Low TSH and Cortisol

Did you know cortisol lowers your thyroid hormones?

Low TSH and Cortisol. As much talk as there is about how to restore thyroid hormone levels and function back to normal there is not a lot of understanding/conversation around some of the factors responsible for suppressing the function and health of the thyroid, cortisol (ie. stress) being a key player!

If you are someone who currently has or has had a history of any of the following, chances are you have adapted your body into functioning with chronically elevated levels of adrenaline and cortisol.

  • High levels of stress (emotional, mental, physical)
  • Experienced a high stress event or trauma in your life
  • Exercise vigorously on a regular basis
  • Do not eat frequently throughout the day
  • Eat low amounts of high quality proteins
  • Have trouble sleeping throughout the night
  • Low body temperature

We mention this first and foremost because the overall sense, as a society, of what stress is can be slightly obscured. And if you can begin to really embrace this concept, you can begin to develop a plan of attack to help you reduce your stress and restore the health and function of your thyroid.

How does cortisol lower thyroid hormone?

At the root of stress is the stress response and the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

Stress is a physiological reaction in the body that occurs anytime the demand being placed on the body exceeds the body’s ability to meet the demand.

Many of you at this point are familiar with the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal axis (HPA axis) and know it is a negative feedback loop system, neurologically driven and designed to control the body’s reaction to stress through regulating things such as temperature, digestion, immune system, mood, sexuality, and energy use.

Chronic adrenal stress suppresses hypothalamic and pituitary function, both of which influence thyroid hormone production.

The hypothalamus releases thyrotrophic-releasing hormone (TRH) in response to levels of T4 in the blood. TRH then stimulates the pituitary to release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which then signals the thyroid to produce and release hormones.

Here are the 5 reasons why stress causes hypothyroid like symptoms:

  1. Anything that disrupts the HPA axis will suppress thyroid function. When the adrenals are being overworked we get a suppression of the HPA axis. Any suppression of the HPA axis will suppress thyroid function (HPT axis).
  2. Cortisol inhibits the conversion of T4-T3.
  3. Any type of physiological stress will cause weakened immunity. The more chronic the stress the more deficient the metabolic reserves. The body is worn out, the tank is empty and most of the hormones that have been compensating for you are now working against you. Overtime this can lead to the infamous Hashimoto’s.
  4. Continued stress over time will cause thyroid resistance. Inflammation and its friends (cytokines, etc) will suppress thyroid site receptor sensitivity. Same thing as insulin resistance. Thyroid is knocking on the cells door, but the cell will not answer and let it in.
  5. Acute stress leads to chronic physiological stress. This causes excess cortisol and estrogens in the blood. Estrogen will increase TBG (thyroid binding globulin). When this remains high, it will show as low T3 or low T4 on a lab.

The examples below are some of the most common scenarios responsible for excess cortisol, decreased TSH and lowering thyroid hormone production.

Low blood sugar is one of the major life threatening stresses the body deals with everyday. When your cells are low in sugar they are starving, stressed and send an urgent message to the body for help! This cry for help comes in the form of the stress hormone adrenaline. Adrenaline helps release fats from storage to be used as energy when sugar is not available.

**Most would say “Awesome, I can afford to burn some of my extra fat!”

Unfortunately your cells do not thrive on fat as their primary fuel for the simple fact that fat does not produce as much power as sugar. Fat is a back up fuel for sugar. Not intended to take place of sugar.

Protein deficiency. The amino acids that make up protein chains are the building blocks and foundation for:

  • Muscles
  • Connective tissue
  • Hormones
  • Enzymes
  • Immune system
  • Skin, nail, hair
  • Every single tissue in your body

Proteins are also primary nutrients for neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain.

Of all the components of which you are made, protein is the most active nutrient, which means it plays an enormous role in increasing your metabolic rate.

Too much protein or not enough protein are equally as stressful to the body. One of the major drawbacks of a low protein diet, or a diet high in plant protein, is the suppression of the thyroid gland.

Low levels of protein in circulation, or an imbalance in amino acids slows down the production of thyroid hormone

Excess intake of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA)

During periods of glucose deprivation (low blood sugar) adrenaline secretion is increased liberating glucose (as long as glycogen is available) as well as fatty acids.

Keeping in mind the fat, which goes into the construction of the cell is influenced by the fat in the diet.

When the diet contains more PUFA (ie. vegetable and seed oils or plants) then can be oxidized or detoxified, fat stores will contain a disproportionate amount. Fat cells prefer to oxidize saturated fats for their own energy. In addition, the greater water solubility of the PUFA causes them to be preferentially released into the blood during stress.

Under chronic stress conditions excess PUFAS in the tissues as a result of a diet high in unsaturated fats:

  • Compromise GI function and lead to GI inflammation
  • Over burden the liver
  • Inhibit thyroid conversion
  • Down regulate mitochondrial respiration
  • Increase estrogen
  • Perpetuate the stress reaction (vicious cycle)
  • Inhibit glucose oxidation and facilitate lipid peroxidation
  • Create free radicals

Excessive Exercise

Exercise can be a good stress or a bad stress and the only way to determine whether or not it is working for you is to assess using body temperature and pulse. You will know right away whether or not the last hour you spent killing yourself in the gym was a waste of good energy or bad energy.

One thing is for certain, weight gain or the inability to loose weight is not an exercise deficiency; it is the end result of being in a hypothyroid state (ie. chronic stress state).

So what’s the take away?

A stress is a stress is a stress. More importantly, as stated above, it is a physiological reaction you may or may not be aware is happening until you are.

The human body is designed to compensate and it will do so for as long as it can until it begins to decompensate and you begin to experience symptoms – the 4th stage of dis-ease.

You have everything you need to begin assisting your body back into a state of balance and health – food and your breath.

For more information or to speak directly to Josh and Jeanne, contact us here.

P.S. Stay tuned in to learn more about our upcoming Metabolic Breathing Program.

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Share Your Thoughts

  1. Heather

    Hi, I’m confused. I’ve been following you and Peat for years. I understand cortisol lowers thyroid function but on your title it says low TSH which is my goal to feel good! Higher TSH I feel very hypo. So doesn’t cortisol raise tsh meaning lowering thyroid function? Please help me understand. Thanks!

    October 13, 2017 • 11:07 am •
  2. EastWest Healing

    Remember, too low is not good, just like too high. Acute stress to chronic stress pushes TSH down = hashimoto’s. We are talking balance here. But in the vlog we are talking about the illusions that labs create without really understanding what is going on. Can cortisol raise TSH, sure. can it directly increase TSH, no. Indirectly, sure it can.

    October 13, 2017 • 4:02 pm •
  3. Esther Greenfield

    So how do you lose excess fat when hypo thyroid. Can I just take a moderate approach…thinking 30 % carbs (mostly from starchy veggies and fruits) 25 % protein and 45% fat and then moderate calories of about 1500. In time I hope I can include rice and oats if I start to lose the excess fat. What are your thoughts.ALso is it possible to indulge in 1 glass of wine a week?

    November 17, 2017 • 5:32 pm •
  4. EastWest Healing

    Well in my opinion no. There is a lot more to it prior to working with ratios. the first steps are working with the metabolic foods and creating a food frequency that works for your blood sugar, thyroid hormone conversion and more. This is seen in logs and temps and pulses. What you are giving me an example of is a fat dominant diet at 45% as well. Rice is fine as long as eaten with protein and a fruit. Wine is fine on occasion but always with food in stomach. Being hypothyroid is about getting healthy. Leave the weight loss for another time. HOpe that helps. If not subscribe to our restoration thyroid audio series.

    November 21, 2017 • 8:49 pm •