If thyroid hormone is not being produced as it should be, then nothing works properly—including the adrenals—and the situation is compounded by the fact that a low thyroid output is a stress-inducing situation. For the system to cope with not enough thyroid hormone, the adrenals are obliged to produce increased levels of cortisol. This may work well for a considerable period of time if the thyroid deficiency is relatively mild, but it will slowly worsen when the adrenals are called upon to further compensate for the stress this produces. Eventually the adrenals will cope less well and the continuing strain will cause adrenal exhaustion.
Your general health, nutrition, lifestyle and other life stresses all play a part, including the length of time the thyroid problem has gone on for and how bad it has become. We have found radioactive iodine thyroid treatment or surgery to be a particular problem for the adrenals.
Another very real problem is incorrect treatment. Supplementary thyroid hormone can itself cause stress if the system cannot cope with it; it is even possible to trigger a thyroid/adrenal crisis and collapse if the wrong dose is given and the need to provide adrenal support is ignored—that is, without first ensuring that the adrenals can cope with the strain. Indeed, it is possible that using thyroxine when the patient cannot convert it properly can cause a full adrenal crisis, which may be fatal.
Thyroid hormones require processing in the body; the chief one, thyroxine (T4), has to be converted into the active thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3) via the action of 5’-deiodinase enzymes. With low adrenal reserve, this reaction doesn’t proceed as it should, and the body may become toxic with unused/unusable T4.
And the problem doesn’t end there. T3 has to be taken up by receptors in the cell wall to pass into the cell. This intake is degraded in adrenal insufficiency; the receptors may become dormant or resistant and even disappear. In this case, even when T3 is available, it cannot be used properly and may become toxic as it builds up. This shows how important the adrenal glands are and, equally, how important it is to provide adrenal support when low adrenal reserve is present.
In fact, the failure of thyroid supplementation to restore normal health may well be largely down to an adrenal problem. But this is hardly ever considered by physicians, who often don’t recognize low adrenal reserve and may even miss the diagnosis of established Addison’s disease.
Adrenal insufficiency should always be considered when beginning treatment. Failure to respond to thyroid supplementation or feeling worse after taking it is likely to reflect a low adrenal reserve syndrome. But it’s not difficult to keep your adrenals in optimal health and provide support when there’s damage.
Symptoms of low adrenal reserve
- Weight loss
- Poor response to thyroxine
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Bowel upset/diarrhea
- Sensitivity to cold/heat
- Fainting attacks
- Cold sweats
- Poor response to infections
- Repeated infections
- Generalized muscle weakness
- General depression/anxiety
- Memory loss/confusion
- Back/loin pain
- Autoimmune disease
- Poor exercise tolerance
- Hissing in ears
- Internal shivering
- Aches/pains in muscles/joints
- Waking at night with anxiety or a sense of doom
What Doctors Don’t Tell You
The key objective to this article is that if you’re being treated for your thyroid and have seen little improvement maybe it isn’t your thyroid. Hypo adrenal symptoms and hypothyroid symptoms have a tendency to mirror image each other. It’s important to work with the right doctors who can tell the difference. Dr. J
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