Can stress aggravate my thyroid problem?

The thyroid gland is essential to properly regulate the body’s metabolism, but psychological and emotional stress can affect its function. Let’s see how to handle this situation to curb the problem.

The thyroid gland is much more than a part of our body; Furthermore, it is part of a cause and effect circuit that is closely related to our psychological state. In this article we will look at how stress can play a role in thyroid function , and the health implications of this.

What is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid is a small gland located in the front of the neck, just below the walnut and above the windpipe. As an endocrine gland that it is, its main unions are linked to the secretion of hormones , so that it works by coordinating with many other producers of hormones distributed throughout the body (such as the adrenal glands or the pineal gland) and with the nervous system to help the person adjust to different circumstances in a matter of seconds, as well as participate in the development and growth of the organism.

In other words, while the thyroid gland influences many areas of the human body, it is also affected by many others, and through various pathways. This is normal, because the endocrine system, based on the emission and reception of hormones in the blood and in various organs throughout the body, aims to reach “equilibrium” situations in which the body adapts to the requirements of the body. environment and / or the stage of development and maturation of the person (it changes with age).

Specifically, the main functions of the thyroid gland have to do with :

  • Heart rate regulation
  • The rhythm of metabolism
  • The attention span and concentration on tasks
  • The body’s sexual response
  • The development and maturation of the body in general and the brain in particular

Thus, the thyroid is involved in processes that have a short-term outcome and others that have a long-term outcome (growth), but they all have something in common: they are based on a network of very complex interactions between hormones and nerve cells . Although hormones send their “messages” in a slower way than neurons (by depending on blood circulation to reach their destinations), their effects are felt throughout the body, and there is practically no living cell that does not you are influenced by this domino effect of these molecules. For this reason, the effects of the endocrine and nervous system have a return in these hormone producers, which are affected by possible chemical or psychological imbalances that the person experiences.

Why stress aggravates hypothyroidism: the relationship between cortisol and the thyroid .

 The body’s response to stress is regulated by the production of hormones in the adrenal glands, also called adrenal glands.

These glands produce different hormones like estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and cortisone, as well as chemicals like adrenaline and dopamine. We are interested in the effects of chronic elevation of cortisol on the thyroid.

 When we talk about stress, we usually refer to the usual causes of it: work stress, family stress (children, separations, etc.), financial problems, unemployment, etc.

But there are other factors that we do not take into account when we speak of “stress” and that pose a burden to the adrenals. These include variations in blood glucose (blood sugar), food intolerances (especially gluten), chronic infections, or environmental toxins. All of these conditions induce the adrenals to produce more stress hormones. In this context, stress is defined more broadly as those circumstances that alter the balance of the body .

 Adrenal stress has a direct impact on thyroid function. The five most important mechanisms are the following;

1) Adrenal stress interrupts the hypothalamic-pituitary axis . It works by depressing the function of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, reducing TSH secretion, and therefore reducing thyroid function.

 2) Adrenal stress reduces the conversion of T4 to T3 . Most of the hormone produced by the thyroid (about 90%) is T4, which is inactive in this form and must be converted to T3 to be used by cells. Some of the products released in the stress response interfere with the conversion of T4 to T3.

 3) Adrenal stress weakens immune barriers . We have already discussed the leaky gut syndrome and the importance of the integrity of the intestinal barrier to avoid autoimmune diseases. Adrenal stress weakens this barrier, allowing the passage of substances that can influence the generation of autoimmune diseases.

 4) Adrenal stress causes resistance to thyroid hormone . For the thyroid hormone that circulates in the blood to have its physiological effect, it must bind to receptors on the surface of the cells of our body. Products derived from the response to chronic stress have been shown to suppress the sensitivity of these receptors to thyroid hormone.

 5) Adrenal stress causes hormonal alterations . Cortisol is one of the hormones released by the adrenals during the stress response. The prolonged release of cortisol decreases the liver’s ability to remove excess estrogen from the blood. An excess of estrogens increases the level of the protein TBG (Thyroid Binding Globulin, in English), the protein to which the thyroid hormone attaches itself to be transported by the blood. When thyroid hormone is bound to globulin, it is inactive. It must be freed from this protein to exert its cellular action. Too much of this protein interferes with the action of the thyroid hormone.

How does stress influence thyroid problems?

With what we have seen so far, it is already possible to intuit that there is a relationship between the psychological state and the functioning of the thyroid . And when we talk about phenomena that are both psychological and physiological, such as stress, this connection is clearer.

Being very stressed, our body begins to produce a large amount of a hormone called cortisol, which seems to hinder the proper functioning of the thyroid and, specifically, modifies its patterns of thyroid hormone production. If high levels of stress are maintained for a long time, this can affect the thyroid, which becomes unable to do its job. And in turn, the consequences that this has on our physical health (overweight, inflammation …) and mental (concentration problems, hypersensitivity …) predispose us to continue to be anxious or stressed, leading to a vicious circle.

Furthermore, stress is associated with altered functioning of the adrenal glands, which secrete cortisol; In certain cases, this alteration leads to a qualitative change in the functioning of the immune system, which causes our body’s defenses to attack certain cellular tissues that are in the thyroid .

Of course, it must be borne in mind that in most cases in which these phenomena occur, either there is a biological predisposition to have problems with the immune system, or high levels of stress must be maintained for a long time, becoming chronic. A single high stress experience is unlikely to cause thyroid problems. After all, the physiological and psychological mechanisms behind stress are completely natural, and feeling stressed from time to time is not a bad thing in itself or something to avoid at all costs.

Now, it is clear that those who already have thyroid problems have much more to lose if they fail to manage their stress problems correctly . Therefore, in such cases it is advisable to have psychological assistance.

What to do to avoid going through these CHANGES?

Fortunately, today there are effective medical treatments to keep thyroid problems, or at least their symptoms in the short term, under control. However, the same cannot be said of stress, which requires a broader approach combining medicine and resources from the field of psychology. That is why in order to manage emotions well in general and stress in particular, it is advisable either to go to the psychologist directly (the most effective option), or to try to adopt new habits that promote the correct regulation of anxiety in the day to day . These are several tips that can help you achieve it:

  • Make sure you get enough sleep and have a set sleep schedule.
  • Do not consume addictive substances.
  • Get regular moderate exercise, at least twice a week.
  • Establish a work routine to perform better and not let time accumulate in an unproductive way.
  • Eat well, following a balanced diet that provides you with all the macronutrients and vitamins you need.
  • Practice Mindfulness regularly.
  • Detect your stress management behaviors that bring you more problems than they solve (pulling your hair, eating without hunger …)


  • Boron, WF; Boulpaep, EL (2012). Medical Physiology. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Mizokami, T .; Wu Li, A .; El-Kaissi, S. et al. (2004). Stress and thyroid autoimmunity [abstract]. Thyroid, 14 (12): pp. 1047-1055.
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