When it comes to thyroid disease, there are a lot of myths and speculation out there. Because there are many factors at play, from your genetics to your environment, it’s often difficult to know which elements are linked and which are just coincidences.

In recent years, the topic of stress has become increasingly important, and we have seen its effect on our health and wellbeing. Stress has become such an epidemic that April is officially Stress Awareness month.

So, how does stress play into thyroid health? This is one of those gray areas we aren’t sure of yet. While there’s no hard evidence that stress directly causes thyroid issues, many people believe they affect each other.

There is a lot of circumstantial data that supports the connection between stress and thyroid disease. We especially see this in Graves’ disease, as the more obvious onset of hyperthyroidism can be more easily linked with a specific cause. Because Hashimoto’s thyroiditis typically comes on gradually, the effect of stress is much harder to quantify and easy to overlook.

The clues to the connection between these issues lie in the organs and processes affected by stress, so let’s take a deeper look.

Stress and Your Thyroid

Did you know that stress affects your immune system? The key is cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone. Our adrenal glands are responsible for cortisol production, which is involved in processes throughout the body.

Ideally, your adrenals would make cortisol in one big wave in the morning and shut off production at night. When something throws off this rhythm, the wrong amount of cortisol is released. This causes issues with the body’s inflammatory response and immune system because they depend on those rhythms to function correctly.

Inflammation and autoimmune responses go hand-in-hand in this scenario. Without the regular cycle of cortisol, inflammation increases. Your body, sensing that something is wrong, sends out autoimmune responses. Because your thyroid works alongside your adrenal glands, the thyroid gland is directly affected by adrenal dysfunction.

This process is one of the reasons that many people believe there is a connection between stress and autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves’ Disease. As these are common causes of thyroid disease, you can see why there is speculation that stress could be a factor in thyroid health.

Managing Your Stress

Unfortunately, we are still waiting for sure answers on precisely what the effects of stress are on your thyroid. The good news is that stress management dramatically increases your overall health, positively affecting thyroid disease. So no matter the cause, the effect of stress management is nearly always positive for your thyroid.

Today, we’ll go over five powerful tips that you can take to conquer your stress and improve your health today.

Take Your Vitamins

First, let’s talk about vitamins and supplements.

Now, you might be thinking, “Wouldn’t it be better to get my nutrition from food?” The answer is yes… and no. Getting nutrition from your food is ideal, but the truth is that it’s nearly impossible to get everything you need from food. In fact, 72% of adults have a nutrient deficiency, which leads to a variety of health problems.

There are few nutrients that research has shown to reduce the symptoms of stress. They fall into two categories: phytonutrients and micronutrients.

Phytonutrients are nutrients that come from plants. They have an amazing ability to help the body come back into balance, which is exactly what you need when experiencing stress. Several plants which are rich in stress-busting phytonutrients include:

  • Ashwagandha
  • Rhodiola
  • Lemon Balm

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that your body needs only in small amounts. However, this need increases when facing chronic stress, so it’s a good idea to supplement. For best results, we recommend getting a targeted multivitamin, such as the Daily Reset Pack, instead of taking individual micronutrients.

Here are six micronutrients in the Daily Reset Pack that are especially helpful for modulating the stress response:

  • B5
  • Vitamin C
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • B12
  • Molybdenum

When used with other healthy lifestyle changes, vitamin supplements are an excellent tool for improving your stress symptoms and feeling better.

Exercise

Exercise for Stress Relief and Thyroid Health

Second, we’ll look at exercise.

Instead of jumping into an intense training routine, Dr. Christianson suggests aiming for at least 30 minutes of intentional movement every day. In fact, when you’re dealing with thyroid disease, your body may see intense exercise as a stressor, which triggers the release of cortisol – the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.

Here are a few examples of intentional movement that can decrease stress and improve your health:

  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Cycling
  • Tai Chi

The takeaway? Get moving, but do it in the way your body needs. If you have questions, talk to your doctor before starting something new.

Get Some Sleep

Third, we’re going to look at sleep.

Getting a whole night of sleep, 7.5 – 9 hours for adults, is crucial to your health. During sleep, your body gets to work repairing and rejuvenating. When you go below 7 hours, it doesn’t have time to complete these essential processes, and your body and mind suffer. The lack of sleep increases stress on your body, and your lack of productivity and constant fatigue can add to that.

An essential component of sleep is your circadian rhythm. This cycle occurs every day and tells your body when to sleep and when to be awake.

Here are three tips to help reset your circadian rhythm and increase good sleep: 

  1. Set a regular wake-up time and get outside within the first hour of your day. The sun triggers the start of your body’s daytime functions, so if you’re regularly up before the sun, consider getting a daylight lamp that mimics this light.
  2. Have a good dose of protein to jumpstart your body and regulate your natural cortisol levels.
  3. Create a relaxing evening routine. It’s a good idea to include a few minutes of journaling to release thoughts and stresses from the day. You can also lower your indoor lights to let your body know that the sun is going down and it’s time to wind down.

Eat Whole Foods

Fourth is the importance of your diet to your health.

While vitamins are important, all the supplements in the world won’t bring you optimal health if your diet is significantly lacking. In addition, our bodies process vitamins and nutrients better when they come in their original form – straight from your food.

Whole Foods for your Thyroid and Stress

Like herbal medicines, many plants in the diet are rich in adaptogenic phytonutrients. Some of the top examples include:

  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Mushrooms
  • Blueberries
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Chamomile
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Grapefruit

When creating an ideal diet, there are two areas to consider. First is the food groups. You want to get a balance of protein, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats every day. Second, you need a variety of foods from within those food groups. If the only vegetable you ever eat is broccoli, you’re not getting the wide range of nutrients from all the other vegetables out there.

Focus on getting a variety of foods and eat whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible.

Practice Relaxation

Fifth and last, it’s essential to learn how to relax.

If you never slow down or allow your mind to slow down, all the healthy habits in the world won’t reduce your stress. Mindfulness and meditation practices don’t have to take a long time, although you may want to enjoy them longer once you get started.

We’ve pulled together a few examples of relaxation techniques if you don’t know where to start:

  • Guided meditations – Youtube is an excellent resource for these, and there are many apps that you can use as well. They range in length from a few minutes to over an hour, so you can find one that fits your timeframe.
  • Deep breathing – Like guided meditation, you can find guided breathing exercises online. For example, focus on breathing in and out for the same amount of time. Breathe in and out through your nose for five counts, and repeat several times.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – This is great for releasing the tension you feel physically in your body. Lie comfortably and start with a few deep breaths. Breathe in and tense your foot muscles. Relax them as you breathe out. Move up to your calves and tighten and release with your breath. Do this up your body, one muscle group at a time (legs, belly, chest, fingers, arms, shoulders, neck, and face).

Whether or not stress causes your thyroid disease, reducing your stress levels has vast benefits for your thyroid health and your health in general. If you have trouble managing your stress, reach out to your Integrative Health doctor. They can help you find stress management techniques and treatments that work for your situation.

P.S. Whenever you are ready, here is how I can help you now:

1. Schedule a complimentary consultation with one of my team of naturopathic doctors. This is a great starting point for assessing your unique health needs and treatment options.
2. Need A Thyroid Supplement Recommendation? Take My Thyroid Specific Formulations Quiz Now
3. Need a Personalized Supplement? Check out My Thyroid Specific Formulations
4. Download and use my Favorite Recipes Cookbook Here
5. Check out my podcast Medical Myths, Legends, and Fairytales Here

Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet, The Metabolism Reset Diet and The Thyroid Reset Diet.

Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, diabetes, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.

 

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