Adrenal Fatigue and Hypothyroidism: What Most Doctors Miss Might Hurt You (Rebelle Nutrition)

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Everyone knows someone with a slow thyroid, am I right? (Or maybe that person is you...)

Symptoms like a slowed metabolism, brain fog, digestive issues, crippling fatigue, hair loss, and cold hands and feet are increasingly more and more common. 

But did you know that hypothyroidism is often the easily diagnosable-disguise that hides an underlying illness - missed by even most functional medicine doctors?

This is because the symptoms of hypothyroidism are nearly identical to those of...

Adrenal fatigue. 

Adrenal fatigue is the syndrome that describes a number of unwanted symptoms that occur to improper hormonal output from the adrenal glands. 

These are things like trouble waking up in the morning, slowed metabolism, feeling cold often, decreased immunity, brain-fog, depression/anxiety, infertility, PMS, lack of a period and more. 

Adrenal fatigue sufferers are most commonly women who have been chronic dieters, over-exercisers, stress-addicts, perfectionists, workaholics, people who have hard time saying 'no' and those who have a history of disordered eating or body obsession. 

Adrenal fatigue occurs in varying stages, starting as mild fatigue and evolving into full blown hormonal problems like infertility, insomnia, chronic acid reflux, weight gain/loss and more. 

Why does adrenal fatigue occur?

Stressors of any kind - physical, mental, emotional, and financial stressors can all lead to adrenal fatigue. Plus, the near-constant exposure to these stressors, year after year, never allows for the proper downtime the adrenals need to heal and repair. 

Here are some examples:

Physical stress from working out too much, consuming foods you are sensitive to, working 40+ hours a week, sugar/caffeine addiction, or chronic digestive problems. Mental/emotional stress from a sick relative, financial problems, or a job you hate. 

Adrenal fatigue is very dependent on YOUR BODY'S threshold for stress; meaning that someone who works 40 hours a week, exercises for 2 hours a day, and eats a mediocre diet may not experience any symptoms, whereas you could only be working a part time job and doing yoga daily, but still experience intense cravings, dizziness upon standing, and fatigue. 

I call this delicate-flower syndrome ;) . Some of us are just delicate flowers (me!) and easily effected by any type of stress - whether physical, mental or emotional. 

How does Adrenal Fatigue get confused with Hypothyroidism?

Adrenal Fatigue is often the cause of under-active thyroid, or hypothyroidism. This is because stress causes the pituitary gland (the hormone signaler in the brain) to down-regulate production of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). This leads to less energy production, meaning fatigue and weight gain, among other things.

Stress also causes the liver to have a difficult time converting T4 to T3 (the active form of thyroid hormone that we want), which can drastically reduce energy levels and lead to a cascade of other hormonal effects. If you have tested positive for low thyroid, there is a good chance that it’s your adrenals that need healing first and foremost.

Where doctors get it wrong

Taking these symptoms to your family doctor (and even most naturopaths) will result in the ordering of a blood test for TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone). If your results fall outside of the “normal” range, the Doctor will likely prescribe Levothyroxin/ Synthroid (pharmaceutical route) or Naturethroid/ Armour (holistic/ natural route). If you fall within the normal range, you will likely be prescribed an antidepressant and told to eat less and exercise more. (<<< this will usually make things WORSE if your problem is stemming from adrenal fatigue)

It is no surprise that the symptoms adrenal fatigue often result in a misdiagnosis of hypothyroidism; especially since they look SO similar - plus we (unfortunately) live in a culture where overwork, over-stressing, and “clean eating" is still widely praised. 

So, if you are someone who is experiencing the symptoms of hypothyroidism, but you know that you have a history of perfectionistic, do-it-all mentality, over-exercise, chronic dieting or reliance on sugar and stimulants, here are a few things you can do to determine whether your problem is truly hypothyroid in nature, or if you simply need to change your diet, relax, and rest:

Make sure to be eating enough (real) food 

If you’ve ever been a fitness magazine junkie (like myself) you’ll know how commonplace it is to be recommended a diet of 1200-1500 calories if you are a woman wanting to lose weight.

Get ready for something that is about to blow your mind:

According to the National Institute of Health:

1200 calories is the recommended daily intake for a 3 year old.  A 3 YEAR OLD. NOT a moderately active woman

Obviously, if you have been following this advice for years, there is a VERY good chance your lack of nutrients has led you into the land of adrenal fatigue, but don’t worry! If this is the case - the fix is relatively simple. Focus on steadily increasing your intake of nutrient dense carbs, fats and proteins and see assess how you feel. 

Are you eating enough for your body?


Important note on carbs:

Carbohydrate are needed for the production of T3 (the active thyroid hormone responsible for things like energy, metabolism, etc.) Focus on incorporating paleo sources of carbs  like fruit, sweet potatoes, starchy veggies, and white rice and beans/legumes if you tolerate them.

Assess your stress 

Are you stressed about your job, your kids, the weather, your health? The onset of stress releases a hormone (CRH) that tells the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cortisol and CRH both suppress thyroid hormone levels, as well as impair the conversion of thyroid hormones into the active form we need for things like metabolism, energy, hormone production, healthy hair and skin.

Do the at-home adrenal fatigue test

Lay flat on your back for one minute, and once the minute is up, stand up quickly. Do you feel light headed, dizzy, or see spots? This is a huge indicator of adrenal fatigue - due to cortisols blood pressure regulating capabilities. In the late stages of AF, cortisol stops being produced in sufficient amounts, leading to dizziness upon standing. 


Do you feel addicted to exercise? Do you feel the need to work out in the morning in order to feel alert? Or do your workouts leave you feeling exhausted and in need of a nap? These are all signs that you are pushing your body too hard, and further stressing your adrenal glands which will only exacerbate your hypothyroid-like symptoms. 

Are you constantly saying yes to shit you hate? 

Driving someone else’s kids to their playdate because you can’t say no? a date with that guy you don’t even like? Going out for drinks on Friday when you really want to stay in and rest?

If you said yes to any of these, there is a very good chance that adrenal fatigue is actually the culprit of your vague, hypothyroid-like, i-want-to-sleep-all-day symptoms.

And just in case you aren't totally convinced, here are a few other quick questions to ask yourself:

1. Do you NEED coffee to get going in the morning?
2. Do you have a difficult time waking up in the morning?
3. Do you frequently feel “puffy” or retain water especially after eating salty foods?
4. Do you crave salty foods like crazy?
5. Do you easily gain weight around your midsection?
6. Do you catch every cold/flu that goes around?
7. Do you get dizzy upon standing?
8. Do you feel most tired in the mornings, and then at 3-5PM?
9. Do you get a second wind around 9/10pm and find it difficult to sleep?
10. Do you have decreased sex drive?
11. Brutal PMS, menopause or mood swings

If you said yes to at least 3 of these questions, you’re got some healing to do! Grab the full guide to healing adrenal fatigue below, eat some carbs, and get yo’ nap on girl. 

Updated May 2018: Full disclosure you guys, I have done a total 180 with the direction of my business. I actually no longer talk about Nutrition in the same way I did when I wrote this blog post. These days, I help other people who are passionate about nutrition and wellness, turn their passion into a business online (just like mine!) if this sounds like you and you are ready for a life of freedom and travel, be sure to sign up for my training below :)


XO, Amie