Could stress be wrecking your thyroid with Whitney Morgan
In this interview, Laurie and Whitney Morgan discuss Could stress be wrecking your thyroid, different types of stress and what you can do to support your body and ease your symptoms.
Whitney is the founder of Whitney Morgan Nutrition and the creator of the Thyroid Reboot Method and the Gluten Gauntlet Mini-course. Whitney has helped dozens of women with chronic Hashimoto’s, and other autoimmune conditions, bust through the obstacles keeping them from the life they want by uncovering the root causes of their symptoms and eliminating their unique triggers.
She is a licensed acupuncturist, a functional nutritionist, and a certified gluten-free health coach. In addition to her private practice, Whitney is a clinical advisor for the Association of Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioners, where she teaches other functional health practitioners how to improve health outcomes for their clients.
This is a transcription of an Instagram live conversation. You can find the full video on Laurie’s IGTV tab on Instagram and on soon on YouTube.
I’m bringing on Whitney Morgan today, and we’re going to be talking about if stress could be affecting your thyroid.
Many, many, many women can have thyroid issues that go undiagnosed for many years. So let’s dive into it.
Before we begin I’d love it, if you could just introduce yourself and tell us how you got into this.
Sure. Well like so many of us in this space, it was my own health journey that brought me here.
I never really thought I’d wind up in alternative health, but I just started having health issues back in 1996. So my journey was a couple of decades long.
I had two other auto-immune diseases, before I got diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and then not too long after I got my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I got a celiac diagnosis.
That just really put me on the path of walking away from the traditional medical world, because they didn’t have much to offer me except for prescriptions, surgeries and all kinds of things that weren’t working.
So I just jumped into educating myself. I went to acupuncture school. I went to another institution and got trained in functional diagnostic nutrition. Through everything that I learned, I turned my own health around.
Now it’s just kind of my life’s mission to help other women do the same thing. So I primarily work with women with Hashimoto’s, but in my brain there’s not a whole lot of difference between one autoimmune disease and another. So I tend to work with different auto-immune diseases.
What I understand is that they tend to come in twos and threes. So if somebody is diagnosed with something else autoimmune related, Hashimoto’s could possibly come later or maybe Hashimoto’s comes first and then something else comes later.
They can come in clusters and rarely do you just have one autoimmune disease.
Right. So when you’re addressing Hashimoto’s, which is an autoimmune condition, you’re addressing immune health, which is going to address any auto-immune conditions, right?
The diagnosis, whatever it is, I think of it as the location.
So Hashimoto’s is in the fibroid. Multiple sclerosis is in the brain. Psoriasis on the skin. That’s just about location.
That’s not about origin. In Chinese medicine, we have this root-branch philosophy and the symptoms show up in the branches. That’s the Hashimoto’s. That’s the MS. But the real core, that is the reason why you have those symptoms, that’s in the soil.
For many of these diseases, the root causes are the same.
When you start addressing these root causes, the various symptoms just kind of fall away on their own, no matter how many autoimmune diseases you have.
We’re going to get into stress. I don’t know if you’d call stress one of the root causes, but maybe one of the triggers. Certainly it’s one of the triggers.
We’re going to get into that relationship, but first what does hypothyroidism look like? Hashimoto’s is hypothyroidism, of the autoimmune sort. What does that look like?
It can look very similar if you have hypothyroidism that hasn’t been diagnosed as an autoimmune condition. They can look the same.
They can look identical. In fact, research suggests that most hypothyroid cases are undiagnosed Hashimoto’s. I look at them all the same.
In terms of symptoms hypothyroidism could be unexplained weight gain, an inability to lose weight, feeling fatigued all the time, feeling cold all the time, particularly in the hands and feet, dry skin, constipation, anxiety and other kinds of mood disorders like depression.
You think about everything, that would kind of look like the body slowing down. The symptoms happen everywhere across the body. Some of them might not seem very related to one another, but they are.
The list can be pretty long. We’ve just touched on a few.
The ones that I brought up are kind of like the classic ones that a lot of people complain about, but even things like chronic headaches and migraines can be part of it, eyebrow hair loss.
So we just talked about the symptoms.
Now let’s talk about the main causes or stressors are that can lead to a sluggish thyroid.
When we talk about stress, most people think about mental, emotional stress.
But stress comes in different forms. We have the mental, emotional, but we also have the physical and we have the chemical.
Physical stress might be something as simple as chronic injury or chronic pain, physical trauma, but it can also be a sedentary lifestyle or what I see a lot over exercise that is a physical stressor.
