Stress, Exhaustion and Depletion – The Dance of our Hormones
Stress, exhaustion, weight issues, gut/immune and mood disorders are common presentations in clinic, existing as single presentations or as very complex problems. Generally clients have gone through extreme stress or have ongoing stress or trauma; they also have a feeling of ‘burn out’ or profound apathy.
Stress factors can be; physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. Issues such as; loss, grief, accidents, illness, toxicity, overtraining, dieting, injury, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, separation, financial, family problems, housing, intimidation or abuse to name a few.
The three stages of stress or General Adaption Syndrome (GAS) include:
Alarm response – flight or fight phase
Adaption phase – characterized by adaption (resilience), coping with the threat (stressor)
Exhaustion phase -when capacity for adaption becomes overwhelmed. Therefore, the more stress we endure the more we deplete our glands and hormones, so they are unable to function for normal biological processes.
The dance of the human hormones begins when people adapt to their stressful lives and stress is ongoing. If left unresolved or when chronic stress perpetuates, the adrenal and thyroid glands become chronically depleted. If the thyroid gland only is treated and the adrenals are not supported, clients can ‘burn out’ or ‘become chronically fatigued’.
The body is resilient: When prolonged stress occurs, the Hypothalamus (brain), Pituitary, (governing gland) Thyroid and Adrenals (response glands) will function constantly, performing numerous tasks that include feedback loops to keep us going. While the thyroid sets our ‘idle’ levels or baseline, the adrenals act as an energy ‘accelerator’, when requirements are greater. Prolonged elevations of cortisol -secreted by the adrenal glands during stress can affect the thyroid gland by:
- Inhibiting thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and conversion of the thyroid hormones, Thyroxine (T4) into triiodothyronine (T3) which mostly takes place in the liver.
- Decrease the liver’s ability to clear other hormones such as excess oestrogen’s (add in the Pill and HRT) from the blood.
- Increase of Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG). TBG’s are proteins that thyroid hormones attach to as they are transported through the blood and to the tissues. If TBG levels are high, they will bind more thyroid hormones, decreasing the free hormones available in the body, thereby leading to thyroid symptoms.
- Sending TSH levels up higher where eventually the receptivity capacity of the thyroid gland is reduced causing thyroid hormone resistance, particularly if there is inflammation through the gland such as Thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s Disease. Inflammatory mediators have been shown to suppress thyroid receptor site sensitivity.1 Thyroid hormone is knocking on the cell’s door, but the cells don’t answer. Iodine, vitamins /minerals or thyroid hormones help but cannot counteract this condition.
- General pathology tests (only TSH) and the reliance of medicating with thyroid replacement hormone (T4) or medications to suppress the thyroid, are both unreliable and confusing when it comes to understanding and treating the complexities of thyroid and adrenal problems.
- It is necessary to manage and deal with the stressors and assist the adrenals so the body doesn’t fall into this chronic depletion.
We all experience stress in our lives but ongoing, unresolved chronic stress can lead to:
Low thyroid symptoms: decreased body temperature, joint /muscle pain, fatigue, nodule or goiter growth, dry skin/hair loss, moodiness and weight gain.
High thyroid symptoms; racing heart, anxiety, weight loss, nodule growth, tiredness or feeling ‘wired’.
Adrenal fatigue; fatigue, moodiness/depression/anxiety, sleep disorders, craving salt and stimulants, apathy, reduced libido.
The adaptagenic herbs are a favourite of most naturopaths when it comes to adrenal fatigue and stress. These include:
Rhodiola, Rhemannia,Siberian ginseng, (Indian Ginseng) -Withania, American ginseng, Korean Ginseng, Holy Basil and Schisandra.