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Levothyroxine (Synthroid) is a commonly prescribed drug in the United States. If you’re taking it, there is a good chance you shouldn’t be. Patients who are taking thyroid medication often still don’t feel well. Their thyroid levels are acceptable, so they don’t think it has anything to do with their thyroid gland or medication. They don’t often consider that their body may not have been ready for the thyroid medication. For example, did the doctor test their adrenal glands before prescribing the thyroid medication? The answer is almost always no.   

Why is that important? Those with insufficient adrenal function shouldn’t be taking thyroid medication. The drug inserts for these medications indicate this. 

How will you know if you have insufficient adrenal function if you don’t test it? You won’t; you will never see long-term adrenal function. Your adrenal fatigue will keep coming back. The Swiss Watch Principle explains how all the body systems are connected. So adrenal fatigue won’t just affect the adrenals. Neither will thyroid dysfunction. Or an autoimmune issue. Or chronic stress. Every one of these areas affects several functions within the body. 

What Causes Adrenal Insufficiency?

Because every person’s body is different, there is no one factor of adrenal insufficiency. But there are a few possible triggers. Let’s break a few down as examples. 

Under functioning Adrenals

Adrenal insufficiency can happen when the adrenal glands are under-functioning. (1) They make certain hormones; if they’re not doing this, they’re underperforming. Adrenal insufficiency can be primary (Addison’s disease), secondary, or tertiary. 

Secondary adrenal insufficiency happens when the pituitary gland doesn’t make enough ACTH. ACTH tells the adrenals, part of the endocrine system, to produce cortisol. People often recognize cortisol as the ‘stress hormone.’ While it does help regulate the body’s stress response, it is also integral to several aspects of your body. Cleveland Clinic (3) explains that this hormone is a glucocorticoid. In other words, it’s a steroid hormone. This group of hormones suppresses inflammation and affects circadian rhythms. They also control metabolism in your muscles, fat, liver, and bones. Cortisol helps regulate blood sugar, too. 

Tertiary adrenal insufficiency starts in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus makes CRH, which tells the pituitary gland to make ACTH. 

Chronic Stress

There are three types of stressors—traumas, toxins, and thoughts. The body doesn’t recognize the different kinds, just the stress. They all put stress on the body, eliciting the same internal reactions. Maybe you have Celiac and ate gluten. You may have a hormone imbalance. Or you might’ve moved recently, had a baby, or gone back to college, all of which could result in mental stress. Whatever type of stress you’re experiencing, the body prioritizes survival. 

If you’re running from a bear, is your body as worried about metabolism? Blood pressure? Blood sugar? No, of course not. It wants to get you out of a bad situation. 

Your adrenals aren’t the body’s priority if you’re under chronic stress. This stress can lead to a decrease in the production of adrenal hormones. Which, in its turn, causes adrenal dysfunction. 

Other Possible Triggers

  • The feedback loop isn’t working 
  • The adrenals are overworked 
  • Excessive cortisol levels 
  • Too much DHEA 

The Swiss Watch at Work

Adrenal insufficiency is a pretty broad definition. And there are a lot of people that could relate. People with insufficient adrenal function should not be taking thyroid medication. So why aren’t they testing adrenal function before prescribing? 

It could be because the doctors don’t know. Or it may be that they don’t know another option to help you. One problem with this is that the adrenals and the thyroid work together. It’s that Swiss Watch Principle again. If one goes up, the other must go down. 

If you have low thyroid, the adrenals will try to compensate and go up. In extreme cases, this can lead to hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism comes from the opposite situation. What happens if your adrenals are low and you take medication to make them go up? The thyroid medication can exacerbate adrenal insufficiency. It can push you into adrenal or thyroid disease! 

Adrenal disease can induce harmful effects like heart attacks. How can a thyroid medication have a heart attack as a side effect? The drug can cause adrenal problems. That can significantly affect the aortic function. 

You have to be very careful. Thousands of our patients’ health problems have been made worse by their thyroid meds. Their TSH levels were normal. Because of that, they never connect it to their medication. They say, “my thyroid is great.” They don’t link it to the other problems they are having. 

