Common complaints we hear from our female patients suffering with stress and thyroid problems is hair loss, brain fog and insomnia. If you think that hair loss is a condition that only affects men over the age of 50 or menopausal women, Think again!
What we are seeing today are alarming rates of young, women in their twenties and thirties with hair loss, brain fog, and trouble sleeping. Statistically, one in six women struggle with hair loss; some lose small amounts while others find that new hair growth has come to a grinding halt.
Premature hair loss is more common in women than you think, but there are various steps you can take to help prevent it. Since the overwhelming majority of woman we work with also experience adrenal fatigue and sleeping issues, we felt it was time to provide a bit of insight as to why this happens.
Hair Loss and Thyroid Disease
Hair loss is one of the most common and frustrating complaints that I hear from women when it comes to hypothyroidism. Millions of people with hypothyroidism experience hair loss and this can really have a terrible impact on not only self-confidence but your self-esteem. While there are many other causes of hair loss we always recommend starting with a proper thyroid evaluation that includes looking at the actual thyroid hormone levels.
Be sure your doctor orders a complete thyroid hormone panel. You can see whats include in a Complete Thyroid Hormone Panel here.
The ideal goal in treating thyroid hair loss should be to correct the underlying cause of the thyroid imbalance and this often means finding out why the Thyroid hormone levels are low in the first place. Taking Thyroid hormones does not fix why you have low hormone levels. For this reason, its important to work with a functional medicine doctor who has experience identifying the Root cause of your low thyroid levels.
While some people with hypothyroidism will need to take synthetic or even natural thyroid hormones on a permanent basis, others can have their Thyroid health restored, recover from their hair loss, have more energy, sleep better, and lose weight through a natural restorative thyroid approach.
When the true cause of your thyroid disorders are addressed, if the cause of your hair loss is Thyroid related, correcting the thyroid will correct the thyroid hair loss. Learn more about Thyroid testing here
Hair Loss and Sex Hormones
One area of significant importance in finding the cause of hair loss are hormonal imbalances in your body’s sex hormones. Sex hormones include estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Other hormones made in the adrenal glands can also be a culprit in hair loss. These adrenal hormones include cortisol and Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
If you have had your hormones evaluated by a conventional doctor and your levels were all normal, Don’t give up just yet. Many conventional doctors include endocrinologists fail to evaluate the entire family of sex hormones. They may look at hormones from the perspective of replacing low levels.
Understanding why these levels are low is just as important as understanding the actual level of the hormone. To complicate hormone testing a bit, there are several ways hormones can evaluated and each have distinct advantages over the other. Hormones can be evaluated through blood, saliva and urine.
Each method or evaluation provides a different back story as to how and why the hormones may be low. We often seen woman with hormonal imbalances have normal hormones in the blood, but upon evaluation we find the problem in saliva or urine. So, the point here is that if you are have hormone imbalance symptoms and your levels are normal, it might be time to evaluate your hormones using a different method.
Another common problem we see when it comes to hormone testing is that Endocrinologists only run a one sample estrogen/progesterone blood test. This presents several problem and here’s why. While a one blood draw test might be sufficient for menopausal women, it’s not adequate for cycling women with menstrual cycle irregularities.
Consider a woman with a normal 28 day cycle. Over the course of 28 days, a woman hormones are in a constant state of fluctuation. Think about it this way, if hormones go up and down over the course of the month, how will a one sample blood test be sufficient to assess the changing hormone levels in a woman who does not have a normal cycles. Your doctor better be a really good guesser as to whats happening with your hormones.
What I would recommend in a situation like this is a comprehensive cycling female hormone panel test not only for stress hormones and DHEA but also for DHT. This test is going to give us a graph showing us the output of estrogen and progesterone every three days of a woman’s cycle. So, when a woman with hair loss due to estrogen dominance (See image below).
Hair Loss and Medications
While no one likes to think that the medications they are taking are making their hair loss worse, the fact is, medications can and do cause hair loss. The biggest offenders when it comes to medication hair loss include antidepressants and oral contraceptives aka “The Pill”
Birth control pills cause the hair to move from the growing phase to the resting phase too soon and for too long. This form of hair loss is called telogen effluvium. Large amounts of hair can fall out during this process. If baldness runs in your family, birth control pills can speed up the hair loss process.
Nearly all sexually active American women ages 15 to 44 have used birth control at least once. For about 26 percent of these women, the method of choice is the birth control pill.
As with any other medication, the birth control pill can cause side effects and nutritional deficiencies. Some women may find that their hair thins or falls out while they’re taking the pill. Other women may lose their hair after they stop taking it.
Hair Loss and Stress
Woman that are under chronic stress will suffer with a higher rate of hair loss, brain fog and insomnia and this stress will take its toll on your thyroid gland. This is why if you have a thyroid problem, it’s so critical to also address the Adrenal glands.
During a stress response we have a down regulation of a specific enzyme that’s needed for the conversion of T4 into T3. With stress, we often see a surge of inflammatory cytokines. These inflammatory cytokines, impair the conversion of t4 into T3. Low T3 is the cause of your low thyroid symptoms (hair loss, fatigue, anxiety, heart palpitations, weight gain, etc)
This area in the brain or this axis so to speak, is called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis or the HPA axis for short. This is the brain and the adrenal connection that plays a big part in your stress response and responsible for causing poor thyroid conversion (low T3).
