Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Take the stress out of supplementing for thyroid and adrenal health.

Written By:
Colleen Morrison
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When a customer walks in panicking about their thyroid or adrenal glands, tell them, “Don’t freak out! Your adrenals won’t like that!” Too much stress is enough to throw these glands out of whack, causing your customers to feel tired, unmotivated or anxious, or to gain weight. Diet and supplements can be just the trick to keep everything functioning well and alleviate any worries your customers may have, while giving them back a happy skip in their step.

A Grand, Glandular System
The thyroid and adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system (which also includes the pituitary, pineal body and hypothalamus of the brain, as well as the parathyroids, thymus, pancreas, ovaries and testes) and is in charge of producing and releasing hormones for growth, metabolism and sexual function into the bloodstream (1). Problems arise when these glands don’t communicate correctly, or make or release too much or too little of specific hormones.

As they are part of the same system, the adrenal and thyroid glands are similar in how they influence the body. Both have roles in metabolism and energy, and are affected negatively by chronic stress and poor diet (2).

But there are also some important differences. In fact, symptoms for low-functioning adrenals and a low-functioning thyroid are quite the opposite! Let’s first focus on one gland at a time, then discuss which supplement options are available for customers concerned with supporting both adrenal and thyroid health.

Running on Fumes
We’ll begin with the adrenal glands, just as your customers should, too, according to Terry Lemerond, founder and president of EuroPharma, Inc., Green Bay, WI, in his webinar, “Treating the Problem Thyroid and Adrenal Glands.” This is due to extra stress being put on the possibly already-weakened adrenals if the thyroid is stimulated and increases metabolism, resulting in possible adrenal burnout (2).

The adrenals are located right above the kidneys and are made up of the cortex (outer layer) and medulla (inner layer). The cortex secretes cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone” as it regulates stress and overproduction can cause harmful, chronic stress. The medulla secretes adrenaline. Both have an impact on energy production, fluid and electrolyte balance, fat storage and stress response (2), also known as “fight or flight.” People with poor functioning adrenals may more often be filled with fear, not willing to take risks or be exhausted by confrontation as they are lacking the correct combination of cortisol and adrenaline necessary to adequately respond to stress; this can also be followed by frequent upper respiratory problems that can leave the body more fatigued and tired than it should be while recovering from something as simple as the common cold (2). Other symptoms of adrenal fatigue include trouble falling and staying asleep, craving sweets and salt, long energy recovery after a work-out and being extra sensitive to or intolerant of heat (2).

Before supplementing, have your customers consider their diet. As noted, a poor diet puts stress on these glands, so maybe the energy they’re lacking can be achieved by simply cutting back on certain ingredients. Lemerond suggests limiting carbohydrates and refined white sugars, while promoting protein and “high-quality fats” as opposed to ones that are processed or hydrogenated. But, this is just the start for those concerned with total adrenal health (2).

Don’t Fear! Adrenal Help Is Here!
For general support, supplement with pregnenolone (a naturally occurring steroid made by the body), DHEA and plenty of vitamin C, as the adrenals are the only part of the body that store it temporarily. Freeze-dried adrenal extract, produced by animals, is also available to help boost adrenal function and eliminate fatigue, and can be injected or taken orally, placing some under the tongue for use as a quick stress reliever (2) (11).

Licorice root is often used to combat respiratory problems as well as chronic fatigue syndrome, and when combined with adaptogenic herbs (which we will discuss later), it is used to improve adrenal function; this is especially helpful for people recovering from taking steroids, which can suppress adrenal function if used long-term (3). It also helps maintain cortisol (2). Rehmannia, an herb often used in Chinese medicine, also has adrenal hormone-boosting properties due to catalpol, a natural, plant-based chemical compound found in the flower’s root.

Moving on to Metabolism
On to the next gland. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the throat, responsible for producing hormones for body heat production, bone growth and the body’s metabolism (1). Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is first produced in the hypothalamus as thyotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which then triggers the pituitary to release TSH for the thyroid to make triidothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormones. These hormones are responsible for stimulating metabolism as well as aiding in brain development during a baby’s first three years (4). An underactive thyroid that produces less hormones than normal is referred to as hypothyroidism, which can cause weight gain, tiredness, dry skin and frequent menstrual cycles; an overactive thyroid (i.e., hyperthyroidism) can make and distribute too much hormone, and can cause weight loss, rapid heart rate, nervousness and irregular menstrual cycles (4). Other symptoms indicating a malfunctioning thyroid include aching muscles, low libido, depression, craving carbohydrates and fat, exhaustion and intolerance to cold (2).

Testing thyroid function can be a little tricky. One way is to have a doctor do a TSH test, in which they take a blood sample to test for T3 and T4 levels (4). Because results differ based on an individual’s health and other factors, some feel this is not an accurate way to test for T3 and T4 levels (4).

