In part one we reviewed the known “causes” and “triggers” of Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism as presented in the current research and as reflected in our chronic pain practice. We singled out emotional traumas (chronic fight/flight PTSD type responses) as in our clinical experience the most common causative factor. Now let’s talk about chronic fight/flight PTSD physiology, how it causes damage in general, and some effective therapeutic solutions to control and/or overcome it – particularly in relationship to Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism.
As stated in part one – the research literature implicates a relationship between stress hormones, Hashimoto’s, and hypothyroidism. To begin to understand why the first step is to understand that as human beings our brains are designed to neurologically handle stress – but only so much and only for about 20 minutes! Our brains were not designed to handle an emotionally traumatic stress response for 20 years.
Fight/flight in human beings is our brain’s survival mechanism. You are walking through the woods – the bushes rattle – is it the wind or a wild animal? This “awareness” sets off a cascade of neurological and biochemical pathways that cause our heart to beat, our blood pressure to go up, and nutrients to get quickly where they need to go for us to fight or flee or pick an automobile up off of an endangered individual. This is a powerful neurological survival mechanism that is designed to be a short-term physiological response – 20 minutes at best.
In emotional trauma, the fear center of the brain (the amygdala) that triggers the fear response gets programmed and actually enlarges in size. This does not happen during acute short-term stress. And the fear response becomes a vicious cycle and goes on, and on, and on – maybe for the rest of that person’s life. When we encounter patients with Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism and other symptoms related to chronic stress that appear to be causative and perpetuating factors of these common thyroid conditions we will often counsel them that “you may handle stress well now and be living the dream, but in our neurological examination your physiology is indicating that your brain is still going nonstop from whatever emotional trauma it was that triggered it– even if that was when you were three, five, eight, 12 years old. We see this phenomenon in our clinic – every day.
So here’s the problem. When people are exposed to emotional trauma, especially early in childhood, your brain’s frontal lobes are not yet developed. The frontal lobes jobs are many but one of its biggest responsibilities is to keep the fear center (amygdala) in check. In other words, shut down and turn off the fear center when the danger is gone. So now you take a little individual and expose them to traumatic circumstances, the fear center is turned on to the maximum volume and the undeveloped frontal lobes, which don’t develop fully until 20 to 25 years of age, can’t shut it off. This fear center now perpetually fires through to your adrenal glands (now you can understand why the adrenals are the wrong target) and the adrenals start making all kinds of stress hormones. The stress hormone cortisol particularly feeds back to your frontal lobe which is supposed to shut down the fear center and further damages nerve cells there as well as in your hippocampus – better known as your short-term memory and sleep rhythm area. The fear center increases in size, the memory area shrinks. Not good. And this is just the tip of the iceberg as to the breadth and scope of the abnormal physiological symptoms chronic stress hormones can cause or exacerbate. Were talking depression, anxiety, IBS, ulcers, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, decreased libido, chronic cystitis, chronic urinary tract infections, infertility and the topic of this article Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism.
A study was published recently – February 2017 – in which Hashimoto’s patients were surveyed as to how many of them had fibromyalgia. It was 62%. Why is that survey relevant? Because statistics on fibromyalgia and childhood trauma show a huge causative correlation. Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism are the probable links. In our daily clinical experience, we consistently observe timely correlations between stressful emotional traumas, fibromyalgia and Hashimoto’s in approximately 80% of presenting cases.
- So how do you manage the chronic fight/flight PTSD response that is responsible for so many Hashimoto’s cases and a plethora of today’s chronic conditions? For those of you reading this article who have Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism, and acknowledge that you’ve had an incidence of emotional trauma there are three paradigms to choose from. Here are your choices.
- Medical paradigm – in his paradigm you see your primary GP or NP for Hashimoto’s. Your generally given thyroid meds and maybe antidepressants and/or are referred to counseling or psychiatry for your thyroid caused depression and anxiety. The “alternative model” – medical or nonmedical. Your put on the Paleo diet mainly to remove gluten from your diet and medically give low dose naltrexone (blocks opioid receptors and decreases inflammation) or hydrocortisone. You may also be given the paleo diet for autoimmune patients (mainly to remove gluten and grains) and given a ton of supplements among which are “adaptocrines” which are herbs to “modulate” your stress response. Some of the herbs are theanine, ashwagandha, and holy basil. These herbs are not designed to control chronic hardwired PTSD fight-flight responses. They are designed to “calm things down” in “acute” normal daily transient stresses.
- The functional neurological model. Gets to the actual cause of the chronic PTSD fight/flight vicious cycle by strengthening the brain’s frontal lobes with individually targeted and patient-specific rehabilitative exercises that ultimately results in dampening the response of the fear center (amygdala) which in turn dampens the adrenal glands from vomiting stress hormones 24 hours a day. At the same time, the practitioner must precisely be managing gut and brain chemistry with lab derived dietary management and doing so with as few natural herbal interventions and drugs as possible. Less of everything is more for these complex cases in the functional neurology world.
In all cases in which immune inflammation from chronic stress hormones is the cause or trigger for the patient’s Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism the PTSD fight/flight mechanism must be dampened to successfully control the condition long-term.