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Dr. Karl R.O.S. Johnson's Chronic Condition Natural Treatment Blog

Intentional musings of a unique Shelby Township Michigan Chiropractic Physician dedicated to helping people find solutions to improving their health by rooting out causes to chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, thyroid disorder symptoms, balance disorders, migraines, sciatica, ADD/ADHD/ASD, back pain, peripheral neuropathy, gluten sensitivity and autoimmune disorders so they can Reclaim Their Life!

From the Desk of Dr. Karl R.O.S. Johnson, DC.....

Why Low Adrenal Function Can Mimic Hypothyroid Symptoms

Posted by Dr. Karl R.O.S. Johnson, DC on Thu, Jul 25, 2013

If you are like the many patients who visit a doctor, your chief complaint is fatigue and/or weight gain. Learn how you can regain your zest and improve your overall health and feel younger in the process!

I know in my practice, fatigue is often on of the most common health complaints. Of course fatigue is also one of the main symptoms of hypthyroidism as well. Having low energy robs you of your zest for living and you end up not participating in your once favorite activities. You feel like you are getting old. You don't need to accept this low energy as your new reality.

Those of you who are used to my writing and teaching style know that I will help you learn a bit about how your body functions, so you learn how to get true core level help. My mantra is, "the more you understand how your body works, the better you can help yourself stay well".

A person needs to become an expert in their own body.  They must be reconnected to their inner guidance system and learn that their symptoms are like signposts on the highway.  If you get rid of all the sign posts it becomes very difficult to negotiate your way around the highways and byways without knowing where you are and where you are going.

So let's take the plunge and learn more about the amazing little glands called the adrenal glands that sit atop each of your kidneys.

Why Low Adrenal Function Can Mimic Hypothyroid SymptomsBoth the adrenal glands and the thyroid gland are controlled by a complex action of nerve messages and hormones via a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and in turn via hormones secreted by the pituitary gland in the brain. We doctors call this the HPA (hypothalamal-pituitary-adrenal) axis. In turn the adrenal glands produce several hormones (cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, aldosterone, adrenaline, and noradrenaline) to help control various body functions.

The adrenal glands, the “military” system of the body, are located on top of the kidneys.  They instigate and direct reactions to all types of stress from internal and external forces.  They are essential to maintaining normal blood sugar levels, healing damaged body tissue, elevating the body’s resistance to disease, electrolyte balance (salt and mineral balance), and many other functions.

Modern lifestyles can be very demanding on the adrenal glands. In ancient times, the adrenals provided the initial burst of energy to climb a tree or run fast in order to escape from predators. But these days, the adrenal are continually challenged by various types of stress (a minor form of shock).

Symptoms and Signs of Low Adrenal Function Include:

  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Low mood
  • Low blood sugar
  • Swelling of the fingers and ankles
  • Aversion to bright light
  • Dizzy spells
  • Allergies
  • Chronic upper respiratory infections
  • Hay Fever
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Skin rashes
  • Severe depression
  • Asthma
  • Duodenal ulcers
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Insomnia
  • Colitis
  • Sparse hair on the lower portion of the legs as we age
  • And more! Click here to download the arenal gland quick check document so you can see how likely it is that you have low adreanal function. It's eye opening!

As you can see many of these same symptoms are common to those who suffer with hypothyroidism.

Countless numbers of people suffer from some form of low adrenal function also known as hypoadrenia. Typically treatment is aimed at addressing symptoms rather than eliminating the cause or causes of the health challenge. Patients with hypoadrenia have sought help for their problems only to be given sedatives for insomnia, bronchial dilators for asthma, mood elevators for depression, or maybe worst of all, told there is nothing wrong with them by their medical doctors, leaving them with a feeling of utter hopelessness.

The primary contributing factor to low adrenal function is STRESS.  There are four types of stress we need to learn how to handle:


PHYSICAL: inadequate sleep, long hours of work, trauma (auto accidents, falls, severe burns, surgery, etc.), spinal subluxations (misalignment).

