We know that hormones mediate many systems in our body, from growth and development, to healthy weight, and sleep.
When it comes to behavior hormones do not cause changes in behavior, but rather affect behavior by influencing our systems regulated by various hormones.
Hormone influence on these systems help change the probability that a particular behavior or function will happen in the appropriate situation.
The thyroid is known as our master gland and regulates most of the major functions in our bodies.
It produces the hormones that regulate metabolism, helps maintain healthy weight, sleep, eating, regulates behavior, mood, and our overall immunity.
Think about it - if one of these systems were to become off-balance, wouldn’t it be logical to consider the connection to the thyroid so that we wouldn’t make the mistake of treating the symptom and not looking to the root cause?
Too often a person goes in with symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, low energy, appetite irregularities, and depression and walks out with a prescription for an antidepressant.
Thyroid Testing and Mental Health:
Conventional Testing and Missing Links:
The standard thyroid test typically only measures for one hormone.
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) rather than all five of the thyroid hormones.
Hormones can be either protein bound or free.
Conventional testing rarely looks at free hormone levels.
Free hormones are thyroid hormones in the blood that are not bound to proteins.
So, why is that important?
Free hormone levels reflect the amount available to bind to receptors.
Only free hormones can bind to receptors and have an impact on metabolic rate.
Another screening often left out is the testing for thyroid antibodies - indicators of an autoimmune disease.
Antibodies are proteins made by our immune system to fight off pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
Sometimes these antibodies attack the body’s own cells, tissues, and organs by mistake.
When thyroid antibodies attack healthy thyroid cells, it can lead to an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid.
The standard test of only our TSH can be very limited and lead to misdiagnosed cases.
For example, results may show TSH within normal ranges even though the thyroid antibodies are elevated.
This has major relevance to those suffering from mood, anxiety, and problems with cognition.
Clearly not testing for all markers can lead to the potential wrong diagnosis and therefore treatment plan.
Adrenals and Mental Health:
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and are key organs to our ‘stress response’ system.
They produce their own hormones and respond to stimuli from the brain via messenger hormones.
The brain controls adrenal gland output through the HPA axis loop.
When this signal happens the adrenals produce the stress hormone cortisol - which is tied to the thyroid.
A key factor to why stress has a direct impact on the thyroid and mood.
Through a negative feedback loop cortisol regulates its own production (over production or shutting down).
Chronic activation of the stress response contributes to cortisol resistance (this occurs throughout the body and not just the HPA axis loop).
Cortisol output might be high or even normal, but a person can experience conditions of low cortisol activity throughout the body.
HPA axis dysfunction/cortisol resistance can create decreased mental and physical levels, fatigue, irritability, depression, poor immune function, inability to manage daily functions, and memory loss to name a few.
Long term stress has far reaching effects.
Any measure to restore the thyroid cannot ignore the adrenals.
Thyroid patients often times show abnormal adrenal output.
When connecting our physiological systems and our mental health we can truly come to appreciate, as well as see the relevance of the interconnectedness shared between all systems and the importance of getting to the root cause and not merely treating symptoms blindly.
Tying the Thyroid and Adrenals Together:
Untreated, undiagnosed or mismanaged, hypothyroidism (thyroid does not produce enough hormone) can overtime lead to increases in cortisol production.
When chronic, this can lead to symptoms of sleep issues, weight gain, increased blood pressure, blood sugar dysregulation, brain fog, mood swings, anxiety, and fatigue.
Additionally, an inflammatory response occurs when chronic stress is not managed, disrupting the HPA axis pathway in our brain which controls the hormones in our body including thyroid hormones.
Tying these together - chronic high cortisol can cause our thyroid hormone production to go up and low cortisol can cause thyroid production to go down.
Over the past three blogs, we have learned and discovered the systematic relationship that our body so intelligently operates by and how signals of symptoms are our body’s way of communicating underlying root causes.
Now that you have a better understanding of how the body works, doesn’t it make more sense that symptoms of depression can be managed, avoided, and put to rest by taking a whole-body approach?
Join me next month as we learn the importance of incorporating food, movement, and environment factors.
All components of our biological design.