Can Chronic Stress Trigger Thyroid Autoimmunity?

Chronic Stress & Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

I’m so excited to share today’s guest post written by Dr. Eric Osansky of Natural Endocrine Solutions. There are many different root causes and factors which can lead to the development of an autoimmune thyroid disease. Some of these include food allergens, infections, and environmental toxins.  What you may not know is that chronic stress & thyroid autoimmunity are closely related and that long-term stress can be a contributing factor and play a role in triggering the body to turn on itself.

Two Mechanisms Stress can Trigger Autoimmune Disease

1) Decreased regulatory T cells.

Regulatory T cells play an important role in preventing the development of autoimmune thyroid conditions. In other words, having an abundance of regulatory T cells will decrease the likelihood of an autoimmune thyroid condition developing. But chronic stress can decrease regulatory T cells, which in turn will make someone more susceptible to developing an autoimmune thyroid condition. – See more at

2) Elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Autoimmune conditions are also characterized by an increase in proinflammatory cytokines. And chronic stress will dysregulate immune system function by increasing proinflammatory cytokines. There is evidence that chronic stress causes more of a Th2 dominant state, which might make someone more likely to develop Graves’ Disease, rather than Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. The reason for this is because most cases of Graves’ Disease are Th2 dominant conditions, while most cases of Hashimoto’s are Th1 dominant conditions. However, keep in mind that this isn’t always the case, and the only way to know for certain whether someone is Th1 or Th2 dominant is to test the cytokines.

3) Decreased secretory IgA.

Another way that chronic stress can trigger autoimmunity is by decreasing secretory IgA. Secretory IgA lines the mucosal surfaces of the body, including the gastrointestinal tract, and it protects the body from pathogens and other foreign substances. Because of this, having a decrease in secretory IgA can make someone more susceptible to an infection, which in turn can serve as an autoimmune trigger.


How Can You Better Deal With The Chronic Stress?

Since it is unlikely that you will eliminate all of the stressors from your life, the next best thing is to try doing everything you can do to reduce the stressors, while at the same time doing things to improve your stress handling skills. I’m going to focus on the latter below by listing five things you can do to better cope with the stress in your life:

1. Modify your perception of stress.

Although you want to do what you can to reduce your stress levels, you also need to modify your perception of stress. In fact, one’s perception of stress is usually an even bigger factor than the stressor itself. For example, you can have two people who work the exact same stressful job position, but they can perceive the situation differently. So “Person A” might start the day with a negative attitude and dread going to work each day, and because she keeps reminding herself how much she hates her job this makes things even more stressful. On the other hand, “Person B” has a positive attitude every day, as while she realizes that her job is stressful, she tries to focus on the positive factors. While the stress of their job probably will affect both of these people, without question it will have a greater impact on “Person A”. Although I realize that modifying one’s perception of stress is easier said than done, if you work on this it can help a great deal.

2. Eat a healthy diet.

Eating a lot of refined foods and sugars can spike up the blood sugar levels, which can have a negative effect on the adrenals. And over a prolonged period of time, this will affect your ability to cope with stress. As a result, you want to try eating mostly whole foods, while minimizing your consumption of refined foods and sugars.

3. Exercise regularly, although cautiously.

Although exercising on a regular basis is a good idea, too much exercise can do more harm than good. Over-training can not only have a negative effect on your adrenals but on your immune system as well. For most people, it’s okay to do some light to moderate aerobic exercise three to five days per week, along with some weight bearing exercises. How about engaging in more strenuous types of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training? While this is great for those who are in a good state of health, many people with an autoimmune thyroid condition will want to refrain from engaging in this type of exercise while trying to improve their health. And the reason for this is because this type of exercise can put a lot of stress on the adrenals and immune system.

4. Practice mind-body medicine techniques.

Some examples of mind-body medicine techniques include yoga, meditation, and biofeedback. There are other techniques as well, and they all can do wonders in helping you to better manage the stress in your life. I would recommend to block out at least ten minutes per day to incorporate one or more of these techniques. For example, you can choose to practice yoga on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and then do meditation on the other days. Or you might prefer to only do meditation on a daily basis. Either way, make sure you do some type of mind-body medicine technique every single day. And of course feel free to block out more than ten minutes per day to practice mind-body medicine techniques.

5. Get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

If you don’t get sufficient sleep then this will affect your adrenals, and of course, will also affect your ability to deal with chronic stress. I realize that some people are unable to fall asleep, while others can fall asleep but have problems staying asleep throughout the night. If this is the case then certain imbalances probably will need to be addressed to help you to get better quality sleep, but in the meantime, I would at least make the effort to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night.

Can Nutritional Supplements and Herbs Help With Stress?

You might wonder why I didn’t mention anything about taking nutritional supplements and herbs to support the adrenals. Although I do recommend supplements to my patients to support the adrenals and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, it is important to focus on the five factors I mentioned above. After all, if you take supplements to support the adrenals and HPA axis, but eat poorly, don’t do a good job of managing your stress, and get less than eight hours of sleep, then you won’t receive optimal results no matter how many supplements you take.

With that being said, taking certain nutrients and herbs can sometimes be beneficial. Some examples of nutrients which can support the adrenals include vitamin C and pantothenic acid. If someone has depressed cortisol levels then the herb licorice can be beneficial, as this helps to prolong the life of cortisol. Sometimes using an adrenal glandular on a short-term basis can also be beneficial. If someone has elevated cortisol levels then taking relora and/or phosphatidylserine can help. Although supporting the adrenals can be important at times, many times it is even more important to support the HPA axis. And the reason for this is because many people with adrenal problems have HPA axis dysregulation. After all, the pituitary gland communicates with the adrenal glands, and the hypothalamus communicates with the pituitary gland. And so many times, supporting the HPA axis with adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola, eleuthero, or ashwagandha can do wonders, although just remember that while doing this you also want to focus on the five factors I discussed earlier.


Eric Osansky, DC, MS, CCN, CNS

Dr. Osansky is a licensed healthcare professional who helps people recover from thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions through the use of natural thyroid treatment methods. He is a chiropractic physician, and while many people consider chiropractors to be neck and back pain doctors, some chiropractors receive special training that gives them the knowledge to focus on other conditions, such as endocrine disorders. Although Dr. Osansky focused on typical chiropractic conditions in his practice for 7 ½ years, he gained a greater appreciation for endocrine disorders when he was personally diagnosed with the autoimmune thyroid condition Graves’ disease.

After seeing how well natural treatment methods helped with his autoimmune thyroid condition, he began using these natural thyroid treatment protocols to help others with different types of thyroid and autoimmune thyroid disorders, such as hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease, and hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. While he realizes that conventional medical treatment is necessary in some cases, there are millions of people with these conditions who have been told they need to be on prescription drugs on a long-term or permanent basis or receive thyroid surgery or radioactive iodine, when this might not be the case.  Dr. Osansky has obtained countless hours of postgraduate training in nutrition, functional endocrinology, immunology, detoxification, and phytotherapy. Dr. Osansky received a Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine from the University of Western States. Dr. Osansky is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist, as well as a Certified Nutrition Specialist, which requires advanced-degree education qualifications, completing and passing an examination, and substantial nutrition experience.