Low Thyroid Function and Stress: What’s the Connection?

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Low Thyroid Function and Stress: What’s the Connection?

underactive thyroid symptoms, low thyroid symptoms, thyroid underactive, thyroid hormone, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Depression
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) is one of the most common health issues in the U.S. It is not often identified by standard blood work, and the common treatments do not adequately address it. Let's look at the symptoms and causes of an underactive thyroid, and what you can do to help your body recover.

Dr. Doni explains the causes and effects of hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s and their connection to stress, and gives advice and hope to those who want to recover. 

underactive thyroid symptoms, low thyroid symptoms, thyroid underactive, thyroid hormone, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Depression

Low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) is one of the most common health issues in the US and when it continues for a long time it increases your risk of:

  • Chronic Fatigue1
  • Fibromyalgia2
  • Depression3
  • Migraines4
  • Decreased memory5
  • Heart Disease6,7
  • Diabetes and Insulin Resistance8,9

Unfortunately, it is very often not identified by standard blood work ranges and, when it is identified, the common treatments do not adequately address the issue. This means that millions of men and women are going through life with the symptoms of low thyroid function that could be addressed so they could feel better.

Symptoms of Low Thyroid Function

Here’s what you might be experiencing if you have an underactive thyroid:

  • Tired all the time
  • Weight you can’t lose
  • Irregular bowel movements
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss from your head and eyebrows
  • Ridged finger nails
  • Water retention or feeling “puffy”
  • Foggy brain
  • Low mood
  • PMS and irregular menstrual cycles
  • Difficulty conceiving a pregnancy and/or pregnancy loss

If you have some or many of these symptoms, understand that there is a reason you feel this way and there are ways to give your body the help it needs so that you feel better. So, whether you currently take thyroid medication or not, I encourage you to learn more and look further.

Causes of Low Thyroid Function

Here are some of the possible reasons why your thyroid is not functioning well:

  • Stress and Adrenal Distress. Day-to-day emotional stresses, as well as stresses in the form of toxins, pesticides, lack of sleep, elevated blood sugar, medications (and more) all send a stress message through your body. That message of stress throws off cortisol and adrenaline levels, which can subsequently cause your thyroid to under-perform.
  • Leaky Gut. Another consequence of stress, a leaky intestinal wall, leads to food sensitivities (such as gluten sensitivity) and autoimmunity (such as Hashimotos Disease), both of which are known to lead to damage to the thyroid gland. While trying to protect you from gluten for example, the immune system gets confused and starts trying to protect you from your own thyroid gland. In doing so, your thyroid is damaged and is no longer able to produce adequate thyroid hormone.
  • Nutrient Deficiencies. Both stress and leaky gut lead to nutrient deficiencies, such as not having enough iodine, tyrosine, iron, selenium, zinc, and B vitamins. These nutrients are important for the production of thyroid hormones by your thyroid gland (called T4) and the activation of thyroid hormone by other areas of your body (called T3). If you don’t have enough of these nutrients in your system, you end up with not enough thyroid hormone to get the job done.
  • Mitochondrial Issues and Oxidative Stress. Mitochondria are the energy producing “engines” in each cell in your body. If they are stressed and depleted, not only are they not able to make energy, but they also can’t activate thyroid hormone. Oxidative stress is one of the most common reasons why the mitochondria stop working well.
  • Methylation Issues. Thyroid hormone production is actually essential for healthy methylation, when B vitamins are turned into substances the body can use to make healthy cells, neurochemicals like serotonin, and energy to get you through the day. If your thyroid is not working well, you are likely to experience symptoms of poor methylation, which look very much like the symptoms listed above.

Notice how many of these possible causes of an underactive thyroid are directly related to stress in some form or another. Being human, with all the common exposures to stress we experience every day, makes it quite likely that your thyroid might not be functioning optimally.

Thyroid function is a spectrum – your thyroid might be under-functioning just a little bit, or it could be functioning well below what it should be – and for one or all of the above-mentioned reasons.

And yet, when you have a standard blood test to check thyroid function, it is mainly used in standard medical approaches only to identify severe under-functioning. And the standard approach to severe hypothyroidism is to give a synthetic form of T4, the inactive form of the thyroid hormone rather than the active form your body can use.

Yet research shows that:

  1. People who have been taking synthetic T4 long term are likely to still be experiencing low thyroid symptoms.10,11
  2. Women who have even slightly low thyroid function are more likely to experience a miscarriage.12

I encourage you to be an advocate for your health. Ask your doctor to check your thyroid function every year when you have blood work done. They should test the TSH level as well as free T4 and free T3. The TSH should be no more than 2.5 if you don’t take thyroid hormone medications, and if you do take thyroid medication, it should be between 0.5 and 1.5. If you have not been tested for thyroid auto-antibodies then that should be done as well.

And know that there are ways to order these blood tests and pay out of pocket, so don’t feel restricted by what your insurance will cover.

