Have you been feeling more anxious than usual and not been able to pinpoint the cause? Are you experiencing mood swings, problems with concentration and brain fog during your day to day activities? You may be surprised but hypothyroidism could be the underlying cause of your anxiety or feeling on edge. We all know that thyroid affects the whole body: your metabolism, your energy and your weight but did you know that it can affect your mood and mental health too? Untreated hypothyroidism is closely linked with anxiety and even depression.
What causes anxiety and mental health disorders?
One of the big questions that many of us may be asking is what is actually causing mental health problems and why so many people nowadays suffer from anxiety and depression? Certainly there is combination of emotional stress, past childhood trauma and…of course nutrition! Both result in imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. While one of the most common standard treatments for depression are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), they don’t really solve the problem. Some people feel better while taking it, some don’t see difference. Functional medicine focuses on integrative approach and addressing the root cause of the neurotransmitter imbalances instead of just supressing the symptom.
So…what is the root cause of anxiety?
If we look at mental health disorders at high level, there are 4 main root causes of altered brain chemistry:
- chronic stress
- nutrient deficiencies
- poor gut health and…
- thyroid dysfunction!
What they all have in common is inflammation. There is also more and more evidence showing that depression i.e is an inflammatory condition, not really serotonin deficiency. Let’s focus on thyroid dysfunction today, hypothyroidism specifically and how it can cause anxiety and impact your brain.
How much hypothyroidism can affect my mental health?
Thyroid has a huge impact on your brain and it acts as the control centre for your body. Optimal levels of thyroid hormones are directly linked to the regulation of various neurotransmitters:
However from all four, GABA is the most important inhibitory neurotransmitter and one of the most important in terms of anxiety. Okay let me translate it to a more human language. GABA in other words, is your “feel good” chemical known for producing a calming effect.
Is low GABA making your feel anxious?
With hypothyroidism, balance between GABA and other neurotransmitters can become erratic and completely out of control. Low levels of thyroids hormones can cause low GABA and high concentrations of other excitatory neurotransmitters which can makes you feel anxious without any obvious reasons. If you feel like you are constantly wired, worry too much, experience insomnia or feeling of restlessness it may be linked with low GABA. Moreover low GABA is also linked with addictive behaviours.
Can stress cause anxiety and depletes GABA?
Have you ever craved alcohol after a stressful day and had a glass of wine to help calm down and unwind? This is your body’s way of telling you that your GABA needs to be activated! Whilst alcohol facilitates relaxation, the negative side effects of regular alcohol use far outweigh the short term feelings of calm. Anyway, the more you stress the more GABA you need to balance the effect caused by stress. What happens quite often is that chronic stress depletes your body from valuable nutrients like B vitamins and zinc. With low zinc your body wont be able to produce enough GABA leading to GABA deficiency and neurotransmitter imbalances.
It’s normal to feel stressed from time to time when you are under pressure to meet a deadline or struggle to deal with a particular problem. However it’s not normal to feel that everyday for prolonged period of time. When you have worrying thoughts that persist and do not go away even when the source of the stress is gone, you may develop serious anxiety over time.
How stress aggravates hypothyroidism?
When you are constantly under pressure, stressed or overthinking it forces your adrenals to constantly produce cortisol. Excess cortisol production over time can lead to adrenal fatigue. That means that with overworked adrenals your thyroid will slow down making you hypothyroidism worse. If you struggle to wake up in the morning and feel more energetic in the evening and on the top of that you crave salty foods or feel thirsty or bloated without reason, it’s very likely that your adrenals need support. Click here to read more about how to support adrenals, improve hypothyroidism and low T3 thyroid hormone levels.
How can you know if your anxiety is caused by hypothyroidism?
The best way is to get your thyroid tested. You can find full list of 5 most important thyroid tests to do here.
While it’s important to remember that everyone is different and everyone’s experience with a thyroid problem is unique, it’s also important to understand that hypothyroidism can have an effect on your mental health. The best natural remedy for mental health disorders is combination of correcting nutritional deficiencies with appropriate diet, improving gut health, regular exercise, stress management and counselling or psychotherapy.