Furthermore, TSH stands for thyroid stimulating hormone. TSH isn’t a thyroid hormone. It is a brain hormone that impacts the thyroid. Thyroid hormones that can tell you the level of your thyroid function are T4, T3, and reverse T3. The other names for these hormones are thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), and reverse triiodothyronine (rT3). When your doctor measures your TSH, he isn’t measuring the full scope of your thyroid health. Instead, he is measuring what the brain is asking for from the thyroid. To fully understand your thyroid health, you need to test all the thyroid hormone levels. 

Symptoms Of Adrenal Insufficiency

  • Pupil dilation 
  • Allergies and breathing complaints 
  • Dark circles under the eyes 
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness 
  • Depression 
  • Dry skin 
  • Tiredness 
  • Headaches 
  • Joint pain 
  • Loss of muscle tone 
  • Blood pressure problems 
  • Low sex drive 
  • Poor circulation 
  • Weight gain or weight loss 
  • Feeling run down but having trouble sleeping 
  • Salt and sugar cravings 

PubMed gives the following as symptoms of hypothyroidism(4): 

  • fatigue 
  • lethargy 
  • cold intolerance 
  • weight gain 
  • constipation 
  • change in voice 
  • dry skin 

Those symptoms for adrenal insufficiency are at least like those for thyroid problems. Others are the same. If you don’t get tested, your doctor could just put you on one of the most prescribed medications in the US. They might assume you have a thyroid condition when you have an adrenal condition. 

WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU HAVE THESE SYMPTOMS? GET TESTED

Getting tested properly will tell you what is going on. Your doctor can only assess a functioning body if the testing is complete. You won’t know what your body needs to function normally and without medication. 

START SHUTTING DOWN AT 9 PM

Your circadian rhythm impacts your adrenals. If you’re a night person, you’ll be very sick. You’re running on adrenaline, and you’re going to burn out. You need to get rest at night. Try going to bed earlier compared to later. Even if you get the same number of hours of sleep, you will feel more rested if you go to bed earlier! The number of hours you get before midnight can dramatically change your health. Make sure to sleep in a dark room and start turning lights and electronics off beforehand to get good sleep. 

GET AN INVERSION TABLE

When you put your heart and head below your adrenals, it will let your adrenals rest. Where are your adrenals? Right above your kidneys. That’s why you can have lower back pain if your adrenals are stressed. An inversion table is something you can find cheaply online. You can also find other ways to get your heart and head below the adrenals. Try Pilates or put a board under the mattress at the bottom of your bed. 

REDUCE EMF EXPOSURE

We are surrounded by radiation from electromagnetic fields all the time. Microwaves, WiFi, computers, and a phone in your pocket only increase that exposure. Reduce exposure by turning off the appliances and devices when you aren’t using them. Reduce the harm of exposure by regularly grounding. Get those feet on the ground and feel the grass between your toes. 

Want to learn more about grounding? Check out this quick tip. 

LEARN STRESS MANAGEMENT

Chronic stress is one of the easiest ways to make yourself sick, and it will drain your adrenals. It is crucial to find ways to manage your stress. Set firm boundaries and make priorities to ease some of that strain. Find time to build yourself and relax. 

CBD OIL

CBD oil is a supplement that can support your adrenals in a few different ways. It can help with stress, sleep, and your immune system. CBD oil can help you get the sleep you need for your body to repair itself. Take a little before bedtime if you have been waking up feeling exhausted. CBD oil has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. These will support your immune system to help you heal. CBD oil is great in so many ways. Look for a high-quality, full-spectrum oil like the one we make. 

But it’s my Thyroid!

When they think of thyroid conditions, most people think of autoimmune thyroid disease. One of the most common autoimmune diseases is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. 

Autoimmune disorders happen when your antibodies and immune system target your own body. We will talk more about Grave’s and Hashimoto’s later this month. For now, autoimmune disorders don’t have to be a life sentence. And they’re not the only ones that can cause trouble elsewhere. That’s the whole point behind the Swiss watch philosophy and the way we do healthcare. Thyroid and adrenal health have impacts on the rest of the body. They have just as much impact as cardiovascular health, heart rate, and menstrual cycles. 