CHEMICAL: Poor nutrition, excess caffeine, food additives, such as colorings, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners, and excessive amounts of refined sugar.

THERMAL: Overheating or over chilling of the body, walking outside in 20 degree weather with wet hair, stepping from an air conditioned car into 90 degree humid weather.

EMOTIONAL:  death of a loved one, loss of a job, moving, worries, etc.

There are several negative influences stress will have on your body when your adrenal glands can't respond to due suffing from lowered function. Let me outline for you here:


Blood sugar imbalances. Elevated cortisol causes increased increased insulin resistance (due to down regulation of receptor sites), therefore, more insulin is released by the pancreas.   Decreased cortisol causes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) because it can’t influence the formation of new blood sugar nor liberating sugar from its stored form in the liver and other locations (known as gluconeogensis and glycolysis).

Thyroid. Elevated cortisol has a suppressive effect of the enzyme 5’diodinase, which converts T4 to T3, so you have less T3, the active thyroid hormone. Less T3 leads to symptoms of hypothyroidsim

Liver Detox. Our liver must chemically change cortisol elevations (called conjugation) in order to change them from fat soluble to water soluble to eliminate them in our sweat, urine, and feces. The overproduction of cortisol from the stress response is a source of overload on the liver, potentially leading to poor liver conjugation of more damaging chemicals and loss of immune tolerance to foods, chemicals and heavy metals.

Intestinal Dysbiosis and Leaky Gut. Elevated cortisol suppresses SIgA (which the main immune system army linging the digestive tract), delaying cell regeneration in the digestive tract and promoting a pro-inflammatory environment. Elevated cortisol contributes to dysbiosis and leaky gut (increased permeability due to thinning of the GI lining) GI tract becomes more susceptible to parasites and other pathogenic organisms.

Suppressed Immune System. Decreases in SIgA and white blood cells, induces atrophy (shrinkage) of thymus gland, which produces many types of cells your immune system uses to combat illness. In addistion an immune system chemical called Interleukin 2 (IL-2). "IL-2 s an interleukin, a type of cytokine signaling molecule in the immune system. It is a protein that regulates the activities of white blood cells (leukocytes, often lymphocytes) that are responsible for immunity. IL-2 is part of the body's natural response to microbial infection, and in discriminating between foreign ("non-self") and "self"." [1] Deficiencies in IL-2 can lead to development of autoimmune disorders.

Bone Density. Elevated cortisol has negative impacts on bone metabolism, due to calcium malabsorption. Of course, poor bone metabolism can lead to diseases such as osteoporosis.

Depression. Overactive HPA activity and abnormal circadian rhythms are associated with depression. Basicially when your hypothalamus and pituitary get out of synq with when they are supposed to tell the adrenal to manufacture cortiosol your levels of cortisol can be too high or low and both decreased and increased norepinepherine production play a role in depression.

Why Low Adrenal Function Can Mimic Hypothyroid Symptoms

Insomnia. Hypoadrenia leads to inability to stay asleep (exhausted adrenals, leads to decreased cortisol, so cortisol is not available at night while sleeping to induce gluconeogensis and glycolysis) now, epinephrine and norepinepherine respond to mobilize glucose, which are excitatory hormones that wake you up. ever had a startle and you heart felt like it was beating hard? That is due to the adrenal hormone adrenaline. Low blood sugar at night causes the release of adrenaline, which wakes you up. Your brain needs a level blood sugar to function properly and the adrenal glands are in large part responsible for proper blood sugar between meals.

Whe you have hyper adrenal function you can’t get to sleep due to cortisol being elevated at night. This is another clue your circadian rhythm is off. A special test we often use at Johnson Chiropractic Neurolgy & Nutrition evaluates the amount of cortisol your adrenal glands are manufacturing at different times of the day and evening. You can learn more about what special test I use to help solve patients vexing health challenges on this page of my website.

