Is Stress Ruining Your Metabolism – The Adrenal Thyroid Connection

Is Stress Ruining Your Metabolism – The Adrenal Thyroid Connection

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me “how do I just shift fat off my belly?” or said, “I can’t lose weight no matter what I do”.

Often people don’t consider that it’s not about how much they restrict their calories or how hard they exercise, but more about how their metabolic rate is running.

Your thyroid is the master computer behind your metabolic rate. It regulates the rate at which you burn or store fat and unfortunately it dysfunctions more than we would like. So, what is the major cause of this dysfunction?

It turns out STRESS could be the major contributor to thyroid dysfunction.

Cortisol is a life sustaining stress hormone released by your adrenal glands that helps you liberate energy when you are under threat. However, chronic uncontrolled release of cortisol may lead to many health concerns including thyroid problems and estrogen dominance.


How Does Stress (Cortisol) Effect Thyroid Function?

Cortisol works on a negative feedback loop with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain. The hypothalamus signals the pituitary to tell the adrenals (HPA Axis) to release cortisol. So, when cortisol is in the blood the body tells the hypothalamus to slow down. The problem is that the Hypothalamus also controls the thyroid gland, and as it slows so does your thyroid. This makes sense because in a state of stress (cortisol) your body wants to conserve energy, so slowing your thyroid function which slows your metabolism achieves this survival mechanism.

You have two major types of thyroid hormones - T4 (inactive) and T3 (active). Your thyroid produces exclusively T4 and then your body converts it to the active T3. However, elevated cortisol reduces the enzymes responsible for this conversion. So even when your levels of TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) and T4 are normal (within range) you may still have low T3 and a slow metabolism as a result.

Reverse T3 (RT3) is the antagonist to T3. The best way to think about this relationship is T3 as the accelerator for your metabolism and RT3 is the brakes. RT3 binds to thyroid receptors on the surface of cells, preventing T3 to work. Stress increases the production of RT3 keeping the brakes on your metabolism and fat burning.

With stress comes inflammation and insulin resistance, reducing your body’s ability to use carbohydrates efficiently, leading to them storing as body fat. Inflammation also causes the release of cytokines which reduces thyroid receptor sensitivity, so any circulating free T3 can’t fully activate your metabolism.

Chronic release of cortisol leads to estrogen dominance and excess estrogen increases thyroid binding globulin (TBG). TBG is a protein that helps thyroid hormone travel through your body, however when T4 is bound to TBG it is inactive and can’t convert to Free T3.

Finally, stress can affect gut permeability causing leaky gut. Leaky gut has been linked as a cause of auto immune disease which may manifest as Hashimoto’s otherwise known as ‘thyroid auto immune disease.’ When your immune system starts attacking your thyroid gland you are sure to experience deleterious effects to your metabolism, sleep, mood, skin, hair, weight gain and overall energy and health. 

No matter if it is estrogen dominance or thyroid dysfunction that is causing your health and metabolic issues, you need to start treatment by supporting three (3) areas…

  • Gut – Leaky gut is only one of the issues associated with stress. If you have poor microbiome colonisation then you may not absorb sufficient micronutrition to support healthy metabolism and thyroid function. Also, over 80% of your serotonin (happy hormone) is produced in the gut and may help calm down stress if sufficient amounts are produced.
  • Liver – Detoxification and liver health is critical. Your liver is responsible for metabolising fatty acids and if it is chronically under stress it cannot perform this task efficiently.
  • Adrenals – As discussed above, the adrenals control the release of cortisol so if they are supported then you won’t chronically release stress hormones that can derail your metabolism and cause weight gain.

10 steps to reduce cortisol, support healthy thyroid function and boost your metabolism…

  1. Meditate or practice yoga – Having time to yourself away from the daily grind and constant stimulation can be the most important thing you can do for your health and metabolism.
  2. Drink water – For detoxification to take place you need sufficient water since all four (4) detox pathways are reliant on water.
  3. Greens – Eat them, drink them… just make sure you get them. Leafy greens are a great source of phytonutrients that may be precursors to thyroid hormones and other critical hormones and enzymes. They also help chelate toxins out of the body for improved metabolic function.
  4. Sleep – Getting adequate amounts of sleep is critical for proper hormone balance. 6-8 hours of unbroken sleep is preferential. However, taking naps away from your main sleep cycle to catch up is suggested if you cannot get 6-8 hours.Magnesium citrate is a fantastic mineral for helping you switch off and get better quality of sleep. 
  5. Ashwagandha- This supplement is designed to support adrenal health which is where the problems all begin. One study has shown to reduce cortisol by 32%. It may also improve recovery and repair of muscle tissue and enhance sleep. 
  6. Selenium – Make sure you are getting sufficient amounts of this micromineral. The enzyme that converts T4 into the active T3 is a selenium dependant. Brazil nuts are a major source of selenium. However, excess selenium isn’t good either so 2-4 brazil nuts per day should be sufficient.
  7. Zinc – More than 75% of the population is deficient in Zinc. This mineral is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in your body including the conversion of T4 to T3, like selenium. Zinc is also critical in balancing sex hormones.
  8. Avoid Fluoride – This compound is a halide that displaces or competes with Iodine and may prevent sufficient iodine being available to make T4.
  9. Tyrosine – This non-essential amino acid makes up the back bone of thyroid hormones. The ‘T’ in T4 stands for Tyrosine and the 4 is the amount of iodine attached. 
  10. Salt and sun in the morning – Pink salt or Himalayan salt in your water first thing in the morning helps kick start your adrenals and enhances the production of cortisol. This is a good thing as this is the time when cortisol should be at its highest. Bright sunlight on your skin and eyeballs (don’t look directly into the sun) can also help as an early morning ritual for improving cortisol rhythm.

So, as you can see there is a very real relationship between stress and a lowered metabolism (thyroid function) leading to body fat accumulation or an inability to burn fat no matter how hard you try. In fact, if you continue to exercise vigorously in this state of dysfunction you may cause further damage and extend recovery time.

Follow the practices and supplementation above and you will see your body’s metabolism spark back up in no time. This may help increase your energy, fat burning, mood, focus and general health while reducing your stress and hormone imbalances.

Disclaimer: The above article is merely a guide and is in no way a recommendation or a treatment protocol for any health conditions or diseases. You should always consult with a qualified health care provider before changing your supplement, training or nutritional strategy. Supplementation should not be attempted by pregnant or breastfeeding women, anyone on prescription medication or children under the age of 15 unless advised by your qualified health care provider.