Optimal thyroid hormone production is one of the most important factors to whole body health. In response to TSH signals from the pituitary gland, the thyroid gland produces the vital T4 and T3 hormones that set the basic metabolic rate for every cell in the body. This includes brain, heart, lung, bone, muscles, your immune system, digestion, liver and kidney function and everything else.
Sub-optimal thyroid function can cause a wide range of chronic or debilitating symptoms including: fatigue, depression, weight gain, brain fog, cold intolerance, hair loss, constipation, low bone density, and poor immune function.
With a system this important, you might think that conventional medicine would be completely up to date on how to keep track of this vital hormone. However, if you thought that conventional medicine had this well in hand, you’d be completely wrong.
As a Naturopathic Doctor, I am always encountering people who want better health. The most common themes include: more consistent energy, improved mental focus, more stable moods, a stronger immune system, better athletic performance, faster healing and recovery times, and a more ideal body composition while also avoiding and reversing disease.
The Adrenal Glands
Gram for gram, the adrenal glands receive more blood flow than any other part of the body–including the heart and the brain. The body is an efficient machine, so this relatively massive dedication of blood flow is an indication of how important these often tiny organs are. Theysit on top of your kidneys weigh in at a mere 3-5 grams each and measure are 1/2″ tall and 3″ wide.
The Adrenal Medula & Cortex Your adrenal glands have two layers that secrete different sets of vital hormones. The outer layer of the adrenal gland (the adrenal cortex) secretes steroid hormones which are made from cholesterol. Cortisol is, by far, the major hormone product of the adrenal cortex. It is called a “glucocorticoid” because of it’s effects on raising blood sugar (glucose).
Healthy cortisol levels have a “diurnal” cycle, with normal levels being highest around 7AM and lowest levels occurring around midnight. This morning cortisol boost is intended to wake you up with plenty of blood sugar and blood pressure. If you wake up feeling unrested, groggy and wrecked there may be a problem with your sleep or your Adrenal glands may be fatigued or exhaustred. That’s what this article is about.
For starters, I take issue with the word “disorder” in attention deficit disorder (ADD). It’s not a stretch to suggest that ADD is actually a normal physiological response to the many insults of the modern world. The hyper-vigilance, distractibility, and impulsivity of ADD could all be predictable evolutionary adaptations intended to help us be safer and more successful in stressful environments.
Stress is not just mental, it quickly jumps to a physiologic effect. When the brain perceives stress, it sends both chemical and nerve signals to the adrenal glands ordering them to make two short-term stress hormones [epinephrine and norepinephrine] and the long-term stress master hormone cortisol. Not eating regularly enough and getting low blood sugar also spike cortisol levels. Cortisol is now known for promoting the dreaded stress-gut that gives chronically stressed people that apple shape.
Epinephrine and norepinephrine both promote the “fight or flight” response to the world by stimulating increased tone in the sympathetic nervous system. Other attributes of the “sympathetic state” are the tendency to freeze up, tense muscles, shallow breathing, and divert blood flow away from the extremities and digestive tract toward the large muscles. The sympathetic nervous system also interrupts digestion and makes it harder to concentrate and integrate and make new memories. If you have ever had trouble getting someone else (or yourself) to see a new point of view in a heated argument, you can probably thank the sympathetic nervous system for that gem of human psychology.
It all makes perfect sense if you think about it; if your body senses a threat (stress) it gets everything ready for a fight or flight from danger. Cortisol helps us prepare for stress by mobilizing resources to raise blood glucose and cholesterol. This sugar boost is good if you’re about to sprint away from an angry rhinocerous, but not so good (AKA promoting diabetes and heard disease) if the stress is an email or a phone call.