Why a thyroid problem could be fueling your anxiety

I’ve dealt with chronic anxiety for much of my life. And while I’ve found natural treatments that have helped me immensely, like yoga and meditation, it’s still an ongoing struggle.

Some days I’m able to relieve that horrible anxious feeling with pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) and a few restorative yoga postures. Other days I can’t get the feeling under control, and I just have to accept it.

A lot of anxiety sufferers are like me. They find ways to improve their anxiety… but they never quite slay their inner anxiety demon completely. Maybe anxiety medications work for a while, but they can’t stand the side effects, or maybe calming herbs work in some situations but not in the most anxiety-inducing ones.

If you can relate to this struggle, I have a piece of information I’d like to share with you. It’s something I’ve just learned about myself, and it’s very enlightening information if you’ve had a lifelong relationship with anxiety like I have.

The root of all those sleepless nights, the panic attacks, the dread in your chest, the anxious sweats, the terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach, the shaky hands may be that little butterfly-shaped gland in your neck known as your thyroid…

People with anxiety have inflamed thyroids

A new study from researchers at Kyiv City Clinical Hospital in Ukraine found that people with anxiety disorders also have inflammation in their thyroids.

In the study, researchers examined thyroid function in 29 men and 27 women who were diagnosed with anxiety and experiencing panic attacks. They took ultrasounds of their thyroids and measured blood levels of thyroid hormones.

These anxiety sufferers all had thyroid hormones that were within the normal range but on the high end of that range. However, their thyroids showed signs of inflammation, and they tested positive for antibodies that act against the thyroid. Inflammation and antibodies often indicate some type of autoimmune reaction.

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Researchers decided to try treating these individuals with ibuprofen and thyroxine, a medication used to treat thyroid disorders. And guess what happened after 14 days of treatment?

Study participants had less thyroid inflammation, more balanced thyroid hormone levels and less anxiety.

“These findings indicate that the endocrine system may play an important role in anxiety. Doctors should also consider the thyroid gland and the rest of the endocrine system, as well as the nervous system, when examining patients with anxiety,” said study researcher Dr Juliya Onofriichuk.

Squash anxiety by supporting a healthy thyroid

After reading this study, I remembered that years ago I did have my thyroid hormone levels checked. Just like the people in the study, my hormone levels were within the normal range, but on the high end of that range. One doctor thought I still might be dealing with a thyroid disorder, but several others nixed the idea, so I didn’t pursue it. Now, this research has me wondering if there may be something there.

If you have chronic anxiety like me, you may be wondering the same thing. And it may be worth discussing with your doctor… especially if you have an open-minded doctor who doesn’t just immediately write off anything that doesn’t fit in their existing mental paradigm (if you don’t have a doctor like that, I suggest you find one. It’s not always easy. But they’re out there, and it feels a lot better to have them in your corner).

If you do end up getting your thyroid examined and you find out there’s an imbalance there, there are a lot of ways to restore balance to this gland… and, hopefully, ease your anxiety too. Here are some tried and true options:

  • Get your gut in good shape. Poor gut health is linked to autoimmune issues, including thyroid problems. Start supporting your gut by eating plenty of fermented foods, prebiotic fiber and taking a high-quality probiotic.
  • Lower inflammation. Clearly, thyroid inflammation was a problem for anxiety sufferers in this study and it could be for you too. To reduce inflammation, avoid processed foods and sugar, take an inflammation-fighting omega-3 supplement and eat an antioxidant-rich diet filled with fruits and veggies.
  • Support the general health of your thyroid. A healthy thyroid needs iodine, zinc, selenium and copper, for starters.
  • Consider an elimination diet. Food allergies and intolerances can fuel inflammation in your body and impact your thyroid. Gluten is one of the worst culprits in this regard. Gluten protein has a molecular structure that looks very similar to thyroid tissue. And as a result, studies show, gluten sensitivity can cause the immune system to attack the thyroid. So, consider eliminating gluten and other potential allergens, and then slowly reintroducing them as you keep a symptom journal to see how it affects you.

Sources:

Thyroid inflammation linked to anxiety disorders — EurekAlert!

The Gluten-Thyroid Connection — Chriskesser.com

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.