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Thyroid hormones and brain function go hand in hand. TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), the hormone released by the pituitary gland in the brain, signals the thyroid to begin releasing thyroid hormone. In this way, thyroid hormone influences brain processes, such as cognition, nerve cell growth, and myelination.
When you’re not producing enough thyroid hormone -- as happens with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or hypothyroidism -- it can also affect the health of your nervous system and other brain and neurological functions. Some common neurological symptoms of a thyroid imbalance include brain fog, confusion, poor memory retention, inability to focus, and depression. Thyroid disease can also alter brain function and produce symptoms similar to ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or ADD (attention deficit disorder). The symptoms of ADHD include difficulty concentrating and focusing, appearing forgetful, and challenges with executive function.
Researchers have explored the crossover and prevalence of thyroid disease and ADHD to determine if there is any link. A Danish study of over 30,000 children showed that children born to mothers with untreated hypothyroidism during pregnancy face an increased risk of specific neurodevelopmental disorders. Specifically, babies born to mothers with hyperthyroidism (excess production of thyroid hormone) during pregnancy had an increased risk of ADHD. Similar findings were found in babies born to mothers with maternal hypothyroidism. Babies born to mothers with untreated hypothyroidism during pregnancy also showed an increased risk of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
Interestingly, one study of 277 children also found that the prevalence of thyroid abnormalities was higher in children with ADHD versus those with normal thyroid function. The association also varied dependent on gestational age at delivery, the sex of the child, and race-ethnicity.
Brain chemistry changes caused by a thyroid issue can also mimic or worsen symptoms of ADHD or ADD. This is potentially one of the reasons that thyroid disease goes undiagnosed. Thyroid symptoms related to memory and focus are similar to ADHD or ADD, causing many doctors to treat their patients for those conditions instead of diagnosing and treating an underlying thyroid condition.
The most common medication prescribed for those with ADHD is Adderall. Adderall is a stimulant drug that helps gradually balance the brain’s neurochemicals and reduce common ADHD symptoms. However, is Adderall a good fit for someone with a history of thyroid disease? No, according to the label. Adderall comes with a caution that clearly states that anyone with a history of thyroid problems should be cautious and potentially avoid using Adderall.
In addition, it’s important to be aware that some of the side effects of Adderall are similar to the common thyroid symptoms, including gastrointestinal issues, nervousness and anxiety, changes in blood pressure, muscle aches, and agitation.
The best approach is to first test for any thyroid abnormalities by having a full thyroid panel. If the thyroid issue is often addressed at the onset, symptoms of ADHD will also be partially or fully alleviated.
With autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s -- as well as neurological disorders such as ADHD -- there are some holistic and integrative ways to provide additional support to your health safely:
- Incorporate brain-nourishing nutrients such as omega 3’s, healthy fats, and antioxidants. These are found in avocados, olive oil, wild-caught fatty fish, walnuts, and flax seeds
- Practice movement and regular exercise to support the brain. Routine physical activity increases the number of blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the brain and the rest of the body. Exercise also develops new nerve cells and improves connections between synapses and brain cells.
- Stimulate the mind by helping your brain generate new cells and develop neurological plasticity. You can learn a new language or take up a new hobby or skill. The key is trying something outside your routine to stimulate your brain.
- Prioritize adequate sleep each night and create a wind-down routine to help shift your nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode. Sleep can also help clear abnormal proteins out of your brain and help boost your overall memory.
- Communication and socialization are like giving your brain a warm, comforting hug. Have a support system that you can turn to in times of need and if you feel that you need more personalized and consistent mental support, seek the help of a professional for therapy or counseling.
Starting with the best diagnosis will help you and your healthcare provider find the right solutions and achieve long-term healing. If you feel that something does not feel right in your body, seek the support and guidance of a healthcare professional who can help you address these concerns from a whole-person perspective. For hypothyroidism diagnosis and treatment, you can schedule a visit with one of our top Paloma doctors, who can test and monitor your thyroid levels regularly, manage optimal thyroid treatment, and prescribe needed thyroid medication.