July 5

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One of the Greatest Influences on Hashimoto’s Inflammation – Stress!

By Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS, LDN

July 5, 2021

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3 Daily Adds to Lower Your Hashimoto's Inflammation

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Stress is one of the primary causes of Hashimoto’s. There are different types of stress but stress at its core is what causes that autoimmune gene you have to flip from off to on. 

Stress is inherently difficult to manage though because most don’t understand what creates stress in the body. Or really what they can do about it. Some actually think they have to remove stress. That’s insane! You can’t quit your job or sell your kids and move to a deserted island. Removing stress isn’t realistic. Instead, you have to make a mindset shift from reducing stress to managing it better. 

After reading this blog, you’ll learn and understand how stress can impact your ability to heal your Hashimoto’s and how you can stop inflammation by managing your stress better. 

Let’s start by learning a bit about the stress response.

Stress Cycle - Adrenaline, Noradrenaline, & Cortisol

Each time your body is stressed, it goes through the exact same process. The adrenal glands, small glands that sit atop your kidneys, release 3 hormones in succession:

  • Adrenaline - gets your heart pumping and your blood flowing to increase oxygen to muscles
  • Noradrenaline - gives you laser focus. Have you ever been under a deadline and the ideas are just flowing? That’s noradrenaline.
  • Cortisol - the most damaging hormone but something we also need. 

This is called your fight or flight response. When this is activated, so many other functions of the body are turned off. Functions that are important to day-today health…

  • Digestion stops which leads to low nutrient absorption causing hair loss, weight gain, mood imbalances, and so much more
  • Insulin is turned off leading to insulin resistance causing more fatigue and weight gain
  • Your body is then flooded with stored energy that can’t be restored after the stress is over so its turned into fat and stored around the belly causing more weight gain and fatigue
The longer cortisol is present in the body, the longer these functions are altered. 

The body doesn’t know good stress from bad stress. A good stress might be exercise or intermittent fasting. Bad stress would be pressure from work, ruminating thoughts, disease in the body, and other types of stress we don’t want. 

The body has no clue whether you’re exercising or outrunning a lion. It only recognizes that there is a stressor. If these stressors build, inflammation is going to happen. And stress is one of the primary reasons that Hashimoto’s becomes active in the body. 

Stress creates inflammation and inflammation creates stress. 

It’s a cycle that no one wants to be in. When cortisol is high, the body thinks there’s a foreign invader. The immune system signals inflammation to help attack the invaders. The problem is that when inflammation is up, the body releases more cortisol to reduce inflammation. When you’re stressed, inflammation is high. And when inflammation is high, the body is more stressed. 

With my clients, there are 2 main things that I see:

  1. Most have no clue that stress creates these problems in the body and since they don’t know, they don’t recognize how damaging stress is to our health, and
  2. They have no clue how stressed they are or what feeds into the stress response

So, let’s talk about a few things that feed into stress with Hashimoto’s. 

Thoughts Create Inflammation

If you look at the stress response we just discussed, you can see that it’s something you want to avoid for your health. But it’s difficult...especially when the mind is racing.

If you’re the type of person that has a running to-do list in their head, you’re likely someone that creates stress from thoughts. It’s okay! Most of us are that way. We need to remember these things so that we don’t forget them!

Or maybe you tend to ruminate. You run through conversations that upset you or maybe conversations you had that you’re trying to analyze. Replaying these conversations in your head can elicit a physiological response. Just like your to-do list can.

If you’ve ever been replaying an argument and notice that your heart starts to beat faster. Or maybe you start to get warm and you notice that your muscles are tensing the more you replay the argument. And now you can feel that you’re getting angry. This is a physiological response to that mental stress. Your body is reacting to what you’re thinking about.

The same thing happens when you think about happy things. If you close your eyes and picture the happiest day that you can recall. You really put yourself back there and you can feel what it was like in that happy moment you're focusing on. You might notice that your body relaxes, maybe a smile creeps up on your face, and you can feel joy spreading through your body. That’s a physiological response to that thought. 

