The hormones in your body, which comprise the ‘endocrine system’, are essential and extremely nuanced chemicals that have intricate functions in virtually every system in your body. Variations in the closely-regulated levels of specific hormones can have a marked impact on the difference between health and disease. Because hormones often work hand-in-hand with the immune system, dysregulation of certain hormones is shown to be associated with the development and perpetuation of chronic inflammation in autoimmune conditions.
Along with estrogen, cortisol is one of the main hormones that is correlated with long-term chronic inflammation and overactive immune system. Cortisol is released in the body during stressful situations, with erratic blood sugar control, and in other inflammatory situations where the cortisol is released to function to help mitigate the inflammatory response. Chronic, high levels of cortisol can lead to changes in other systemic hormones as well.
One of the major hormones affected by chronic inflammation is thyroid hormone, which is released in abnormal levels in millions of U.S. women. Symptoms from abnormal levels of thyroid hormone can present as fatigue, weight gain, feeling perpetually cold, and hair loss (when hormone levels are too low) or as anxiety, weight loss, and feeling perpetually cold (when hormones levels are too high). Both of these situations can occur due to the immune system erroneously creating autoantibodies to cells in the thyroid gland, which result in autoimmune thyroid diseases, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease.
Because of the risk for autoimmunity in hormone dysregulation, appropriate testing for both hormone levels and specific autoimmune conditions is extremely important to identification and management of underlying causes of symptoms and autoimmunity. Most labs necessary for identifying hormone levels are blood tests, although specific saliva tests (especially for variant cortisol levels throughout the day) can be exceedingly informative. Here at Aria Integrative Medicine, we encourage you to speak with your physician about appropriate lab testing to help identify the underlying causes of autoimmune conditions and your symptoms.