Health

Is Excess Stress Harming Your Thyroid?

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Think back to the last time you installed a new set of batteries in your television’s remote control… when the batteries are brand-new, the remote works perfectly and without any delay. But over time, as the batteries power charge starts to fade, you find that you have to move closer to the TV to change the channel, or press buttons multiple times to get the menu screen to come up. Eventually the volume buttons refuse to work at all.

Now imagine that those depleted batteries are responsible for firing up your metabolism and regulating your mood and energy. In the body, the thyroid acts as a set of internal batteries. When the gland is fully charged, it works at peak efficiency to keep us slim and revitalized. But the strain of a nonstop schedule or other body-burdening factors like chronic inflammation, mineral deficiencies, or illness take a toll.

Over time, these stressors deplete the raw materials that fuel the thyroid’s production of key hormones. “Your brain starts to register that you’re burning through more energy than you have, so it powers down the thyroid,” explains Yale-trained physician Aviva Romm, MD, author of The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution ($17.99, Amazon). “That’s when you start to experience symptoms like low energy and weight gain.”

To make matters worse, stress also depletes the minerals needed to recharge the thyroid. The body can refuel the gland with the raw materials it needs to run optimally, Dr. Romm explains, but doing so requires large stores of selenium and magnesium — much the way your remote batteries would need a large voltage infusion to start working again. The hitch: These minerals are also needed for the production of the stress hormone cortisol, says Carolyn Dean, MD. “After years of struggling with chronic stress, many women simply no longer have the mineral building blocks they need to get their metabolism going again.”

The good news: It is possible to quickly dial back stressors and get the thyroid functioning at its peak again. The key to healing is to minimize and eliminate common stressors, while flooding the body with nutrients necessary to heal the thyroid and reignite fat burning. In fact, one study found that women who followed a thyroid-revitalizing plan lost 42 percent more belly fat than dieters who didn’t focus on revitalizing the gland. And it works outside of the lab too, promises Dr. Romm: “I know it sounds crazily simple, but in as little as two weeks, I’ve watched patients lose as much as 12 pounds, erase inches from their waist, and drop clothing sizes.”

Is stress slowing your thyroid?

If you’re exhausted and suffering from two or more of the symptoms below, everyday tensions could be damaging your gland:

  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Blue moods
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • GI issues
  • Tense, sore muscles

The Fast, Natural Fix

Restoring thyroid function helps the body release stored fat and supercharges energy, explains Dr. Romm. As the thyroid is recharged, the benefits multiply. Because the gland regulates function ranging from hormone balance to digestion, when it’s rebooted, everything improves. Many women feel noticeable increases in energy, mental clarity, and mood, while also reporting improved immunity, less joint pain, fewer sugar cravings, and deeper, more restorative sleep.

One vital key to restoring thyroid health: Incorporate relaxing practices that dial back stress. “Self-care is essential to supporting your repair mechanisms,” says Dr. Romm. With the strategies found below, you’ll start seeing changes like sharper recall and sunnier moods within 48 hours.

Take Breath Breaks

Dr. Romm recommends consciously taking slow, deep breaths for three minutes at least three times throughout the day — even if you don’t feel stressed in the moment. “You don’t need a mediation class or anything fancy, and you don’t even have to shut your eyes,” says Dr. Romm. “Essentially, you’re telling your brain that you’re safe, you’re not running for your life. That’s all it takes to reset stress levels.”

In fact, researchers at Harvard University report that this strategy helps women feel 50 percent calmer in seconds and cuts the risk of chronic stress by 67 percent. Those are the same calming perks you’d get if you meditated daily for 30 minutes!

Write It Down

“Pour your worries into a notebook — write down anything that might weigh on your mind, no matter how big or small it seems,” advises Dr. Romm. “This has been proven to lower stress and alleviate anxiety.” Indeed, studies show that just 15 minutes of daily journaling for four days in a row can dial down stress for up to eight months. For even greater benefits, write down one thing you did each day that made you feel good about yourself. According to Dr. Romm, “Optimism and gratitude release hormones that counteract the stress response and rewire the brain.” The proof: Researchers at Southampton General Hospital in England report that writing out positive thoughts each night for four weeks decreases all-day cortisol levels by 45 percent.

Move a Little

Whether you realize it or not, the stress of the day can build up and sap your energy and your mood. That’s why Dr. Romm advises taking at least 15 minutes of “me time” to decompress each evening. “Studies show that women who give themselves permission to blow off some steam have lower levels of evening stress,” she explains.

This can mean going for a brisk walk around the block or simply turning on some music and having a “dance party” for one. “When you do this, you’re going to sleep better and wake up feeling more refreshed,” says Dr. Romm. “And by eliminating that pent-up stress, you give your thyroid the opportunity to begin healing.”

Soak Away Stress

A bath is a relaxing way to wash away stress. And when you add 1/2 cup of magnesium-rich salts (plain old Epsom salts will do the trick), you’ll also nourish the thyroid and support the production of active thyroid hormone. ” In my experience, most low-thyroid conditions go hand -in-hand with mineral deficiencies, especially magnesium deficiencies,” says Dr. Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle ($21.72, Amazon). “From head to toe, magnesium helps relax the muscles and calm you down to ward off tension.” Prefer to supplement? Dr. Dean advises taking 600 mg. of magnesium each evening.

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This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Heal Your Thyroid.

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