What To Do If You Are Experiencing These Symptoms

If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, and your blood levels are not optimal, then I definitely recommend that you do the following:

  • Meet with a naturopathic doctor or other practitioner who approaches the thyroid more carefully than your regular healthcare provider.
  • Have a test done to evaluate the function of your adrenal glands – this should look at adrenaline and cortisol levels. The cortisol test will preferably be a saliva or urine cortisol test taken four times in a day.
  • Do a food sensitivity test so you can find out if you have gluten sensitivity and/or other food reactions. This will also tell you if you have leaky gut and how severe it is.
  • Nutrient testing, some of which can be done by a standard lab and others which need to be done by a specialized test not available from a standard lab, to tell you whether you are deficient in nutrients.
  • Testing for mitochondrial function, oxidative stress, and methylation.

I’m happy to help you improve your thyroid function and get to the bottom of what’s causing it to under-function. I understand that it can seem as if you’ve felt this way forever and it can be hard to believe it could ever get better. That is the unfortunate result of a healthcare system that is following protocols instead of preventing health issues.

If you would like to discuss how I can help you, you can request to make an appointment to meet with me either in person or by phone/video call by clicking here.

If you’d like to learn more about the connection between stress and your health, you can download my 35-page ebook – A Guide to Adrenal Recovery – when you sign up to receive my weekly e-newsletter. Be sure to tell me your interests so I know what you’d like me to write about next.

Come on, let’s get you feeling better.

–Dr Doni
31st January 2017


  1. Wyller VB, Vitelli V, Sulheim D, Fagermoen E, Winger A, Godang K, Bollerslev J. Altered neuroendocrine control and association to clinical symptoms in adolescent chronic fatigue syndrome: a cross-sectional study. J Transl Med. 2016 May 5;14(1):121. doi: 10.1186/s12967-016-0873-1.
  2. Nishioka K, Uchida T, Usui C, Tanaka R, Matsushima T, Matsumoto Y, Nakamura I, Nishioka K, Hattori N. High prevalence of anti-TSH receptor antibody in fibromyalgia syndrome. Int J Rheum Dis. 2016 Nov 30. doi: 10.1111/1756-185X.12964. [Epub ahead of print]
  3. Zhou Y, Wang X, Zhao Y, Liu A, Zhao T, Zhang Y, Shan Z, Teng W. Elevated Thyroid Peroxidase Antibody Increases Risk of Post-partum Depression by Decreasing Prefrontal Cortex BDNF and 5-HT Levels in Mice. Front Cell Neurosci. 2017 Jan 9;10:307. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2016.00307. eCollection 2016.
  4. Evans RW, Timm JS. New Daily Persistent Headache Caused by a Multinodular Goiter and Headaches Associated With Thyroid Disease. Headache. 2017 Feb;57(2):285-289. doi: 10.1111/head.13011. Epub 2016 Dec 27.
  5. Accorroni A, Chiellini G, Origlia N. Effects of thyroid hormones and their metabolites on learning and memory in normal and pathological conditions. Curr Drug Metab. 2017 Jan 16
  6. Jabbar A, Pingitore A, Pearce SH, Zaman A, Iervasi G, Razvi S. Thyroid hormones and cardiovascular disease. Nat Rev Cardiol. 2017 Jan;14(1):39-55. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2016.174. Epub 2016 Nov 4.
  7. Hayashi T, Hasegawa T, Kanzaki H, Funada A, Amaki M, Takahama H, Ohara T, Sugano Y, Yasuda S, Ogawa H, Anzai T. Subclinical hypothyroidism is an independent predictor of adverse cardiovascular outcomes in patients with acute decompensated heart failure. ESC Heart Fail. 2016 Sep;3(3):168-176.
  8. Harbuwono DS, Pramono LA, Hendarto H, Subekti I. Improvement of Metabolic Parameters Resulted from Levothyroxine Therapy in Hypothyroid Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Patient. Acta Med Indones. 2016 Apr;48(2):145-7.
  9. Ruhla S, Weickert MO, Arafat AM, Osterhoff M, Isken F, Spranger J, Schöfl C, Pfeiffer AF, Möhlig M. A high normal TSH is associated with the metabolic syndrome. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2010 May;72(5):696-701. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2265.2009.03698.x.
  10. Ruhla S1, Arafat AM, Osterhoff M, Weickert MO, Mai K, Spranger J, Schöfl C, Pfeiffer AF, Möhlig M. The History and Future of Treatment of Hypothyroidism. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 2012 Jun;120(6):351-4. doi: 10.1055/s-0032-1312599. Epub 2012 May 25.
  11. McAninch EA, Bianco AC. The History and Future of Treatment of Hypothyroidism. Annals of internal medicine. 2016;164(1):50-56. doi:10.7326/M15-1799.
  12. Liu H, Shan Z, Li C, et al. Maternal Subclinical Hypothyroidism, Thyroid Autoimmunity, and the Risk of Miscarriage: A Prospective Cohort Study. Thyroid. 2014;24(11):1642-1649. doi:10.1089/thy.2014.0029.
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