The Adrenal/Thyroid Connection

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Mary Shomon: How is proper adrenal function related to a thyroid problem?

Drs. Shames: A major connection exists between low thyroid and low adrenal. Low adrenal, also called adrenal insufficiency, can actually cause someone’s thyroid problem to be much worse than it would be otherwise. Correction of low adrenal is similar to correction of low thyroid. You merely take a pill that contains some of the hormone you are lacking. In the case of low thyroid, you obviously take thyroid hormone. In the case of low adrenal, you simply take some adrenal hormone. Chapter 7 in Thyroid Power assures you that doing so, when appropriate, is not only safe and effective, but it can change your life for the better.

Cortisol is in the category of medicines called steroids, a class of body substances that derive their name from the fact that they are built upon the structure of the common cholesterol molecule. Both health practitioners and the lay public have great concern about the safety of taking oral steroids. We would like to address this issue directly by making a distinction between high-dose steroid therapy and low-dose adrenal supplementation.

What we are talking about is the use of small amounts of natural adrenal hormone (hydrocortisone) to bring slightly low adrenal function up to its proper normal daily range. This is in stark contrast to the high doses of powerful synthetic adrenal hormones commonly used to treat severe health problems, or to assist in building muscles.

Mary Shomon: Why is it important for low thyroid people to know the levels of their adrenal hormones?

Drs. Shames: Adrenal insufficiency symptoms include: weakness, lack of libido, allergies, dark circles under the eyes, muscle and joint pain, dizziness, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, food and salt cravings, poor sleep, dry skin, cystic breasts, lines of dark pigment in nails, difficulty recuperating from stresses like colds or jet lag, no stamina for confrontation, tendency to startle easily, lowered immune function, anxiety, depression, and premature aging. Some of these symptoms are similar to those of low thyroid.

If low-thyroid people with these symptoms are put on thyroid hormone alone, they sometimes respond negatively. These people may have coexistent, but hidden, low adrenal. If they take thyroid hormone by itself, the resultant increased metabolism may accelerate the low adrenal problem.

The addition of thyroid hormone in this situation unmasks the also disturbing low adrenal situation. The proper approach in this case is to treat the patient with thyroid and adrenal support simultaneously.

Adrenal insufficiency, especially when unmasked by the addition of thyroid hormone, is unpleasant and uncomfortable. To compound the problem, the doctor and patient then may wrongly assume that thyroid replacement has been a mistake. A tremendous opportunity for better health has now been missed.

While uncomfortable, this dilemma can become a diagnostic tool. The doctor could then gradually add thyroid and adrenal hormone together, with the patient eventually taking optimal levels of both. This careful attention and delicate calibration are demanding on the practitioner and patient. Nevertheless, we have seen patient after patient dramatically improve with such dedication.

Also, interactions between your hormones are sometimes as important as the direct action of the hormone itself. Some adrenal hormones assist in the conversion of T-4 to T-3, and perhaps assist in the final effect of T-3 on the tissues. Some scientists believe that even the entrance of thyroid hormone into our cells is under the influence of adrenal hormones. Thus, if your adrenal level is low enough, you might do well to take both adrenal and thyroid hormone together.


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