How Can Stress Lead To Low Thyroid Function?

How Can Stress Lead To Low Thyroid Function

Stress is one of the biggest root causes of hypothyroidism because it has the capacity to really throw the body out of balance.

Stress comes from 3 avenues:

  1. Environmental stress like chemicals, pollution, plastics, pesticides and toxins.
  2. Emotional stress like worry, panic, fear, anger, grief, trauma etc.
  3. Physical stress like injury and trauma.

There are also internal sources of stress which are brought about by factors like:

  • Hidden food intolerances or allergy.
  • Infections that may be hidden like helicobacter pylori in the stomach, or hidden dental infections.
  • Blood Sugar Imbalance where you feel crashes in energy and get symptoms like lack of focus, concentration and brain fog.
  • Messed up microbiome.

These will trigger the fight or flight response since they can disrupt the body’s ability to maintain your homeostasis which basically means your natural balance.

Then there is the usual “life stuff “like:

  • Stress responseRunning late.
  • Being stuck in traffic.
  • Receiving a bill that you don’t know how you are going to afford to pay for it.
  • A tidal wave of to do’s on your list.
  • Having an argument with a loved one.
  • Loss of job.
  • Loss of income.
  • Loss of health.
  • Loss of loved one.

And then there are the inner thoughts that lurk inside of us and can fire us off into a cascade of stress at any given moment.

Think to a time where you re-lived a stressful situation.

  • A disagreement with your partner or family member.
  • A memory of the past where you lost your power, or you felt humiliated, or embarrassed like being bullied in the schoolyard.
  • You worried about what someone thought about you at a party.
  • You relived the way your boss handled a situation at work which left you with feelings of “I don’t feel significant.”
  • A legal batter with your ex partner that dragged on forever and left you broken.

You get me.

The things you recount over in your head and ruminate over even though the event is in the past.

Those little internal thoughts and feelings keep us baked in the disempowering stress emotions of:

  • Powerlessness
  • Shame
  • Anxiety
  • Dread
  • Lack of control
  • Hopelessness
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Guilt
  • Uncertainty
  • Humiliation

The stress response is one of hyper vigilance.

Its outward focused as we scan the environment for potential threat looking for danger either real or perceived.


Although a highly useful response the fight or flight keeps us alive but the longer it stays activated the more your body moves away from repair and healing and toward survival.

This gives you every chance of survival so it is a remarkable and appropriate response when your life is on the line.

But here’s the thing.

No organism in nature is programmed to cope with long-term stress.

When there isn’t a return to homeostasis because you keep perceiving a threat, vital energy is lost in the system.

You have less energy in your internal environment for cell growth and repair and healing when the energy is channeled elsewhere.

The cells shut down and there is no focus on repair and maintenance because all energy is focused on survival and defending self.


Firstly adrenal dysregulation can look like hypothyroidism since their symptoms are very similar.

  • Internal thoughtsFatigue
  • Light headed
  • Dizziness
  • Slumps in energy
  • Headaches
  • Brain fog
  • Cravings for salt or sugar or fatty foods
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Mood and anxiety disorders
  • Low body temp

This is really common so you can present with the above symptoms and yet have no issue with your thyroid.

You can read more about adrenal exhaustion in my last blog by clicking here

Ongoing Stress Impacts Your HPA axis

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is a connection between the brain (hypothalamus and pituitary) and your adrenal glands and governs things in your body like your digestion, your mood, energy, immune, temperature and response to stress.

Ongoing stress decreases pituitary and hypothalamic function. Since these two govern your thyroid gland then the signal will be sent to turn down your thyroid function.

In this case, if you target the thyroid gland only, then your symptoms will not improve.

In fact, if you just focus on the thyroid gland alone and start to try and get it firing with out dealing with your cortisol production and your overall HPA axis, then you may be in for a world of trouble.

It would be like the violinists in the orchestra playing out of tune and sending the whole orchestra into a spin, throwing off the rhythm, the timing and the overall sound.

It may further tax your adrenal gland and make you feel even more tired, burnt out, drained, and foggy.

Blood sugar level


It does this in the following way;

Increase stress response triggers

Increased cortisol (stress hormone)

Increased Blood sugar (fat storing metabolic state)

Increased or decreased gut acid and enzymes and so poor digestion of your meal.

This increase in blood sugar can have a knock on effect to your thyroid.

If you think about it…

You need more sugar floating around in your system so you have the energy to run for your life.

This is why for some, ongoing stress increases abdominal fat.

I digress back to the thyroid.

Either too much sugar floating around (high blood sugar known as hyperglycemia) or not enough blood sugar (hypoglycemia) affects your thyroid.

Glycogen (sugar stores) is released in times of stress so that you have the energy to run from the tiger.

High circulating blood sugar is also a consequence of eating too many carbohydrates and if you eat too many carbs for too long then the cells become less sensitive to the insulin that is floating around in the blood and in turn creates a condition called insulin resistance.

Insulin spikes brought on by this situation have been shown to accelerate the deterioration of the thyroid gland in autoimmune thyroid conditions.[i]


Low Blood Sugar Can Be Stressful


Hypoglycemia is stressful on your body.

In fact if it goes on for too long it can cause seizures and even death!

Low blood sugar sends the signal to release cortisol, which in turn causes the liver to release those glycogen (sugar) stores so you can run for your life.

Remember that ongoing cortisol will ultimately suppress pituitary function which will then affect your thyroid function.


Stress dials up immune factors called IL-6 and TNF-alpha which are inflammatory markers and have been shown to suppress the conversion of T4 to T3. Essentially as your Il-6 levels rise, levels of T3 fall.

In one study, healthy participants received injections of inflammatory cytokines like il-6 and in turn there was a rapid reduction in serum T3 and also TSH levels and a knock on increase in reverse T3 which is a metabolic dead end.[ii]

These inflammatory molecules have been shown to suppress thyroid receptor site sensitivity.[iii]

There are receptor sites for your thyroid in every cell of your body.

If your cells gradually lose their sensitivity to your thyroid hormone then you can develop thyroid hormone resistance.

This may be the case for you if you are on thyroid medication and yet you still have all of your original symptoms.


This sounds like one big negative feedback loop from hell as Mark Manson so eloquently articulates in his book

“The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*#%^”

If you haven’t read this book yet, it is rather an entertaining read and he unpacks some really awesome distinctions about us human beings.

This book would really go a long way in helping you to develop the resilience muscle which will ultimately help you turn down the stress response so you can spend more time in the rest, digest and heal response in your body.

In order to turn around the negative feedback loop from hell into an upward spiral of things just getting better and better head over to my previous blog about stress and how to deal with it here by clicking here.

In Health,


Victoria O’Sullivan.





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