The Relationship Between Stress and Thyroid Health

Stress and Thyroid Health

By Caitlan Gignac, ND and Jennifer Jewell-Larsen, ND

Have you ever had one of those days where you’re feeling off, but can’t quite put your finger on why? Maybe you’re more tired than usual, struggling to keep warm, or just can’t seem to focus.

Believe it or not, your thyroid could be the behind-the-scenes player in how you’re feeling. This little butterfly-shaped gland in your neck has a big job, controlling your metabolism, growth, and how your body uses energy. When it’s not working right, it can throw a wrench into your whole system.

Thyroid Basics 101

So, let’s talk about the thyroid. This little gland, despite its size, has a mighty role in our body. It keeps our metabolism chugging, helps us grow, regulates our body temperature, digestion, energy levels, and even how sharp our minds feel.

However, when stress is high and things go sideways, it doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.  Your thyroid can either go into overdrive or not do enough. And trust me, neither is fun.

Hypothyroidism vs Hyperthyroidism: What’s the Deal?

If your thyroid is not producing enough juice, that’s hypothyroidism. It’s like your body’s on slow-mo—everything from your metabolism to your energy levels takes a hit. You might feel super tired, start gaining weight, feel the cold more, get constipated, have dry skin, lose hair, feel foggy in the brain, or have wonky menstrual cycles.

On the flip side, if your thyroid’s working overtime, that’s hyperthyroidism. Your metabolism hits the fast-forward button. You might lose weight, have a racing or irregular heartbeat, feel too hot, have difficulty sleeping, sweat a bunch, have loose stools, or feel anxious.

Both these thyroid hiccups are figured out by discussing your symptoms and running lab tests. A thorough check-up, including TSH, free T4 and free T3 at the least,  can give a good picture of what’s going on.

So what does stress have to do with thyroid function?

Let’s dive deeper into the relationship between stress and thyroid health.

Firstly, what exactly is stress?

It is a natural response to a perceived threat or challenge, triggering a cascade of physiological changes in our bodies. When this happens, our adrenal glands release cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”. In small doses, cortisol can be beneficial as it helps us cope with daily challenges. However, when we experience chronic stress, your bodies can be continuously flooded with cortisol, which can have detrimental effects on your health.

Now you may wonder how stress affects the thyroid.

Well, it all comes down to the intricate communication between two important systems in our body – the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis.  

The HPA axis is responsible for regulating our stress response, while the HPT axis is in charge of controlling our thyroid hormones. When we are under chronic stress, the HPA axis becomes overactive, leading to an increased production of cortisol. This excess cortisol can disrupt the delicate balance of the HPT axis and lead to a decrease in thyroid hormone production.

Moreover, stress also affects the conversion of inactive thyroid hormone (T4) into active thyroid hormone (T3). Chronic stress can slow down this conversion process or divert T4 into inactive reverse T3, leaving us with lower levels of free T3, the end product of the thyroid system which is essential for energy production and metabolism.

Stress, Thyroid, and You.  

Many notice thyroid dysfunction symptoms when they’re stressed. Sinking through the floor fatigue, weight gain, depression to name a few.  It’s not just in your head, experiencing high stress can mess with your thyroid’s function.

When you’re stressed, your body pumps out more cortisol, turning on the “fight or flight response”. 

This can throw off your thyroid system balance and change the way you produce and use thyroid hormones. Plus, stress can even trigger autoimmune diseases, like Hashimotos and Graves Disease, which cause the body to attack the thyroid and lead to hypothyroid and hyperthyroid.  Even if you know you have thyroid disease and it’s well controlled, a lot of stress can  still push your thyroid out of balance.

Chill Out for Your Thyroid.  

Managing stress isn’t just good advice; it’s vital for your thyroid.

And it doesn’t have to be a chore. Simple things like taking a short break to focus on your breathing and clear your mind, enjoying a quiet moment alone, getting good sleep, moving your body, or spending time outdoors can make a big difference.

Finding small ways to reduce stress can help your thyroid stay in check.

Eat Right, Feel Bright. 

What we eat can either help or hinder our thyroid and how we handle stress. Regular meals packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats keep our blood sugar stable and support our nervous system. Nutrients like iodine, selenium, zinc, tyrosine, and Vitamin D are thyroid MVPs. For stress, think B vitamins, Vitamin C, and magnesium. Foods like seaweed, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, avocado, citrus fruits, almonds, and chicken are great choices. If you’re dealing with autoimmune thyroid issues, cutting out gluten can help too.

In short, stress can really do a number on your thyroid.

But with some manageable lifestyle and diet changes, we can support our thyroid and keep our bodies feeling good. Remember, you’ve got the power to make a difference in your health, and it starts with understanding and taking care of that little thyroid gland.

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Dr. Caitlan Gignac, ND San Jose Naturopath

Dr. Caitlan Gignac
Naturopathic Doctor San Jose

Dr. Jennifer Jewell-Larsen, San Jose Naturopath

Dr. Jennifer Jewel-Larsen
Naturopathic Doctor San Jose


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