Causes of Hypothyroidism: From Emotional Stress to Mineral Deficiencies

iodine deficiency causes hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a condition that mostly affects women and manifests in various forms, often insidiously and over an extended period. Quite often you may spend years feeling that something is not right: feeling fatigued and gaining weight despite eating well and regular exercise. At the same time when you ask your doctors for check-up, you are told that everything is fine including your TSH and thyroid levels. So let’s delve into the most common causes of hypothyroidism and explore how hypothyroidism typically develops

Chronic stress – the most common cause of hypothyroidism

One of the most common causes of hypothyroidism is chronic stress and nutrient deficiencies. Let’s take a look at stress first. When we feel stressed or even worrying about something or feeling anxious, we activate the “fight or flight” mode. The constant “fight or flight” activation puts the adrenal glands into overdrive by continuously increasing circulating cortisol – your stress hormone. That gradually leads to adrenal fatigue and increased levels of reverse T3. Unfortunately, Elevated reverse T3 “steals” your thyroid hormones and suppresses thyroid function as a result.

If you feel low in energy in the morning but more energetic in the evening and you tend to crave salty foods on the top of that, it’s quite likely your adrenal may be under stress.

Adrenal exhaustion subsequently disrupts the hormonal balance and estrogen-progesteron ratio which is also very important for thyroid function. The connection between adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism is unfortunately a two-way street, and creating a bit of a vicious cycle that is hard to break. 

It’s also important to note that the inception of thyroid issues is rarely an overnight occurrence. Emotional distress, often overlooked, is another contributing factor linked to hypothyroidism which we will explore in a bit. 

chronic stress main cause of hypothyroidism

How do you know if you are under a chronic stress?

Chronic stress is like that never-ending sense of being weighed down emotionally or physically. It usually comes from ongoing tough situations or problems that you just can’t shake off easily or keep constantly thinking about it creating various scenarios in your head but WITHOUT having a solution to the problem. Having more destructive thoughts, worries and being stuck with inaction rather than constructive thoughts and taking actions – that’s chronic stress too.

Unlike short-term stress, which comes and goes, chronic stress sticks around and can really mess with your body and mind over time. Mental distress affects your physical body by increasing cortisol disrupts your hormonal balance.

Examples of short-term acute stress:

  • Missed Flight or even traveling 
  • Running late for an important meeting or job interview
  • Traffic Accident
  • Unexpected Bills
  • Public Speaking or the anticipation and actual act of speaking in front of an audience can be induce stress too

Stressful situations are part of life and our body is adapted to cope well with short term stressors. For example, you missed your flights which of course is annoying but it happened and it’s not much you can do about it. It’s stressful for a moment but as the event passes you are back to normal life. What our body is not good at is coping with chronic stress…

cortisol main cause of hypothyroidism

Examples of chronic stress:

  • Job Pressure: Continuous deadlines, high-stakes projects, or a toxic work environment.
  • Relationship Issues: Constant fighting with a spouse or significant other, or dealing with complicated family dynamics.
  • Financial Strain: Persistent worries about debt, bills, or the inability to sustain a desired standard of living
  • Caregiving: Long-term responsibilities for caring for an aging parent with chronic illness or raising children family member with a chronic illness
  • Parenting: The constant demands of raising children, especially in a single-parent household or where resources are limited, can result in ongoing stress.
  • Educational Pressure: For students, the long-term strain of maintaining grades, social issues, and worries about future prospects
  • Social Isolation: Lack of a supportive social network and feelings of loneliness can lead to chronic stress.

Those situation constantly pump cortisol into your system. Chronically elevated cortisol levels not only leads to adrenal fatigue as I just mentioned but also cause inflammation and affects your gut too. Since gut health is everything and also a place where thyroid hormone conversion happens, without healthy gut you are on the fast track to hypothyroidism and thyroid issues.

Understanding the source of chronic stress is the first step in finding a way to cope with it and manage it effectively so it doesn’t impact your thyroid. I’m always saying that we have little control to life situations that happen to us but we are in FULL CONTROL how we react to them. It’s a difficult art but its 100% possible to change how you react to stressful situations.

The emotional cause of hypothyroidism.

Energetically, thyroid is linked with the throat chakra, the area of self-expression and personal power. Hypothyroidism affects mostly women and has been linked wth feelings of emotional hibernation, a lack of movement, and a build-up of unexpressed frustration and resentment. This emotional state can stem from the past and childhood experiences where expressing needs was difficult, leading to feelings of being held back and a lack of forgiveness for those who contributed to this condition. Let’s be honest, we learn at school how to solve complex math equations, study geography of remote places or anatomy of various animal species but unfortunately we are not being taught how to cope with our own emotions… According to Louise L. Hay and her famous book “Heal Your Body”, emotions like humiliation, feeling stuck, and asking “When is it my turn?” are very often behind thyroid issues.

How emotions affect your thyroid and physical body?