Then the mental, emotional stress, that’s kind of easy to figure out in your life.
But the chemical stress is very hidden. So it can be something like a true toxic chemical, like a heavy metal, like mercury from your amalgam fillings. It can be glyphosate and herbicides and pesticides and chemicals from plastics. But it can also be just kind of our normal endogenous chemical factory, like insulin and glucose. So when we have a lot of dysregulated blood sugar, a lot of peaks and valleys that is a chemical stressor in our body, and it will kind of shift us into a state of chronic stress.
We just have to kind of expand our idea of what stress looks like. And then even beyond that, you can say anything that stresses the liver, anything that stresses the gut. We put the body in a state of chronic stress and ultimately that stresses the thyroid system.
Yes. I think this is so important. I talk about this a lot, but a lot of times we don’t recognize that chronic constipation, sometimes people don’t consider it chronic, but when one’s constipated all the time, it’s chronic, that’s a stressor on our gut.
Absolutely. It will cascade into another stressor.
So if you’re chronically constipated, that’s evidence that your gut is under chronic stress, but also you will get more chemicals stress, because the longer that the stool sits in the large intestine, you get reabsorption of some of the toxins that your stool is meant to eliminate.
They’re reabsorbed into the bloodstream and they go to the liver. Now your constipation has turned into liver toxicity. So it’s just like a line of dominoes that cascade into one another.
Right. Then our liver, our detox system is supposed to be getting those things out at the right rate.
But when it’s being reabsorbed and recirculated, that’s when things that we think are not supposed to be so harmful, become harmful because they’re not getting in and out, they’re in the cycle.
Somebody mentioned being intolerant to foods, being a stressor. I mean, there are so many.
Yeah. That’s a huge stressor.
80% of our immune system is in our gut anyway and food is what we do 24 seven.
It’s probably one of the primary stressors when it comes to Hashimoto’s, not just for the gut, but for the immune system systematically at large.
Food intolerances can be a constant inflammatory stressor. Usually it’s not the only stressor, but it’s one that we have control over, more than any of the other hidden stressors that we’ve been talking about.
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Right. You had also mentioned exercise or especially over exercise, because I come from a fitness background where I had a fitness business and I worked with endurance athletes and we were doing lots of long distance running. So the people that I worked with didn’t tend to have an issue with exercising enough.
A lot of the women that I was working with were getting into it, because of the idea that exercise is good and more of it could be better.
Some of the things that we’ve been told like, calories in calories out. We exercise more, then we can eat more or we are trying to balance that.
Then we can stress our bodies out with this, especially with trying to eat less and exercise more.
It’s a huge chronic stressor, because overexercise will actually keep you from burning fat.
It puts you on this glucose-insulin rollercoaster and that disrupts hormone signaling. It just kind of tells your body to store fat.
Women are like, “Okay, I just need to do more cardio.”
They’re actually digging that hole deeper for themselves. Then they wind up going, “Why am I not losing weight? I am exercising all the time.”
Then they’ll do more drastic things like, “I need to cut back on my calories and keep exercising at this level.”
Now we’ve got another kind of chemical stress, right?
The thing that we have to keep in mind is, no matter what stressing out your body, whether it’s overexercise or calorie restriction or gut bugs or liver toxicity, all of these things stress our adrenals.
That’s what keeps us in a state of chronic stress. The adrenals or what we also call the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, that’s our stress response system. You can think of it as the thyroid and the adrenals are running down two parallel tracks. They’re trains running side by side.
When the adrenals are in a state of chronic stress, they’re pumping out more of our stress hormones on a consistent basis. These hormones will actually interfere with that other track that’s right next to it.
So the thyroid, it will reduce the signaling that’s necessary to tell our thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone.
It will interfere with the production of T4 and T3. It’ll also increase what’s called reverse T3, which is like the kryptonite for our thyroid gland. It slows down metabolism. It’s like the brakes in your car.
The stress hormones will also reduce cell receptor sensitivity for thyroid hormones. So even if we have the thyroid hormone, it can’t get into the cell.
At every level, the adrenals have a huge impact on the thyroid.
Sometimes one of the gentlest and quickest ways to support your thyroid is actually to support your adrenals.
So this would also be managing stress.
Yes. Everything we’ve talked about is a source of stress on the adrenals.
You’ve got to make sure you get good sleep. You have to exercise enough, but not too much. You need to eliminate food sensitivities. You need to manage your mental, emotional stress and maybe do some testing and see what’s living in your gut.