Another way to test is by checking basal body temperature; this is done by placing a thermometer under the armpit immediately upon waking up in the morning, and recording the results for 10 days. The range to aim for is 97.8–98.2 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average number below possibly indicating a problem with the thyroid (2). However, this, too, has the possibility for inaccuracy, especially for women: body temperature rises before and during menstruation, so readings should be taken a week after a period ends for a more accurate reading (2). Once your customers find out about a deficiency or are on the cusp of one—and get a doctor’s approval—supplements can help.

Tackling the Thyroid
For general support, iodine has anti-bacterial, -cancer and -parasitic properties and is often used as a support for the immune system; it’s also an essential component of T3 and T4 (2). More specifically, potassium iodide, sodium iodide and molecular iodide (iodide being a form of iodine bound to another element) taken along with L-tyrosine and (to aid in absorption) niacin, magnesium, riboflavin, manganese and selenium should be used for specific, targeted thyroid support. Different parts of the body benefit more from different forms of iodine (2). Recommended doses for thyroid support are 30 mg of potassium iodide with 400 mg of L-tyrosine daily, with a healthcare provider’s permission.

Research is being conducted to test iodine’s ability to prevent thyroid cancer. According to one such study, French Polynesia has one of the world’s highest rates of widespread thyroid cancer cases, so researchers aimed to assess if a diet low in iodine had any correlation to this deadly trend. The case included 203 female and 26 male thyroid cancer patients plus 371 controls; all subjects ate diets that included fish and food from the sea, though 60% of all subjects had insufficient daily dietary iodine intake from the start. The results showed that those who had a higher consumption of seafood and dietary iodine were associated with a significantly decreased risk of thyroid cancer (5).

For hypothyroidism, tiratricol, a naturally occurring chemical in the body, can be taken to increase metabolism (6) as well as selenium, which is normally produced in small quantities by the thyroid and is necessary in the regulation of hormones for growth and metabolism, though is toxic in large doses (7).

For hyperthyroidism or Grave’s disease, the most common form of an overactive thyroid, decaffeinated (avoiding stimulants is important) green tea extract is a great tool for its antioxidant values, along with lemon balm, which can help slow an overactive thyroid, as well as iron (8).

Taken Together
Although the symptoms and problems resulting from malfunctioning thyroid and adrenal glands can be very different, some supplements support both, such as B-vitamins or L-tyrosine, which, as stated previously, is important to combine with iodine for high efficacy and absorption in the thyroid. In the case of the adrenals, L-tyrosine is required to properly produce the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine (2).

Adaptogenic herbs function just as they sound like they should: they help the body better adapt to stress. These are often found in ancient Chinese medicine, and include Chinese, Korean or Siberian ginseng, withania and eleuthero. Another is astragalus, the dried root of which is used for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as embraced for its ability to fight fatigue and help with respiratory problems (9). Ashwagandha is used to help improve upon many of the aforementioned symptoms for both glands, like menstrual problems, reduced libido, insomnia and respiratory problems, as well as helping the body better cope with stress, thus helping to protect the adrenals and thyroid from harm (10).

Another avenue your customers can take when battling sluggish adrenals and thyroids is with natural metabolism-boosting supplements. These can include cinnamon, capsaicin and ginger, as well as currently trending branded supplements like green coffee bean extract and raspberry ketones. If they’re just interested in natural stress relievers as a preventative measure against wearing out their adrenals, point them to supplements containing chamomile, lavender, valerian, kava kava, St. Johns wort, hops and aromatherapy products.

Just remember: a calm customer is a happy customer with a healthy endocrine system. WF

 References
1. American Medical Association, “Endocrine System,” www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/patient-education-materials/atlas-of-human-body/endocrine-system.page, accessed Dec. 31, 2012.
2. T. Lemerond, “Treating the Problem Thyroid and Adrenal Glands,” webinar, Dec. 13, 2012.
3. MedlinePlus, “Licorice,” www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/881.html, accessed Dec. 31, 2012.
4. WebMD, “Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH),” www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/thyroid-stimulating-hormone-tsh, accessed Dec. 31, 2012.
5. É Cléro, et al., “Dietary Iodine and Thyroid Cancer Risk in French Polynesia: A Case-Control Study,” Radiation Epidemiology Group, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22280227, accessed Dec. 31, 2012.
6. WebMD, “Tiratricol,” www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-528-TIRATRICOL.aspx?activeIngredientId=528&activeIngredientName&source=0, accessed Dec. 31, 2012.
7. Linus Pauling Institute, “Selenium,” http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/selenium/, accessed Dec. 31, 2012.
8. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Hyperthyroidism,” www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/hyperthyroidism-000088.htm, accessed Dec. 31, 2012.
9. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Astragalus,” www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/astragalus-000223.htm, accessed Dec. 31, 2012.
10. WebMD, “Aswagandha,” www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-953-ASHWAGANDHA.aspx?activeIngredientId=953&activeIngredientName=ASHWAGANDHA, accessed Dec. 31, 2012.
11. WebMD, “Adrenal Extract,” www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-941-ADRENAL%20EXTRACT.aspx?activeIngredientId=941&activeIngredientName=ADRENAL%20EXTRACT,  accessed Dec. 31, 2012.

 

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2013