It’s hard to believe that emotion and your thoughts can cause hypothyroidism but they certainly can. As mentioned earlier, stressful situations activate body’s “fight or flight” mode. However, negative thoughts, feeling overwhelmed or emotional distress broadly speaking have the same effect on your body. Just thinking about stressful situation triggers certain emotions and that activates hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which controls cortisol release. 

hashimotos thyroiditis causes hypothyroidsm

Other common causes of hypothyroidism

Let’s take a look now on other factors that has significant impact on your thyroid function and can causes of hypothyroidism.

Autoimmune Conditions

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is one of the most common cause of hypothyroidism amongst women in their 30s-40s. If Hashimoto’s is left untreated it will gradually destroy thyroid gland leading to hypothyroidism 

Hormonal Changes:
  • Pregnancy – Hormonal changes during and after pregnancy can cause hypothyroidism.
  • Menopause – Fluctuating hormones during menopause, especially estrogen. Estrogen can contribute to hypothyroidism by blocking thryoid receptors
  • Cortisol – as mentioned earlier, chronically elevated cortisol is one of the main causes of hypothyroidism
  • Insulin elevated insulin levels not only increase inflammation but also interfere with thyroid hormone utilisation 
pregnancy can cause hypothyroidism
iodine deficiency causes hypothyroidism

Nutritional Deficiencies:

A lack of essential nutrients, particularly iodine, can significantly contribute to hypothyroidism.

  • Iodine Deficiency: Iodine is the essential mineral for thyroid hormone production. Iodine can be easily lost with sweat when you exercise a lot. Click here to read about it. Iodine is also pretty hard to get from diet as there are not many food rich in iodine.
  • Selenium Deficiency: Important for the conversion of T4 to T3, the active form of thyroid hormone. Selenium deficiency is also linked with elevated thyroid antibodies like anti-TPO
  • Zinc Deficiency: Plays a role in hormone synthesis and also in thyroid hormone conversion.

Lifestyle Factors:

  • Excessive Exercise: While exercise is generally beneficial for health, excessive and intense physical activity can tax the adrenal glands, leading to adrenal exhaustion, and consequently, hypothyroidism.
  • Living more to meet’s other people expectation rather what is true to yourself and what you need.
  • Excess drinking and smoking – both are toxic to the body and the liver. Excess alcohol additionally increases estrogen which is also one of the main causes of hypothyroidism
how excess exercise causes hypothyroidism
soy and goitrogenic foods cause hypothyroidism

Dietary Factors:

Eating healthy is tricky nowadays. Food can be your medicine but also the poison if you choose too much of wrong foods

  • Excess Soy: Phytoestrogens in soy interfere with thyroid function.
  • Goitrogenic Foods: Such as broccoli, kale, and spinach, peanut butter can interfere with iodine uptake gradually leading to hypothyroidism. Click here to check out other healthy foods that can be contributing to hypothyroidism.
  • Processed foods & food additives – both are inflammatory, similar like vegetable oils used in packaged foods. Excess inflammation impairs thyroid receptors which means that your body will struggle with utilising thyroid hormones.

If you are interested in thyroid diet click here to read more or check my latest post about Paleo diet and hypothyroidism

Gut Dysbiosis:

An imbalanced gut microbiome can also contribute to hypothyroidism. Gut health and thyroid health are closely linked. With gut dysbiosis your body’s ability to convert T4 which is inactive thyroid hormone to T3 -the  active form will be impaired. Moreover gut dysbiosis increases risk of elevated levels of LPS which are endotoxins. With high levels of endotoxins your liver will have more work but also your body will need to deal with more inflammation.

gut dysbiosis causes hypothyroidism
toxins and hypothyrodism

Environmental Toxins:
  • Heavy Metals: Exposure to lead, mercury (so prevalent in fish), etc., can disrupt thyroid function and hormonal balance
  • Endocrine Disruptors: Found in plastics, personal care products, cleaning products etc. Also fluoride found in tooth paste or bromine found in baked goods are another example of common endocrine disruptors.

Infections and Diseases:
  • Infections: Viral or bacterial infections, especially EBV or parasite are quite common. 
  • Pituitary Gland Disorders: A malfunctioning pituitary gland can disrupt thyroid function.
  • Hypothalamic Disease: Problems in the hypothalamus can also affect the thyroid.
what medications cause hypothyroidism

  • Lithium: Used in psychiatric conditions, can interfere with thyroid function.
  • Amiodarone: Used for heart conditions.
  • Antithyroid Medications: Such as Methimazole, used in the treatment of hyperthyroidism, can sometimes cause hypothyroidism as a side effect.

I know, it’s a lot! Hypothyroidism is a multifaceted disorder that usually develops over years. It can sneak up on you for various reasons. From lifestyle choices like chronic stress and excessive exercise to nutritional deficiencies, poor gut health and excess toxins. So, if you’re feeling ‘off,’ constantly tired, experience gut issue or gaining weight without obvious reasons – it might be worth checking your thyroid!
Blood tests (full thyroid panel) is the best way to detect hypothyroidism early and manage it appropriately.

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