Stress and its Effects on the Thyroid

stress and thyroid

Are you under stress and feel as though your metabolism is slowing down?

Your thyroid may be affected as a response to chronic stress.


When we are under prolonged levels of stress we will begin to experience multiple system issues, one of these is a change in our metabolism and consequent weight gain particularly around our midsection. We may also begin to feel puffy and fatigued. Due to the complexity of the thyroid I have only looked at a snap shot on what may be happening to your thyroid as a result of chronic stress.

Essentially under the stress response, fight or flight, our thyroid hormone conversion is going to be down- regulated to peripheral tissues. This is a normal response to threat. It should only be short lived. When the stress response becomes chronic and we are experiencing high levels of stress daily we begin to experience more dysfunction in the body leading to various symptoms, inflammation, disorders, and disease.

Often this is when you may begin to expect something is wrong with your metabolism, you may be gaining weight and feeling tired without changing your diet. You may visit the Doctor and have blood tests done.  In the earlier stages of dysfunction you may be symptomatic however your pathology does not reflect a thyroid issue, your blood test may show a normal TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and T4. This can leave you feeling confused about what is really going on with your body as the bloods appear to be normal. Testing TSH, however, does not represent the thyroid hormone status of all the peripheral cells, it represents T3 in the pituitary. In stress situations T3 is upregulated to pituitary and downregulated to peripheral cells.

Due to the lack of supporting evidence you may be told to eat less and exercise more as a way of controlling your symptoms. This may increase the stress response/Cell Danger Response (CDR). If the stressful state continues then a weight struggle persists, often for years, before the next phase happens and you start to develop an autoimmune attack on your thyroid. Regular blood tests do not detect thyroid antibodies so this can go undetected as bloods will still appear to be normal. You once again may be told the same thing- to eat less, exercise more and look at managing stress through referral, stress management techniques and possible medication.

Eventually if stress remains unresolved phase III kicks in. This is when the autoimmune / immune response creates so much damage to the thyroid that the gland can no longer make enough hormone to support the pituitary gland, TSH will rise and T4 will drop below lab range. Pathology tests will now show that there is a thyroid issue. Unfortunately it is now a chronic problem.

Due to the complexity of the chronic stress response and how it effects other body systems it is important that you seek good advice on managing your return to optimal health. As a nutritional medicine practitioner I can work with you and your Doctor to find out the best approach that will work for you.

If you feel like some further very technical reading you can search “Cell Danger Response”, and you will find an amazing paper that explains the CDR.

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