How Does Stress Impact My Thyroid?
When you’re stressed, so is your thyroid
Everything seems to be going wrong this morning—you’re out of coffee, traffic is bad, and you can feel tension from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. Maybe you’re under constant pressure at work or can’t catch a break on your bills. Stress is a part of your life, and when it’s ongoing, it can affect everything—including your thyroid. Learn why this is significant and what you can do to help reduce the effects of stress on this important gland.
Your thyroid: The regulator of body functions
Sitting squarely at the front of your neck is the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped powerhouse of your body’s metabolism. As part of your endocrine system (a collection of glands in the body that produce hormones), the thyroid regulates many body functions including, but not limited to:
- Heart rate
- Body weight
- Body temperature
- Muscle strength
- Menstrual cycle
- Cholesterol levels
- Central and peripheral nervous systems
Yes, the thyroid is more than just a little important in the overall picture of you. It produces, secretes, and stores specific hormones. Two of the main hormones made by the thyroid are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Both hormones affect just about every cell in your body; having too little or too much of either can throw several body systems out of whack and contribute to health issues such as:
- Hair loss
- Weight loss/gain
- Mood swings
- Missed menstrual periods
- Temperature sensitivity
How stress affects the thyroid
The effect of stress on thyroid health is like a game of dominos: When one tile falls, the rest typically follow. Stress impacts the thyroid by influencing how other hormones balance with it. For example, cortisol (the “fight or flight” hormone) can surge due to chronic stress. This surge can cause problems with thyroid hormone production,1 pressing this important gland to work harder to produce and release more thyroid hormones, leading to an imbalance. Consequently, if the imbalance becomes chronic, it can contribute to the risk of developing a thyroid disorder.2
Another example of hormonal imbalance is insulin resistance, wherein the body resists insulin production, resulting in increased blood sugar levels. This leads to other associated health problems. Several of these conditions often occur with hypothyroidism (when the thyroid doesn’t make enough of its hormones). The result? Increased products of dysregulated sugar metabolism, which lead to lower levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood.3 Insulin resistance can also contribute to thyroid enlargement and nodules.4,5
Chronic stress has also been shown to increase the risk of developing an autoimmune thyroid condition.2 By affecting the immune system through the nervous and endocrine systems, chronic stress can “flip a switch” and increase the risk of autoimmune thyroid disorders for people who have a genetic predisposition.2
Don’t stress about your thyroid
If you’re concerned about chronic stress and how it may affect your thyroid, ask your healthcare practitioner for more information. He or she is the best person to consult about stress and thyroid health.
This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
- Ranibar S et al. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011;15(1):18–22.
- Mizokami T et al. Thyroid. 2004;14(12):1047–1055.
- Walter K et al. Thyroid Res. 2012;5:13.
- Rezzonico J et al. Thyroid. 2008;18(4):461–464.
- Yunzhao T et al. Int J Endocrinol. 2017;2017:1617458.
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