Do you have a parasite or bacterial overgrowth or candida or leaky gut?. Do you have mercury buildup?
All of these things, the list is endless, as to what could be contributing to your unique chronic stress.
That’s why it’s so important to work with someone who not only knows how to investigate root cause issues, but is able to run the right labs on you. So that we can really see what your individualized data is, because a lot of people out there are just kind of guessing. They’re just like throwing stuff up against the wall to see what sticks, but you really want the data, because everyone’s thyroid story is different. Everyone’s adrenal fatigue, like we used to call it, is different.
Why you wound up where you are today. It’s a very unique journey and you need someone to help you kind of reverse engineer now.
For sure. You were talking about the adrenals, which I hope people following along understand what that is, but we can explain it.
The adrenals sit on top of the kidneys. They pump out what we call our stress hormones, but they’re responsible for DHA and cortisol.
Most people know what cortisol is. It’s like your fight or flight if you’re being chased by a lion, you need to survive. So you get this huge jolt of adrenaline, the epinephrine stuff and the cortisol that allows you to run fast, that allows you to survive, everything else in your body shuts down, because it’s not a time to digest. It’s not a time to repair tissue.
You go into high alert, it’s only for survival. So that works really well when you’re being chased. Once you get away, you can kind of shake it off and go back to that normal state of rest and relaxation.
But when we are in a constant state of stress, which is very common in today’s modern world, we’re always in fight or flight.
So we’re pumping out these hormones in excess, which is impacting all of the resources that we need to keep all of the other systems going, whether it’s our digestion, hormone balance, repairing tissues and muscles or recovery from exercise.
Particularly when we’re talking about thyroid, I just went through that list of how the adrenals will impact the thyroid when being in a state of chronic stress.
It is just a killer for thyroid health and the thyroid is what drives every cell in the body. It’s our metabolic engine. It’s like the gas pedal in your car. If you don’t have it, you’re not going anywhere.
So if somebody is like, “This sounds like me. I have these hypothyroid symptoms. I have stress in my life. There’s probably even stress that I haven’t even recognized as really stress.”
What are some of the best ways that we could start to try to turn those things around?
I know it’s very personal and individualized. Working with a practitioner would be a good idea, but I’d love to leave some little nuggets with the people who are listening to this.
Absolutely. I say the first thing to do is get a little bit of education in terms of what your thyroid results really mean.
I have a thyroid lab test interpretation guide that’s free. It really helps women understand what a complete thyroid lab is and what those markers mean and how to use those test results as clues as to what’s going on for you and what you need to work on.
Beyond that, just for simple lifestyle changes, one of the main things would be to get rid of gluten, dairy, soy, corn, refined sugar, and alcohol.
Those are the big six, that you can just eliminate. You don’t need any fancy testing to tell you to eliminate them. They’re bad for anyone that has thyroid issues or adrenal issues, just get rid of them. They’re super inflammatory. My preference has transitioned to a paleo diet because it gets rid of so many other inflammatory stuff.
We need to think about our sleep. You have to get eight hours of sleep every night. You have to have good sleep hygiene, stop looking at screens.
Before you go to bed:
- stop the artificial light
- get into a good sleep hygiene routine where you’re calming down the nervous system
- sleep in total darkness
- use an eye mask
- cool down your room
Exercise appropriately. Don’t kill yourself at the gym.
I think a really good formula is limit weight training. For two 30 minute sessions go as hot and heavy as you want, lift as much as you want, sweat it out, whatever you need to do, but limit it to 30 minutes.
Then walk as much as you want.
Do a little bit of interval training, maybe once every seven days or something like that.
We have to think about stress reduction.
What are you doing on a daily basis? That could look like meditation or deep breathing. I love the emotional freedom technique. Tapping, things like that are super easy to incorporate into your life.
The other thing you need to do is take a look at what’s on your plate. Of all the things that are stressing you out, what do you have control over? What do you not have control over?
A lot of us don’t have control over certain things in our family life or work life. For those things, you meditate, you tap, you breathe deep, you use your skills and your tools, but there are things we have control over.
We need to learn how to say no. To take things off our plate, so that we are actively reducing our stress load.
Some common sense supplementation, make sure that you’re getting good nutrient density. Omega threes are important. Get your vitamin D levels checked. Make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins and minerals.
A lot of people need testing to see what their mineral imbalances are and what their nutrient deficiencies are.
But there are some common sense things that you can do for yourself right now in terms of supplement support.
You need to look at your lab results from a functional lense, as opposed to a normal lense, because that difference is huge. I talk about that in my test interpretation guide. Standard reference ranges just don’t cut it. You need to look at your lab results through a functional lens.
For those, who don’t understand what a functional lens is, we look at values from optimal to suboptimal. That’s a big difference from normal to not normal.
Those standard reference ranges are really wide. The purpose behind them is to diagnose disease and pathology.
In the functional world, we want to identify imbalances and dysfunction before diagnosis is necessary. So we need a tighter reference range, because we’re looking at what is optimal in a healthy individual, not what’s diagnosable in a sick person.
I myself also have thyroid issues.
Seeing my doctor was like, “You’re fine.”
It took some time before I actually found a practitioner who was like, “Your thyroid is sub optimal.”
Even depending on what doctor you see, they have different ranges. So one doctor may say that it’s hypothyroidism. Another doctor may say that is normal and every lab is different. Once you get a doctor that says your levels are not optimal then you can understand what is going on in your body. That was my story. Understanding what was causing mine to be off and really diving deep into correcting that. It’s possible, you can do it.
You can do it. It’s absolutely possible.
Another thing, I’m sure you ran into this, I certainly did, is that most docs who are testing your fibroids are only looking at one, maybe three markers. If you’re lucky.
They’re not looking at antibodies, they’re certainly not looking at reverse T3. These things are hugely important.
You can’t just look at TSH, which is kind of the gold standard in the traditional medical world. If your TSH is normal, they’ll say, “Okay, we don’t need to look at your thyroid anymore. Your symptoms have nothing to do with your thyroid,” and that’s not true.
Then they could also stop at, “Why is this happening with your thyroid?”
Instead it’s like, “Oh, something’s up with your thyroid? Here’s some medication.” We dive deeper to figure out what’s going on.
Do you have enough vitamin D? Do you have selenium? Do you have the nutrients that support thyroid health?”
Then it, like we talked about earlier, “How’s your stress? Are your adrenal adrenal glands stressed? Is that causing stress on your thyroid?”
So we can dive much deeper, but not all practitioners are willing to do that.
I just want to put that out there to say to anybody that’s watching, there is so much more you can do.
You just need to find the right practitioner, who’s willing to dive a bit deeper.
Absolutely. When it comes to medication, it’s not that medication is a bad thing.
But unfortunately, most women who get medicated are on T4 only medication. Their body’s still have to convert that to T3.
If your liver is congested and your gut is in a state of dysbiosis, you’re not going to convert all that T4. So you’re still going to wind up with all your hypothyroid symptoms going, “Why isn’t my medication working?”
The right nutrition, the right exercise, lifestyle, sleep, all of these things are going to also support your medication.
If you are on medication, support your body using those hormones that you’re putting in it.
That’s right. There’s so many things we can do, to leverage the medication we’re on, to help it work better and do what it’s supposed to do.
It’s not a magic bullet. The medication itself needs the right environment in order to work.
Absolutely. It needs to get into the cells.
So if you just take your medication and you don’t change anything about your life, you’re still in this state of fight or flight all the time and your body is just pumping out those stress hormones, all that medication isn’t getting into the cells.
It’s just a vicious cycle and you continue to feel like crap. The only thing that I hear from most of my clients by the time they get to me, is that their dose has been upped over and over and over again. That’s the only solution.
Well, let’s increase your dose again. And it doesn’t work. It’s not getting into the cells or it’s not getting converted or both.
There’s that reverse T3 situation that can happen and cause stress as well.
So your body wants to conserve these hormones and not use them. Then you have that problem of your body not using the hormones that are in it.
I’ve had women tell me that their doctors will adamantly refuse to run the reverse T3, because they don’t think it’s relevant.
But the reality is it competes with T3 for the same cell receptors. So T3 is the gas reverse. T3 is the brake. If you have a lot of reverse T3 floating around in your bloodstream, it’s trying to get into those same cell receptors. So if your cell receptors are flooded with reverse T3, you are constantly riding the brakes. It doesn’t really matter how much T3 you got hanging out in the blood. If reverse T3 is taking up the space in the cell receptors.
Yeah. And this can also very much be related to stress and what’s going on with stress in your body.
In fact, that’s one of the main clues when reverse T3 is high.
Usually that means your adrenals are driving your thyroid issue. It’s one of the main underlying causes of your hypothyroid symptoms.
So stress is so important here. Thank you so much. This has been good.
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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information — we’re all wonderfully unique.
Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT
Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.
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