This clarity is why the urine and blood tests we do at The Wellness Way are so important. Knowing where you’re feeling the effects of something doesn’t mean you know the cause. Get these tests done to figure out which part of the body needs help. Work with a practitioner that knows how to read the tests and support your body back to homeostasis. Only then can you know you’re addressing something the right way. 

References

  1. Definition & Facts of Adrenal Insufficiency & Addison’s Disease: NIH 
  2. Levothyroxine sodium product insert 
  3. Cortisol: Cleveland Clinic 
  4. Hypothyroidism: PubMed 

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

33 Comments

  • Ruth Rogge says:

    If I am on Thyroid meds will the adrenal test be accurate? I also have a small nodule on the left side of my thyroid. I

    • The Wellness Way says:

      Yes, because the thyroid medication does not affect the adrenals. But the adrenal glands will affect the thyroid so your prescription dosage could be incorrect for your body. The only way to know for sure is to test so we can get body to homeostasis, or balance. If you have any other questions just let us know!

  • Laura says:

    I was just put on thyroid medication for hypothyroidism. Is hypothyroid a common response to adrenal insufficiency? We are currently trying for to conceive. I could be pregnant now. It’s too early to test. If I am pregnant should I wait to check my adrenals and stay on synthroid until I have the baby. The endocrinologist said I might miscarry if I was off of the medication and pregnant because I wouldn’t make the TSH necessary.

    Thank you

  • Candy says:

    I have been on levothyroxine for 10 yrs! I don’t have a thyroid. I have anxiety, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, no calcium glands either! Trying to get off meds and use nutrition but I can’t not take it! What is an alternative?

  • Ccm says:

    I know you can never recommend coming off of levo cold turkey, but I have recently started acupuncture and am on a gut cleaning regimen and stopped my levo because whenever I would forget to take it for a day or so I would sware that I felt better. Well, now it’s been 5 purposeful days off not taking it, and I’ve slept deeply (no insomnia) lifted depression and an overall more centered feeling. However, when I do research all the info says it’s severly dangerous to just stop. But I know I feel better without, the acupuncturist says it’s ok to stop. What would your opinion be?

    • The Wellness Way says:

      Thank you for your question! It sounds like you are taking steps for your health and it is working for you. The only definitive way to know is to be properly tested.

  • Christine says:

    I’m on nature throid 1 grad. Is this an okay medication? I was told it was natural.

    • The Wellness Way says:

      Hi Christine! Thank you for your question. That is a better medication than a synthroid if you have had your thyroid removed. The only way to know what is best for you is to be properly tested.

  • Lindsey Holz says:

    This info on adrenal glands is really making me think twice about the last 7 years i have been on Levo! I don’t even know what tests to get?

    • dmiller says:

      Hi Lindsey! It is tough when you don’t know where to start. One of our doctors is going to reach out to you to answer your question personally.

  • Melanie Cummings says:

    Is Tirosint a good one to be on? I’ve been taking it for 8 weeks, I’m still tired and want to sleep. My TSH was 5. My t3 and t4 was normal.

    • dmiller says:

      Hi Melanie, Thank you for your question. Tirosint is still a synthetic form just has less ingredients. One of our doctors is going to contact you personally by e-mail. The only way to know for sure what is best for your body is to test.

  • John Chown says:

    I Have been taking Levo for man-years. I still have the symptoms that I had many years ago. Tell me what test I should have my Dr. order. Ian a 88 year old man in excellent condition.

  • Nik says:

    I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer this past year. Had thyroid removed. I’m on Levothyroxine and would like to know what test to request for adrenal function.

  • Cynthia says:

    Hello,

    My PCP was managing my thyroid until my tests showed low TSH and low free T4 and he didn’t know what to do. He sent me to an endocrinologist who changed my medication. I was on Nature-Throid 130 mg; now taking Tirosint 175 mg. I’m due for blood work in a few weeks. My endo tested for adrenal insufficiency and performed cosyntropin test which she said came back as “normal.” Is the saliva cortisol test more reliable than the blood test?

    Thank you. I look forward to your response.

  • Nicole says:

    What if you don’t have a thyroid and take Levothyroxine? Such as my situation. I had my thyroid removed a year and a half ago due to a cancer scare.

