If you have been trying to eat a healthy diet, or find that your attempts to eat a healthy diet are sabotaged by cravings for carbohydrates and sweet snacks, there could be an imbalance in your hormones.
Your thyroid and adrenal glands are important for helping to balance weight, mood, cravings, energy, hormones, digestion and much more ….
If they are out of balance this will lead to many different health conditions, yet all the usual blood tests can come back “fine”.
When I consult with clients the majority of people experience at least one of five common health complaints, and quite commonly people experience more than one of these symptoms and sometimes all five.
The most common health complaints are:
And these are often caused by adrenal fatigue and thyroid function.
When you experience any of these symptoms you don’t feel fantastic but a visit to the doctor and some routine blood tests don’t show up that anything is wrong.
Commonly people are just told “everything is fine” or “your getting old” and recommended to take anti-depressants, HRT. eat less/ exercise more or some other advice you have already tried.
These common symptoms can affect the quality of your life, your relationships and lead to many other health issues so it is important to get to the cause …. which maybe your adrenal or thyroid glands.
The two main areas that create health problems or stop people feeling their best is your hormones and digestive function; today we are going to focus on the hormones and how they influence how we feel.
You have many different hormones which are vital for your body to function efficiently. Some of these include adrenal hormones, thyroid hormones, sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone as well as hormones that regulate appetite like leptin and grhelin.
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and are important for controlling stress and inflammation.
The hormones that they produce include adrenaline and nor-adrenaline, cortisol and DHEA. Also Aldosterone which is important for controlling fluid and blood pressure.
Not all stress is bad and small amounts of stress can be good for us. But when chronic stress – caused by long work hours, emotional stress, over training, dietary stresses such as gluten, poor sleep habits, pain and inflammation – gets out of control this leads to problems with the adrenals.
The best way to test adrenal function is the DUTCH hormone test – these results can help work out the best way to treat, and to address the underlying cause.
When the adrenals are under stress they inhibit thyroid function, in particular the conversion of T4 to T3 which is the active form of your thyroid hormone, this also leads to an increase in reverse T3 which is an inactive form.
A normal blood test done by your GP will not pick this up, as they are only testing for TSH, and this is often normal.
Its important to do a full thyroid test that includes TSH, T4, T3, RT3 and the thyroid antibodies.
Sometimes you can have normal levels of hormones but your antibodies are high, this is an indicator that you are developing an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s.
Early identification of high antibodies can help with treatment through diet and nutrition to prevent thyroid problems developing.
Cortisol is a glucocorticosteroid and one of its major functions is to work with insulin to keep your blood sugar stable. If cortisol is out of balance you will store body fat rather than burn fat for fuel easily. This is how someone can reduce their calories and do lots of exercise, but still not lose weight due to problems with their adrenals.
It’s a similar story with the thyroid gland, if you are not able to produce enough T3 or if you have high antibodies this will have an affect on your metabolism. This makes it difficult to do exercise through lack of energy and motivation, and your ability to burn calories for fuel is impaired leading to weight gain.
One of the most common causes of fatigue is adrenal exhaustion. It is one of the most common symptoms I see with clients – this means that due to long periods of stress your cortisol levels have become depleted.
The three main causes of stress are emotional, dietary and pain/ inflammation. Modern life brings lots of low grade chronic stress rather than occasional acute stress and this eventually leads to fatigue.
As I said earlier adrenal fatigue often leads to low thyroid function, which is double trouble as far as your hormones are concerned, but you can also have low thyroid function without adrenal fatigue due to poor nutrition or poor absorption of key nutrients such as zinc, iodine, selenium and tyrosine.
When the adrenal hormones cortisol and DHEA are depleted we become depressed from the physical exhaustion that takes place. Up and down cortisol levels throughout the day can lead to irritability and anxiety.
This leads to that “tired but wired” feeling making it difficult to fall asleep or waking throughout the night, which can make the depression and fatigue worse.
Some of the key nutrients that are important for thyroid function are also important for brain function including tyrosine, minerals and B vitamins.
Cortisol, which is the main adrenal hormone, is made from progesterone. As your body tries to produce more cortisol in response to stress, this leads to a depletion in your progesterone levels.
The more your body is under stress from emotional, dietary and inflammatory sources the more PMS symptoms will occur as your progesterone levels drop.
Treating the adrenals will help PMS symptoms like cramping, sweet cravings, heavy periods and mood swings.
Menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats, memory problems and mood swings are all caused by a drop in estrogen. Estrogen is made from DHEA, one of the major adrenal hormones, so the more exhausted the adrenal glands become the more menopause symptoms can develop.
The immune cells that line our digestive tract are regulated by cortisol. If your cortisol is out of balance you’re more likely to develop digestive symptoms like bloating, heartburn, constipation and diarrhea.
This is how we can also start reacting to foods that we never previously reacted to as our digestive tract creates an imbalance in our good and bad bacteria, which can lead to bacterial, parasitic and candida infections.
Low thyroid function can exhibit many of the same symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and while there are a number of causes of low thyroid function, adrenal fatigue is one of the big contributing factors.
This is especially true when someone’s blood test for TSH comes back from the doctor and it’s in the range yet they are still experiencing many low thyroid symptoms like weight gain, fatigue and digestion problems.
High cortisol levels will negatively impact the conversion of T4 to the active T3 and instead lead to higher levels of an inactive form of thyroid hormone called reverse T3.
When you go to the doctor they only measure TSH, and even if you are on thyroid medication they often don’t measure T3 and reverse T3.
This is important to do if you would like to get the full picture of what is happening with your thyroid function.
The best way to test your adrenal function is with the DUTCH hormone test – this is assesses the adrenal function in detail as well as the sex hormones.
The best way to test thyroid function is with a blood test, it is important to test TSH, T4, T3, Reverse T3, thyroid antibodies and thyroid receptor antibodies.
Your GP will only test for TSH due to medicare restrictions unless you have a diagnosed thyroid problem, but it is difficult to diagnose a thyroid problem without doing a full thyroid test.
I can organize an extensive thyroid test wherever you are located in Australia, this will accurately diagnose the reason behind your low thyroid function and the best course of treatment.
To learn more about how hormone dysfunction may be preventing you from achieving better health, shcedule an online consultation.
If you’re not sure what the best option for you is, or if you have any questions about how this may help your health, then you can schedule a 30 minute consultation here.
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen