Thyroid hormonal imbalance affects the brain chemistry. It can be mistakenly diagnosed as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder or other mental problems. People can be treated with antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, lithium, Valium, etc. People with thyroid problems in the past, often ended up in psychiatric hospitals, underwent horrible treatments such as electric shock therapy.
Thyroid hormones are extremely powerful brain chemicals and are neurotransmitters. Overactive thyroid impairs proper brain function. High levels of thyroid hormones change the brain chemistry and levels of neurotransmitters, leading to agitation, nervousness and mood changes. People suffering from Graves’ disease can swing from elevation to exhaustion, have feelings of anger, depression and confusion. Their thoughts become entangled and coping with simple tasks becomes very difficult. GABA is a brain chemical important in calming anxiety but its levels are reduced in Graves’ disease. Thyroid hormones also stimulate the synthesis of DHEA-S, which is antagonistic to GABA receptors in the brain.
The brain contains more T3 receptors than in other areas of the body. They are found in the highest quantities in the limbic area of the brain, its emotional center. People with Graves’ disease are often governed by an emotional way of thinking.
The excess of thyroid hormones makes the body more receptive to catecholamines (noradrenalin and adrenalin), hormones responsible for the ‘flight or fight’ response. This stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which is involved in charging and expression, increases blood pressure and heart rate. These hormones are usually released during crisis situations. However in Graves’ disease, due to the excess of thyroid hormones, they exert their effects strongly to prepare a body for a stressful situation, which is not really there. Beta-blockers, given to patients, reduce tremors and anxiety symptoms. They block noradrenalin and adrenalin from binding to their receptors on nerves. When the brain is constantly overstimulated by excessive thyroid hormones, it uses oxygen faster and produces more free radicals which can damage brain cells. The levels of glutathione, the main free radical scavenger are often reduced in people with autoimmune disorders. The levels of endorphin (‘happy molecules’) are also reduced in people with Graves’ disease.
There is a saying ‘I am not crazy, I have Graves’ disease’. The thyroid hormones are powerful brain chemicals. Emotions define life at the time of illness and are not easy to overcome. It is important to stabilise your hormones and your brain chemistry. Stress is a major trigger for Graves’ and unfortunately, it becomes its symptom. Stress exhausts adrenal glands and thyroid tends to compensate for poorly functioning adrenals. Therefore any stress will make the symptoms of Graves’ worse. Stress exacerbates the illness and is its active partner. Graves’ disease can be caused by the overuse of the sympathetic nervous system. It is important to limit stress and not to seek it. Rest should be emotional, mental and physical.
“Those who have to do with the care of hyperthyroid patients recognize the value of calm environment and placidity of the emotions in the course of treatment.”
Agnes Conrad, MD. 1934