Thyroid Dysfunction as a Cause of Adrenal Fatigue

The thyroid gland, which is located right below your voice box, is an important part of the adrenal system that produces the hormones thyroxine (also called T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones regulate body temperature; they're also intricately responsible for how well your cells do their jobs, including their chemical reactions and interactions with other cells.

How well the cells and organs in your body perform these functions is referred to as the body's metabolic rate. Regulation of the body's metabolism maintains the integrity of your cells, tissues, and body systems.

Graves’ disease, which is an autoimmune condition, is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid). Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) is much more prevalent in the United States than hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism is very common in women in their 30s and 40s, and the most common cause is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

Being diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis dramatically increases your risk of developing other autoimmune conditions. In 2010, the American Journal of Medicine reported the results of a questionnaire that looked at several hundred patients diagnosed with either Graves’ disease or Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Researchers found that approximately 10 percent of those diagnosed with Graves’ disease had another autoimmune condition.

Among the patients diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, approximately 14 percent had another autoimmune condition. The most frequently reported condition in this study was rheumatoid arthritis.

Other conditions seen with increasing frequency included lupus; pernicious anemia, an autoimmune cause of B12 deficiency; vitiligo, an autoimmune condition affecting the skin; celiac disease; and Addison's disease, an autoimmune condition that can cause your adrenal glands to fail abruptly — think of it as adrenal shock requiring life-saving administration of steroids intravenously.

Here are symptoms of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism:

  • Hyperthyroidism: A thyroid gland that's overactive or hyperfunctioning (producing too much thyroid hormone) can lead to high body temperatures, fast heart rate, diarrhea, intolerance to heat, and heart issues, including cardiac arrhythmias.

  • Hypothyroidism: A thyroid gland that's underactive or producing too little thyroid hormone can produce symptoms of low body temperature, intolerance to cold, weight gain, fatigue, and lethargy.

Because the thyroid produces hormones, it's part of the body's endocrine system. A thyroid gland that isn't working well can affect the other organs that it interacts with, namely the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.

The traditional treatments for hyperthyroidism include the use of beta blockers to decrease some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism as well as medications such as propylthiouracil (PTU), which decreases the production of thyroid hormone. Depending on the cause of hyperthyroidism (there are several), an endocrinologist may order a special radioactive iodine test; this form of iodine can destroy thyroid tissue.

The traditional treatments for hypothyroidism include the prescription medication levothyroxine (Synthroid). However, you should be aware that there are other treatment options. One example is the use of another form of thyroid hormone called Armour Thyroid, which has higher amount of T3 compared to T4.

The inclusion of iodine and trace minerals, including selenium, is important for supporting thyroid function. Be sure to speak with your healthcare practitioner to find out whether another option would be right for you.

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