Your body reacts to your thoughts. It can react in a relaxing way or a stress creating way. If you find that you replay not-so-good moments, run through that daily to-do list, get upset at others in your head, or any of the long list of negative things our minds like to focus on...you’re creating stress in your body. 

And this is likely a stressor that you never thought about. Your thoughts and stress. It’s okay! Most people don’t. 

Food Creates Inflammation

Foods can also create stress in the body. If you recall, inflammation creates stress. And certain foods that you’re eating can trigger inflammation.

This is why you’ll read about people changing their diet or removing certain foods and their Hashimoto’s starts to get better. The foods are an issue but it’s really the inflammation creating stress that’s at the root.

Here’s what happens inside your body when you consume a food that creates stress:

  • You eat a food that your body doesn’t like and your immune system is alerted (70% of your immune system is inside your digestive tract)
  • Each time the immune system is alerted, the inflammatory response is activated - they’re like a couple...where one is so is the other
  • When inflammation is high, the body releases cortisol to dampen the inflammation

And you’ll recall that when cortisol is released, your body 

  • turns off the insulin function
  • stops digestion
  • releases a bunch of stored energy that is turned into fat later. 

This is obviously an oversimplified explanation but it’s the easiest way to understand it all. 

So, each time you consume a food that your body doesn’t like, it creates stress. Stress isn’t just our thoughts and interactions, it’s foods that we eat as well. 

Many with Hashimoto’s will jump to doing a food sensitivity test to find what their trigger foods are. I’m not a big fan of these tests because of the inaccuracy of many. Not to mention the mental stress that comes with the results. The goal is to reduce or manage it, not create more. 

The absolute best way to understand which foods cause stress for you is to listen to your body. It’s annoying but effective. 

Your Daily Stressors

Aside from thoughts and foods, there are other stressors at play. Let’s chat about a few of them.

First, is sleep. Or lack thereof, I should say. 

Most women with Hashimoto’s fall into 2 camps:

  • Get 10+ hours of sleep and still feel exhausted
  • Get less than 8 hrs of sleep because they need to do all the things

We’ll talk about the constant fatigue another day. Today, we’re focusing on those that don’t get enough sleep. Many don’t get enough sleep for a lot of reasons:

  • Wanting to relax in the evening after a long day so they’ll stay up late
  • Needing to get all the things done after the kids go to bed so they stay up late working on those things
  • Working after the family goes to sleep
  • Getting lost in social media as a way to unwind

The list is lengthy here. But what it comes down to is not prioritizing sleep. Or not creating a solid boundary around the sleep that you need. Most women with Hashimoto’s need at least 9 hours of sleep. This is necessary to allow the digestive process to restore and the body to start to heal. Less than that, and the stress in the body will start to build. 

Work is another stressor. This could be... 

  • the emotional environment,
  • work relationships, or 
  • environmental exposures in the workplace. 

Maybe there’s mold. Or you work in or near a factory. Maybe you love your job and the people around you but you have a ton of work to do. And you work through lunch to get it all done. This constant pressure for 9 or more hours in the day is like running from a lion for 9 hours. It’s a steady flow of cortisol all day long. 

Traffic, bills, your health, politics, etc. Those are all stressors as well. The point is that stress is everywhere. Like I mentioned earlier, you can’t remove stress. And thinking that you can is only going to get you more stressed trying to figure out what to remove or reduce. 

Management is Key

In reality, if you make that mindset shift to managing stress, you’ll be more effective in your endeavors. And managing stress is one key to reducing Hashimoto’s inflammation. 

Stress creates so many issues with the body. And a stressed body isn’t going to heal anytime soon. If your ultimate goal is to put your Hashimoto’s into remission and feel the best you ever have, you’ve got to start with stress.

Enter your name and email below to grab my free guide. It includes 3 things that you can do today to start managing your stress better. I’ve also included a supplement recommendation to ramp up your stress management. This supplement isn’t going to make you feel different. But it will help your body manage stress better. 

After you grab the guide, let me know what questions you have! 

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