Stress is the all too familiar state of tension resulting from challenging or unpleasant circumstances. Biologically, it refers to processes involving perception, appraisal, and response to adverse or demanding experiences. Stress can be emotional from interpersonal conflict, loss of loved ones, unemployment, major life transitions, etc. or physiological from diet choices, illness, injury, etc.
Some stress can be useful for you, activating your "fight" response. For instance, mild challenges may increase motivation to achieve goals. However, long-term stress, left unaddressed, can increase your risk for conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, or anxiety.
Impact of stress on thyroid function
Chronic stress can mess up the normal functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis - that is, the interaction between the central nervous system and the endocrine system. This dysregulation leads to an increase of stress hormones from the adrenal gland. Research suggests that maintaining high levels of these stress hormones may impact cellular immunity.
The exact ways in which stress affects autoimmune disease are not fully understood. Several studies show that emotional and physiological stressors can cause various immunologic changes. So it's thought that there may be a relationship between stress and Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
Evidence does show that the gut microbiome and thyroid autoimmunity influence one another. People with Hashimoto's disease often have an imbalanced gut microbiome - meaning that there are more bad bacteria than good bacteria in the gut's environment.
The thyroid is sensitive to changes in the gut microbiome. A well-balanced gut supports metabolic functions and helps to manage stress. Research shows that imbalance and inflammation in the central nervous system can cause mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
How does diet affects stress levels?
Diet choices help to manage the stress experienced in the body. The more dietary pressure you put on yourself, the more likely you are to experience inflammation that can worsen your autoimmune reactions and interfere with your thyroid function.
Certain foods increase the physiological stress on your body by making digestion more difficult, or by not giving essential nutrients to the brain and body. Some of the most common antigenic foods for those with a thyroid condition are gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, nuts, shellfish, and preservatives. You can handle stress more effectively when you are as healthy as possible, so eating a diet tailored to you is a strong defense against stress.
You see that it's cyclical. Stress can impact thyroid function, and diet can influence stress levels, so it's important to eat nutrient-rich foods to fuel your body.
How to restore gut balance
When your gut microbiome is in balance, your overall health improves. Ahead, four steps that can help to address underlying issues and restore gut balance, helping to alleviate symptoms.
Remove dietary triggers
Reactive foods may cause inflammation that can worsen your autoimmune reactions or interfere with your thyroid function.
Replace with nutrient-rich foods
You need nutrients like selenium, iron, & zinc for thyroid synthesis. Load up on fruits & veggies, fresh fish, and healthy fats like seeds & nuts.
Reintroduce healthy bacteria
Repair with supplementation
Supplementing nutrient deficiencies can help to improve symptoms or support thyroid medication absorption.
Best foods for stress management
Cacao is the raw form of cocoa that, when processed, becomes cocoa or chocolate. In its raw form, cacao is loaded with minerals like magnesium, copper, potassium, and calcium. Magnesium helps to regulate blood pressure and calm the nervous system. It is also critical for thyroid hormone T4 to convert to hormone T3.
Bananas contain the mood-boosting chemical dopamine, along with some B vitamins, which may help decrease stress and fatigue.
Fish like salmon, tuna, halibut, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that support heart health and may lower overall stress and anxiety.
Mild dehydration can increase cortisol levels, which contributes to increased stress. Aim for half of your body weight (lbs) in ounces of water every day. And if you have a coffee, alcohol, or sweat for 30 minutes, have an extra 8-ounce glass.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are good sources of selenium (especially Brazil nuts), which is an active immunomodulator, meaning that it helps to regulate and normalize the immune system. B vitamins in nuts may also help lower stress and blood pressure.
Avocados are full of healthy fats, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and fiber. Vitamins C and B6 can help reduce stress, and potassium may help lower blood pressure.
Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale are a rich source of magnesium, which can help regulate cortisol and blood pressure levels. Leafy greens also contain folate, which helps to produce the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we experience pleasure.
A note from Paloma Health
Many nutritional and lifestyle factors play a role in optimizing thyroid function. Work with a thyroid nutritionist to determine your nutritional status, develop a personalized thyroid diet plan, and build healthy habits.