Hypothyroidism, Brain Stress, and Season Changes

September 22, 2014 | Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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Hypothyroidism, Brain Stress, and Season Changes
Hypothyroidism is a complex disorder with many causes. These causes may be associated with high levels of acute stress such as severe grief, sudden severe illness, motor vehicle accidents, or other major life stressors. More commonly, the onset of hypothyroidism is an insidious development associated with chronic inflammation, overwork, adrenal fatigue, autoimmune reactions stemming from gut dysbiosis, increased gut permeability, and gluten intolerance. Additional causes include genetic polymorphisms, lack of serotonin or dopamine, soy intake and iodine imbalances, progesterone and estrogen imbalances often related with puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, vitamin D and selenium deficiency, heavy metals, petroleum by-products (perchlorates) pesticides (triclosan), and more. These factors determine how well the thyroid gland and hormone functions in the body. It is vital to protect the thyroid gland, hormone, and its receptors sites from these stressors. If you don’t, the risk is great that you will join the epidemic of thyroid dysfunction.

General symptoms of poor thyroid hormone function may include physical and mental fatigue, poor motivation and memory, unusual weight gain, dry skin, heat or cold intolerance, and constipation. Physical signs may include loss of the outer one-third of the eyebrows, fluid retention, puffy eyes especially when arising in the morning, hair thinning, elevated cholesterol and slow reflexes. Take the Thyroid Quiz to learn more about your potential thyroid symptoms.

Every single cell in the human body needs thyroid hormone to work. This holds especially true for the brain. Some of the most debilitating symptoms of hypothyroidism are related with brain function. Forgetfulness, poor memory recall, brain fatigue, depression, irritability, poor focus, and slowed thinking are many of the brain symptoms when thyroid hormone function is not working well. Depleted levels of serotonin, dopamine and GABA are often present in hypothyroidism leading to the depression, irritability, poor stress tolerance, and general “grumpiness” that often prevails.

New research outlines nutrients that are critical for supporting and protecting the brain from hypothyroidism. These nutrients are the omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Research showed that supplementing with the omega 3 oils was so powerful that it stopped the disease effect of hypothyroidism on the brain. The omega 3 fish oils increased the brain’s total antioxidant capacity, which was vital to self-preservation. It was found that the hippocampus, the command center for working memory and mood, suffers structural breakdown in hypothyroidism. Taking in omega 3 oils decreased the structural changes in the hippocampus and reduced tissue inflammation and breakdown.

When the hippocampus is stressed or functions deteriorate, then depression, disorientation, and poor memory occur. This is definitively linked with neurodegeneration, i.e. Alzheimer’s disease. However, these same symptoms – depression, poor memory, loss of spatial processing/disorientation are also found in hypothyroidism with inadequate omega 3 oils. Symptoms of disorientation may be simple such as forgetting where you parked your car at the mall or really struggling when the grocery store rearranges its shelves or more profound as when dealing with major dementia. It is clear from this study, that consuming omega 3, DHA and EPA provides fundamental neurological protection against hypothyroidism-induced cognitive impairment. Anyone with hypothyroidism must consider it imperative to consume omega 3 foods in their daily diet or in supplemental form to protect and withstand against neurodegeneration caused by the defunct thyroid hormone.

Another factor that provokes functional thyroid distress in many individuals is season changes. Season changes are frequently a challenge for hypothyroidism patients and even those with a normal thyroid gland. Recent research confirmed this link for the first time by identifying a change in TSH signals based on season changes and low vitamin D status in adults who had a normal thyroid gland. They found that a higher TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) score occurred during the season change from fall into winter and was clearly associated with the vitamin D deficiency. TSH scores did not increase nearly as much in the spring-summer season changes. TSH scores increase when the thyroid is not responding adequately. The most ideal TSH score is considered 1.3 to 1.8 mU/L. Having an elevation of TSH above 3.0 at any time of the year may be related with inadequate vitamin D, but clearly the season changes provoked signs of hypothyroidism. Individuals dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) coupled with low vitamin D status and borderline thyroid hormone function are probably more likely to struggle with this phenomenon.

This seasonal thyroid distress with inadequate vitamin D and omega 3 oils will be compounded if you are dealing with an acute stress, i.e. loss of loved one, job loss, financial distress, etc. or any of the chronic issues described above. The acute or chronic stress provokes inflammation, like a forest fire. The fire may be smoldering and relatively contained, or may be full-blown out of control. The longer that it is present, the hotter the flames, the larger or intense the provoking stressors, the more rapidly antioxidants such as omega 3 fish oils and vitamin D will be depleted. Ultimately, it creates more thyroid and neurological dysfunction leading to neurodegeneration. So your hair falls out and weight gain, depression, forgetfulness, dry skin, constipation are your daily companions. You feel like your body has betrayed you. Stopping the forest fire, hypothyroidism and brain distress, is vital. You need to protect your Command Central and the commander of metabolism. Get your vitamin D levels checked. Make sure your levels are as close to optimal as possible, i.e. between 50-80 ng/mL. Take at least 2 grams or more of high quality omega 3 fish oil for brain and inflammation protection. If you are dreading the thought of going through another winter and life is looking bleak, provide your body some basic support with adequate vitamin D and fish oils. You may just find that your whole outlook and being improve!

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