  • Joyce Wiegman says:

    I had thyroid cancer 20 years ago with thyroidectomy and have been taking Levothyroxine ever since. I’m curious if its necessary to take thyroid replacement.

    • The Wellness Way says:

      Hi Joyce,
      Thank you for your question. There have been lots of questions but everyone is different. One of our doctors will be contacting you directly.

  • Chris McCoy says:

    I’ve been on levothyroxine for many years. Levels are good, but I don’t feel the best. How do I go about testing my adrenals?

  • Karin Nowak says:

    Can I get the link to website that shows the tests you should have performed for thyroid?

  • Renee biundo says:

    I take 150mg of Levothyroxine and have hasimoto . I had anti bodies and t3 and t4 tested . Tsh normal range . My endo said I am producing enough just not absorbing it so put me cytomal too now . I also have had a total hysterectomy . I took my self off premerin but now he wants to start me on patches ? I am not going to lie I am a little afraid to go off Levo because my original tsh was 96 six years ago when I was dx. It was horrible I thought I was going to die . But after watching this video I was wondering about the adrenal testing ? I don’t think I ever was . I also suffer from severe anxiety and ocd which I have had most my life . Md solution was venaflexine . Wondering now if that all could be my adrenal related. Could you email me the list of tests I should be doing in your thyroid panel and also what is included in your allergy testing

    • The Wellness Way says:

      Thank you for reaching out, Renee! Wow — sounds like you’ve been through a lot! To answer your question, you can find our Thyroid Panel here, our Thyroid with Hormones panel here (the list of tests run in those panels can be seen under the Test Being Run tab), and our food allergy test can be found here. There is a sample food allergy test so you can see what allergies are tested for. We would love to help you gain some understanding to what you’re experiencing from The Wellness Way perspective — please reach out to a clinic near you so we can provide you personalized care! https://www.thewellnessway.com/clinics/

  • Debi Lemieux says:

    I have m.s. and probable hypothyroidism, my doc says no to meds ( even though my numbers go up and down) too soon, but ent says yes. I had a grapefruit size goiter removed 10 years ago.
    Could my m.s. and meds be affecting my thyroid or adrenals?

    • The Wellness Way says:

      Hi Debi! Thank you for your question. Yes, it is very possible they could be impacting your thyroid or adrenals. To really find the best ways to support your individual body, we encourage you to reach out to one of The Wellness Way Clinics. https://www.thewellnessway.com/clinics/ Is there one near you? If not, don’t worry. You can always talk to any of our doctors with a phone consultation.

  • Renee says:

    Let me start by saying, my thyroid numbers have never been crazy, just slightly higher than what was deemed “normal”. Went to a holistic doctor for better health, didn’t have the energy level I used to have, felt fatigue and depressed. I was put on armour for about a year with very little results. Went to an Internist next and was put on Synthroid, which made me tired and didn’t help with symptoms but I was told to ride it out, that I would eventually start feeling better. After about a year of that and no progress, I went to a doctor who supposedly specialized in hormone therapy. He put me on 5 Cytomel and upped my dose of sythroid to 75 and added Zoloft for depression (which I believe has gotten progressively worse while taking Sythoid). At first, I felt better with the addition of Cytomel but after about 18 months, I started feeling immense anger, extreme agitation and major mood swings shortly after ingesting the Cytomel. At this point I had stopped going to this specialist because he wasn’t listening to me when I said none of this has been working over the past 4 years, can we stop these medications. I haven’t taken Cytomel in over a year. I continue to take 25 mcg of Synthroid because everything on the internet says you can die if you stop taking it. However, as my symptoms of fatigue, body aches, hair loss, weight gain and depression get worse, I highly question this drug. 3 weeks ago I started taking it every other day. The days I don’t take it, I feel GREAT! Can I stop taking this drug once and for all and not worry that I might die from a thyroid storm? Is there an alternative?

    • The Wellness Way says:

      Hi Renee,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience and it sounds like you have had quite the journey looking for health answers. We would love for you to talk with one of our docs further for your individual health needs. Check out our clinics page to see if there is a doc near you but don’t worry if there isn’t. All of our docs can do phone consultations. https://www.thewellnessway.com/clinics/

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