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Why Poorly Managed Hypothyroidism Can Lead to Adrenal Fatigue

A photo of a person laying face down on the bed under the sheets with their feet showing from the bottom edge of the bed.

Last week, I talked about how chronic stress can increase the risk for hypothyroidism.

What is Adrenal Fatigue/Insufficiency? 

Today, I want to talk about how poorly managed or untreated hypothyroidism can cause adrenal fatigue or insufficiency.

Adrenal fatigue or insufficiency occurs when the body is not able to respond appropriately to stressors it faces on a daily basis.

I talk about stress – a lot. It’s because the more I learn, the more I realize we really don’t understand stress very well AND we underestimate how powerful it is.

When we deal with a stressful situation that lasts for 10 minutes, the adrenal glands quickly kick in and produce adrenaline and cortisol. These are hormones that mobilize to get the heart pumping, raise sugar levels in the blood, and get large muscle groups (i.e. your legs) prepared to work fast. Because despite the advancement mankind has made, our biology is still very primal.

During this process, the body also:

  • Makes the brain more alert
  • Shuts down digestion (because why would you want to think about eating when you’re running away from a bear?)
  • Reduces reproductive function/libido (stay alive or reproduce? The body always chooses to stay alive!)
  • Suppresses the immune system
  • Alters how we perceive pain

Once the danger is gone, our body is designed to quickly turn off the stress response and go back to the rest and digest mode.

However, when we deal with stress chronically, our body is never able to truly shut off the stress response and recover. Which means, all the changes that happen in the body in response to stress stay “on” for long periods of time.

This is where adrenal insufficiency comes in. The adrenals eventually become fatigued and are no longer able to make the stress hormones. Which is why sometimes people end up having to supplement with cortisol!

Hypothyroidism & Adrenal Fatigue

So how is adrenal insufficiency or fatigue related to hypothyroidism?
Remember when I said that the liver’s ability to store sugar heavily influences how well the body can activate thyroid hormone? Well, the relationship is mutual because thyroid hormone also influences how well the liver can store sugar. 

Why is this important? Because it essentially means that we need thyroid hormone to regulate blood sugar properly. Low blood sugar is probably the single biggest threat the body faces on a daily basis. It’s why the body has not one, but multiple back-up systems to get sugar in the blood.

The first thing the body does when demand for energy goes up is use the sugar in the blood, which serves as a reservoir. This quickly becomes depleted, so the body kicks into Plan B and Plan C.

Plan B is the liver. If the liver has enough sugar stored away, it will be able to release it into the blood when blood sugar drops. 

But as we discussed above, an individual with hypothyroidism has a harder time storing sugar in the liver. So what happens when Plan B doesn’t work or work long enough?

The body taps into Plan C: stress hormones. The problem is that hypothyroid individuals are constantly using Plan C to handle the daily stresses of life. Especially if they aren’t using nutrition to support their thyroid health.

Chronic use of Plan C to deal with dips in blood sugar and demands on the body can lead to adrenal fatigue or insufficiency.

Recap

What’s the best way to support your liver’s ability to store sugar, if you have (or don’t have) hypothyroidism?

Blood sugar regulation!! People often think that blood sugar regulation is only for individuals with pre-diabetes or diabetes. But, as I said earlier, the more I learn, the more I realize how simple health concepts are so underrated!! Blood sugar regulation is literally the one aspect of nutrition that makes a significant impact on so many areas of health, from thyroid, diabetes, to even mental health.

My blog post on blood sugar regulation has some great tips on how to get started.


If you are struggling with hypothyroidism, schedule a FREE 30-minute information call here. We’ll talk about your health and how I can help! 

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