Neurodegeration. Dysregulation of HPA axis has been related to MS; lowered DHEA, (pregnenelone steal,) linked to Alzheimers. Elevated cortisol, shown to cause hippocampal cell destruction, elevated cortisol also increases inflammatory cytokines. All these responses of abnormal adrenal hormone output lead to degeneration in your nervous system. That's something you don't want!

Cardiovascular disease. Stress response increases blood pressure because of elevations in the adrenal hormones; adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These two adrenal hormones are also known as catecholamines.

Hypercortisol, Insulin Resistence and Leptin resistance.

Elevated cortisol induces insulin resistance, both of these have been shown to induce leptin resistance. Leptin is an intracellular messenger that tells the brain to stop eating. With elevated cortisol and insulin resistance receptors for leptin are down regulated in the hypothalamus, increasing the potential for obesity.

Hypothroidism also slows down metabolism and fat burning. In addition hypothyroidism shuts down the receptor sites that respond to lipase, an enzyme that metabolizes fats (lipolysis). As you might guess, when lipase response is reduced, you store more fat.

Hopefully you now understand how adrenal gland malfunction can cause many health challenges and mimic some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism as well. What do you do about it?

Treatment for adrenal malfunction is based on patient education relative to the four types of stress and their effects on the body.  PHYSICAL stress can be decreased by exercise, adequate sleep, and chiropractic care.  CHEMICAL stress can be managed with a proper nutritional diet and professionally targeted, high quality supplements.  Common sense can do much to alleviate THERMAL stress.  Don’t go out in the cold with wet hair!  EMOTIONAL stress can be the most difficult to handle.  You may not be able to avoid the death of a loved one, but when you feel the pressures of the day building up — take three deep breaths.  Take 15-20 minutes a day and go for a walk outside, not in a gym.

Much of the time, low blood sugar coincides with low adrenal function.  Carefully following a specific diet is very important. Here are some nutritional guidelines for hypoadrenia:

  1. Use Celtic Sea Salt or REAL Salt  regularly to balance electrolytes and replace lost chlorides and trace minerals as well as sodium.

  2. AVOID CAFFEINE: coffee, black tea, Coke, Pepsi and other soft drinks containing caffeine.

  3. Avoid refined carbohydrates:  Coke, Pepsi and other soft drinks, pie, cake, cookies, ice cream, crackers, white bread, pasta, etc.

  4. Eat complex carbohydrates: whole grains (unless you are gluten intolerant), fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds.

  5. Eat fresh foods rich in Vitamin C (especially beneficial for good adrenal function), such as raw red or green bell peppers, cauliflower, lima beans, parsley, steamed collard or mustard greens, kohlrabi, oranges, grapefruit, papaya, and strawberries.  And for those who take a Vitamin C supplement, we recommend a whole complex Vitamin C supplement, such as Standard Process Cataplex C.

  6. Take additional adrenal support, such as, Drenamin, Drenatrophin, Whole Desiccated Adrenal, etc., to be determined by your doctor by Contact Reflex Analysis or Nutritional Response Testing.

For more help in dealing with poor adrenal function, I suggest you consult a knowledgeable natural healthcare practitioner.

I Could Use Some Help With My Health

For more details about the natural approach I take with my patients, take a look a the book I wrote entitled: Reclaim Your Life; Your Guide To Revealing Your Body's Life-Changing Secrets For Renewed Health. It is available in my office or at Amazon and many other book outlets.

If you found value in this article, please use the social sharing icons at the top of this post and please share with those you know who are still suffering with low thyroid symptoms or other chronic health challenges, despite receiving medical managment. Help me reach more people so they may regain their zest for living! Thank you!

All the best – Dr. Karl R.O.S. Johnson, DC – Digging Deeper To Find Solutions



1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interleukin_2


Topics: Hypothyroidism, fatigue, brain fog, depression, Adrenal, Anxiety, adrenal fatigue, hypoglycemia, hypoadrenia

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