convert thyroid hormones from active to inactive, eventually leading to hypothyroid symptoms. These same stress hormones cause cytokines, inflammatory immune cells, to be released, which cause the thyroid receptors to be less sensitive to thyroid hormones. No wonder so many of us have hypothyroidism.
Stress also causes inflammation and suppresses the immune system, which consequently triggers latent viral infections and potentially autoimmune thyroid disease. As if that weren’t bad enough, leaky gut follows because the primary barriers of the immune system, like the gut, are compromised. Via molecular mimicry, leaky gut allows foods like gluten and dairy into your bloodstream causing potential trigger attacks on your thyroid.
Surely you’ve heard that stress affects the body, now you have a better understanding of exactly how stress affects your adrenals, thyroid gland and your immune system. Hopefully by becoming more aware of when you are feeling stressed, you will choose to opt for stress-reducing techniques. Meditation, restorative yoga, deep breathing, Heart Math, ecstatic dance, self-hypnosis, baths, nature walks, listening to soft gentle music and adult coloring or painting are all wonderful ways to relax and de-stress. Remember, we are all human beings—not human doings and life is to be enjoyed.
Isabel Sharkar, ND, is a licensed naturopathic physician and co-owner of Indigo Integrative Health Clinic, in Georgetown. For more information, call 202-298-9131 or visit IndigoHealthClinic.com.