I was recently talking to my naturopathic friend and we both agreed, after a year of being out of school and in practice it seems like we still aren’t ourselves. Waking feeling unrested, brain fog, weight issues, and constant gut complaints seem to be a normal part of our days now. I marvel at friends and colleagues who have worked so hard, had children during and after school, and seemingly tackle all of life with such vigour! After 4 years of a rigorous naturopathic medical program, along with various part time jobs amidst the deadlines and exams, I’m finding the bounce back is much slower than I anticipated. A year later, ineffective weight loss, high cholesterol, and burned out adrenals are my body’s way of telling me ‘Hey! You burned the candle at both ends for a long time, and I let you. Now its my turn to chill out.”
If you have hypothyroid or Hashimoto’s, my story may not be different from your own. In fact, my symptoms are quite mild compared to what many women and men experience before they get a final diagnosis. I’ve known of people who have dozed off at the wheel before going to get their thyroid checked. Scary! After being diagnosed with hypothyroid just after university (probably not a coincidence) I noticed some changes that other people my age didn’t seem to deal with. The typical myriad of constipation, menstrual irregularities, over sleeping, and focus/concentration issues continued even with standard pharmaceutical treatment. Fast forward 8 years and things have escalated further to weight gain and lethargy for a day after a moderate workout. Has this happened to you, despite an adequate response to treatment? The key may be in recognizing adrenal burnout when you feel it, and SLOWING DOWN despite our society’s addiction to speeding up.
The Reason Might Be…
The thyroid is a gland that governs metabolism and energy, and sits in front of the throat. This is what doctors feel for nodules or swelling, and usually a standard TSH blood test is all that is investigated. The interesting thing is that the thyroid heavily depends on the adrenal glands to function optimally. The adrenals sit on top of the kidneys and secrete our stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. When someone is ‘burned out’ it means they revved their engines for so long and so hard in these high stress lifestyles that the gas ran out and the engine is cooked. They don’t produce the right amount of cortisol to wake up the body and feel energized in the morning. “Adrenal fatigue’, or ‘adrenal insufficiency’ are other ways to describe this phenomenon. The repercussions? More stress on the thyroid to produce energy, and more symptoms ensue. Any naturopathic doctor will tell you that it is incredibly hard to get results with hypothyroid without first testing and treating the adrenals.
Things to Consider.
You need to use the right fuel and fix the engine before going 120 km an hour again. There’s now way around it. This includes addressing constipation and digestion issues, using specific food and supplements, and adaptogenic herbs to rebuild.
- Exercise is imperative. But make it the low, juicy, yin kind of exercise. Two years ago I ran a half marathon, now I can’t even muster up a 5 km. Its all about slowing down but remaining active. Running might be too much for a symptomatic person, but exercise definitely has research supporting anxiety/depression, sleep, weight gain, and fatigue. Aim for 30 minutes, 4x/weekly of walking, swimming, yoga, pilates, and strength training. Rethink anything that leaves you completely wiped or tired for the next few days.
- Rest! I personally absolve you of any guilt. If you find after your exercise sessions you’re crashing, its worth having rest days in between. I understand busy work and busy kids make any resting hard. The earlier you go to bed before midnight, the more restful it is for the adrenals. Enough REM (dream state) sleep is also necessary. If you feel like something more is going on with your sleeping then it may be worth investigating having a sleep study done.
- Appropriate testing. More than just TSH, T3/rT3, T4, and antibodies. The more data you have about your system the more you can appreciate it and the less guess work when it comes to treatment. There is a 4 point cortisol test for adrenal function, serum iron, food allergy, leaky gut markers, heavy metals, heart rate logs, basal body temperature, and sleep logs, the last three you can do on your own at home! Research shows that TSH needs to be 2.5 mU/L or below to conceive a child. If you are symptomatic and within normal lab values, it may be because you are over this mark.
- Appropriate diagnosis. This is more a job for your healthcare provider. Energy, metabolism, and brain symptoms are one thing. But do you have others? Chronic muscle pain/tenderness? Snoring and daytime sleepiness? Although an elevated TSH technically excludes you from having true fibromyalgia, it may be worth discussing. Chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep apnea, gluten intolerance, perimenopause, SIBO, or a true mood disorder are others.
- Appropriate treatment. The goal isn’t necessarily to come off of Levothyroxine medication. Sometimes iodine is indicated in non-autoimmune cases. Also, some heavy hitting adaptogenic herbs like rhodiola, ginseng, rhemmania, gotu kola, and the heavy/yin liquorice root can work wonders. A compounded thyroid glandular might also be worth considering if there is no symptom improvement, as well as addressing the methylation system.
And finally, say ‘No’ and create boundaries. Delegate some of the chores to your kids, let another parent offer to carpool, say ‘I can’t afford it right now’ and see how freeing some of this can be. Its time to take an active part in slowing down and fixing your engine, even if its just for a few months.
Best of luck,