Unrelenting stress. Trouble sleeping. Crazy cravings. Low libido. Brain fog. Stubborn weight gain. Anxiety or depression.
Do these sound familiar? These don’t have to be your secret shame anymore! You are not alone!
These are all symptoms of thyroid dysfunction that I hear women describe constantly. The root cause of many thyroid problems is stress and deregulation in your hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Imbalance could be causing hormonal chaos in your body and expressing itself in many undesirable symptoms, particularly related to the health of your thyroid.
Empowering women has always been my mission with specific knowledge and education on how your body works so that you are equipped with the know-how to advocate for yourself.
Healing yourself is possible, but you may need a team of professionals to help you navigate the nitty-gritty behind the root cause. So, let’s begin!
HPA AXIS AND YOUR THYROID
Although many people may be quick to blame only chronic stress and adrenals for these symptoms, the root cause could be deeper. You need to consider that your HPA axis might be driving your chronic fatigue and leading to adrenal fatigue.
What is the HPA axis? The “HPA” stands for Hypothamamic-Pituitary-Adrenal. These parts of your body all interact with your thyroid to help manage your stress response, among other things.
If you are dealing with this, just as I was, you might be on the path towards a Hashimoto’s thyroiditis diagnosis.
The HPA axis houses the control room for many different hormones in your body. Your pituitary gland and hypothalamus are what stimulate the thyroid to function properly.
When you face stress, whether physical, mental, or emotional, your body activates the adrenal glands and releases cortisol. This cortisol then provides feedback to your brain that it is time to enter survival mode, which means your body stops all “unnecessary” processes from digestion to reproduction…and including your healthy thyroid function.
CORTISOL = STRESS
The relationship between cortisol (from your adrenals) and thyroid hormones work as a seesaw, constantly working with each other to find that perfect balance for you as an individual.
Your body is designed to handle short-term stress by releasing cortisol and entering “fight-or-flight” mode and then quickly resolving the process back to balance on that fulcrum.
The problem enters when you are chronically stressed, tipping that seesaw to one side and struggling to rebalance. This long-term effect has serious and detrimental effects on your hormones, which cannot keep the equilibrium that your body needs.
Among other things, cortisol raises your heart rate, causes a spike in blood sugar, and depletes your happy brain chemicals like serotonin. This can disrupt your sleep patterns, slow your metabolism (hello, inner-tube weight gain), and cause fatigue and sugar cravings. Cortisol also signals your hypothalamus and pituitary gland to slow down, which decreases how much they stimulate your thyroid, leading to decreased thyroid hormones in your body and potential hypothyroidism.
Your thyroid produces hormones that are used by every cell in your body. Maintaining a delicate balance of the main thyroid hormones T3 and T4 is what keeps your body in homeostasis.
T4 is the hormone produced directly by the thyroid, which your body converts to active (or free) T3 to put to use. When you are stressed, your body does not follow this normal pattern, but instead, turns the T4 into inactive Reverse T3 (RT3), which your body cannot use. The result? Your systems slow down.
Cytokines are chemicals that your body produces in times of stress. They can prevent receptors in your cells from using thyroid hormones efficiently, as well as increase your inflammation, bringing all kinds of unpleasant symptoms. Inflammation is a huge problem that can damage your thyroid and make you more likely to develop Hashimoto’s disease, but it doesn’t just end in your thyroid. Inflammation can spread to other areas of your body, including joints, muscles, and even your brain. And this is no speedy process…it creeps up over time and takes even longer to eradicate.
Elevated cortisol levels and hypothyroidism have been linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and overall poor brain function, which can explain the fog that so many of us feel like we are in when our system is unbalanced. Fatigue, sleep problems, the weight you just can’t lose, cravings, and decreased sex drive are all normal things to be feeling when your system is in chaos.
But that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way! When I realized that stress was slowly destroying me, I knew I had to make some serious lifestyle changes. Acknowledging that there is a problem and taking the time for self-care is the start of your healthcare journey!
The Self-Care Journey
Here are a few things that I did to regain control and get myself back to health. Adopting some of these practices can help you become the CEO of your healthcare and achieve even more than you can imagine!
#1 – Crush Those Cravings
When cortisol stimulates your body to start making insulin, those blood sugar spike slow down your pituitary gland. Blood sugar fluctuations can really deteriorate your thyroid gland and lead to hypothyroid symptoms if not addressed. It is important to make sure you are limiting sugary foods, even if that is what your body is telling you that you want, and start fueling yourself with quality proteins and lots and lots of veggies to balance your blood sugar.
Essential oils can help bridge the gap here by naturally reducing cravings, like one of my favorite on-the-go rollerball blends:
Crave Control Rollerball Blend
Add essential oils to a 10 ml glass rollerball bottle. Top off with fractionated coconut oil. Replace cap and lid, and swirl to combine. Roll on your palms, cup your hands over your nose and mouth, and inhale deeply 3-5 times to crush those sugar cravings!
#2 – Cut the Inflammation
Inflammation in your gut can cause constant stress on your body. A couple of things that could be causing gut inflammation are eating foods you are sensitive to (especially gluten) and having an unhealthy gut microbiome.
If you are feeling any of the symptoms mentioned in this blog and think your stress levels and thyroid could be the culprit, try cutting out gluten for 6-8 weeks to see if it makes a difference. And I mean completely — no gluten of any kind, and it lurks in all kinds of places!
One bite of gluten can set you back 6-8 weeks of healing, so give it a try. In a few weeks, you will notice a difference, but it takes a good 6-8 weeks to heal.
Studies have found a direct link between gluten sensitivity, brain function, and hormone balance, so it would be worth investigating! The gliadin molecule in gluten closely resembles the thyroid molecule, so eating gluten when you have an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s where your immune system is already attacking thyroid molecules can exacerbate the Hashimoto’s symptoms.
Having a healthy gut microbiome can also help level out your HPA axis. When those bacteria that live in your intestines are unhealthy, it can really stress out your system. Try taking a quality probiotic and eating fermented foods to help yourself heal.
#3 – Restful Sleep
One of the best ways you can take care of yourself is by making sure you are getting enough rest! Sleep is key to helping your body reach homeostasis. When you are stressed, your internal clock is affected by your HPA axis.
The issues you are facing with metabolism, autoimmunity, and mental health could all have some root in your natural rhythms being thrown off. Check out my Sleeping for Your Hormones blog series for more helpful information and tips to get you back on track!
#4 – Destress Your Mess
Calming your stress is the primary thing you need to do to balance your HPA axis. I love my daily rituals that help to ground, calm, and refresh me. It can be as simple as doing things every day that brings you joy!
I give many examples of these rituals in my best-selling book, The Essential Oils Hormone Solution, and I often share some ideas on Instagram (@drmariza), so check those out if you need some inspiration.
Essential oils are a huge part of my daily self-care and here is a great blend you can have on hand to help you keep your calm:
Stress Relief Rollerball Blend
Add essential oils to a 10 ml glass rollerball bottle and top off with fractionated coconut oil. Replace cap and lid, and swirl to combine. To use, apply to the back of neck, temples, wrists, and behind your ears for instant calming of stressful feelings.
#5 – Reframe Your Thinking
You deserve to be well.
Let that sink in for a minute.
You don’t have to just live with being stressed all the time! If you are dealing with any of the multitudes of hypothyroid symptoms, it could be time to take stock of your stress and make some positive lifestyle changes to get yourself back.
Because you deserve it.
You do all the things for all the people all of the time…. you know you do. Now it is time to do something for yourself so that you can give others the best YOU that you have to give! Love yourself by identifying where your issues lie and working towards a solution.
You can do it because I did!