Thyroid hormones and adrenal hormones impact each other through actions at the cell, tissue level and their perspective organs. Under times of low cellular stress and homeostasis your adrenal glands (little but powerful glands resting on top of your kidneys) produce a hormone called cortisol. While cortisol is often thought of as a stress hormone, it actually plays a significant role in many aspects of your physiology. The secretion of cortisol is controlled by the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland. This combination of glands is referred to as the HPA axis.
Most of the cells of the body have cortisol receptors, therefore cortisol can impact many functions in the body. Cortisol helps regulate blood sugar levels, metabolism, your sleep and wake cycle, inflammation, memory, salt and water balance, blood pressure, and hormones.
Elevations or deficiency in cortisol levels are typically the result of some form of cellular stress. Cellular stress can occur as a result of many factors, including; physical stress, emotional stress, chemical stress, microbes, lack of sleep, inadequate food and more. Regardless of the trigger causing your cellular stress, your body will react pretty much the same. If your cells and tissues sense stress or danger, the natural adaptive response is to increase cortisol.
When your cells and tissues sense danger they change their physiology. They know something is wrong, something is threatening, and they are in for a fight. They have no way of knowing how long the fight is on so tactical moves are made.
As stress and cortisol levels rise, your elevating cortisol level results in the global reduction of thyroid physiology. Why? If you are stress, if you were in a fight, if you were starving; you would want to slow your overall metabolism down, and utilize glucose for the most important needs of the body. If you were starving, you body would want to reduce metabolism of your tissues so that you minimize energy use and production. If you were running from a tiger your body would want to reduce metabolism to tissues involved in tissue growth (think hair and skin), digestion, sleep, and reproduction. Those systems in that moment are not critical to the mission of survival. Cortisol is upregulated under stress condition to help shut down metabolism, and increase cell defense.
This works great when stress is short term. If you were fasting for a few days the rise in cortisol might be helpful. If you were lost in the woods for a few days the elevated cortisol would be helpful. But, that is not what you and most other people are dealing with when it comes to stress. What you are dealing with is cumulative & long term chronic stress. It’s a night of short disrupted sleep. It’s nights of mouth breathing, snoring and hypoxia. It’s emotional stress from work, kids, spouse and relationships. It’s chronic stress caused by food reactions and microbial imbalances in your GI tract. It’s chemical stress from your medications, the toxins like glyphosate in your food and water. It’s the load of toxins from the franken-foods you consume.
The amount of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands is based on two primary regulatory systems. One is the circadian rhythms of the body. Sometime in the hours of the morning cortisol production in the adrenal gland starts to ramp up. The rise in cortisol production in the adrenal gland and it’s release into the blood stream is in preparation for the day ahead. Cortisol production starts to build in the early morning hours sometime after 3:00am.
How do you know if you have compromised adrenal physiology? Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Cannot stay asleep
- Crave salt
- Slow starter in the morning
- Afternoon fatigue
- Dizziness when standing up quickly
- Afternoon headaches
- Headaches with exertion or stress
- Weak nails
- Cannot fall asleep
- Perspire easily
- Under high amount of stress
- Weight gain when under stress
- Wake up tired even after 6 or more hours of sleep
- Chronic pain