This is one of many thyroid scenarios where taking thyroid hormone replacement (Synthroid, Levothyroxine, Tirosint) really would not work. The reason being is that the problem is not with the amount of Thyroid hormones, it’s the blocking of T4 to T3 conversion. The more T4 a woman is prescribed, the worse the problem gets.
It’s important for you to understand that if you have been under high stress and you are losing your hair, experiencing trouble sleeping and complaining of Brain fog, you most likely have some kind of adrenal issue alongside your thyroid problem. Work with a Functional Medicine Doctor who can properly evaluate your hormones. This will go along way for your hair loss, your brain fog and your insomnia.
There are Two Main Patterns We See with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Adrenal Burnout and Adrenal Stress
With the first pattern of chronic fatigue syndrome, the adrenal Hypo-function patient, the body does not have enough cortisol to maintain blood sugar levels throughout the evening fasting period (we all go through a typical 8-10 hour fast when we sleep). As blood sugar levels drop during the night, the body goes into a stress response, and without adequate cortisol production to bring blood sugar levels up, the body releases norepinephrine and epinephrine to try to stabilize blood sugar. These are stimulatory hormones that will wake the person up during the night. This is the person who seems to wake up, wide awake, at the same time every night.
The second scenario, the adrenal Hyper-function patient,(the one in the graph above)will cause the person to have higher than normal cortisol at bed time. This will cause the person to not be able to fall asleep due to the excitatory nature of cortisol on the nervous system.
In either case it is important to look at all the factors that contribute to adrenal dysfunction. A sleeping pill will never fix the problem in this scenario, and this scenario is common. The brain’s ability to regulate the circadian rhythm of cortisol, food sensitivities, lifestyle factors, mental stress, ,physical stress, emotional stress, and many other things can contribute to the problem.
Sleep Is Defined By Cortisol Levels Produced By Your Adrenal Glands
Your sleep is defined by your cortisol produced by your adrenals. Cortisol along with melatonin creates your circadian rhythm. In the morning your adrenal glands release large amounts of cortisol to help you get up and start the day. As the day goes on, these cortisol levels decline and prepare your body for resting phase and repair. Just before bed, your cortisol production should be at their lowest point. But that is not what happens for many people struggling with sleep.
Instead what we see is something similar to the pattern below elevated cortisol levels at night. What I would like you start thinking about, is how cortisol is a fight or flight hormone. In times of stress, inflammation, infection, fear, emotional trauma, this hormone is released in higher amounts.
Looking at the picture below you will notice that this patient is high in morning, high at noon, high in the evening and while its not flagged as high at nigh if you look at the range .4-1.0 ng/mL you will see that it’s high as well. This patient is in a major fight/flight state.
6 Things You Need To Pay Attention to For Better Sleep
- Excess cortisol and adrenaline which damage the sleep centers of the brain.
- Repair the damage in the brain/hippocampus from excess cortisol and adrenaline.
- Decrease any evening or night time elevated cortisol and/or adrenaline levels.
- Increase GABA levels and other calming neurotransmitters when high cortisol and adrenaline levels are identified. .
- Ensure the proper hormone production of melatonin and growth hormone.
- Prevent swings and fluctuations in blood sugar caused by high and or low cortisol levels
Connection Between Adrenal Fatigue and Brain Fog
We’ve all felt it in some way. We misplace our keys or forget important things. It interferes with our day. But what happens when these little annoyances start to define our days? What happens when we feel as though a cloud is over our minds and thinking clearly is a struggle? It interferes with our everyday functioning and just getting through each day becomes more difficult.
Conventional medicine discounts the significance of brain fog because there is no clinical diagnosis attached to it. There are no specific tests for it and the presence of brain fog is based on a person’s subjective account and individual symptom vary from one person to the next. It can last for hours, days, weeks, or a few months and can persist for years. Most conventional physicians discount it as part of the aging process. I’ve heard people in their 20’s joke that the reason they can’t find their keys is that they’re getting older. And in the middle aged and elderly, it is often defined as early Alzheimer’s, dementia or mental illness.
So what is brain fog? Why is it important? And what can we do about it?
Well, your brain is the control center of your body and when it is functioning at less than capacity, you and your body are functioning at less than capacity. Brain fog often presents itself very insidiously. The symptom can be “mild”, such as mild memory loss (losing your keys, forgetting numbers or birthdays, etc.), mental confusion, dizziness, slow thinking and a general feeling of not functioning as well as possible. Brain fog is often brought on by some type of imbalance in the body ~ nutritional, metabolic, hormonal or biochemical. This can arise from many different factors. Identifying the imbalance and the causative factors and then correcting them is the key to treating brain fog.
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and Brain Fog
Your adrenals control your stress response. When your body is under stress, whether it is physical, mental, chemical or other, the adrenals kick in to stimulate your body’s survival mechanisms. Once the threat is over, the relaxation portion of your nervous system takes over. But when the stressor continues to be present, your adrenals continue to fire and relaxation (balance) never fully kicks in. This causes a tremendous amount of additional stress and your adrenals ~ and your body ~ never fully get a rest. Once your adrenal glands are experiencing adrenal fatigue and adrenal insufficiency, everything slows down to conserve energy to survive. When the liver slows down, toxins and waste products get removed more slowly and they start to accumulate. These can travel to the brain, causing brain fog. To treat this, the focus is on restoring the adrenal glands. This includes a comprehensive approach addressing nutrition, supplements and lifestyle changes.
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