Why Am I So Irritable and Moody?!
April 18th, 2017
I want to tell you about a patient whose story might sound familiar to you. Sarah came into my office, and after introducing myself, I asked her what brought her in to see me. Her eyes immediately welled up with tears and she struggled to hold herself together. She reached for the box of tissues as she confessed that she felt like she was turning into a raging witch.
She told me that at dinner the night before her family was sitting around the table, chatting about their days, and her 9 year old son mentioned that he had a project due that week that he’d forgotten to tell her about. She immediately snapped at her son, asking why he wasn’t better organized and why he couldn’t keep track of these things. Next she turned to her husband asking if he knew about the project and why he wasn’t more involved.
She could feel her voice raising, hear the sound of irritation in it. She saw the look of unease on her husband and children’s faces, felt the situation escalating, but she felt powerless to stop it – the raging witch had taken over.
Sarah confessed that this was becoming a regular occurrence in their household. She was low on patience and quick to snap at her family. The incident didn’t even have to be big, she felt as though anything could set her off.
Worst of all, she had no idea what was causing it or how to make it stop. She was in a happy marriage, after years of traveling for work her husband was finally home more, they were financially stable, her children were now both school aged, and she had more time and freedom to finally do things for herself again. She’d been through far more stressful periods in her life and she’d never responded this way.
She’d tried everything she could think of to solve the problem. She took up yoga and changed her diet to see if food sensitivities were the issue. She’d seen her family doctor, but he’d just brushed it off as stress or age and told her she was probably perimenopausal. She then went to her OB/GYN to have her hormones checked, and she was told all of her labs were normal and then offered antidepressants.
But Sarah knew intuitively that something else was going on with her and that there had to be a better answer than prescription medication, which was why she was sitting in my office. And she was right.
The truth is that the mood swings and irritability Sarah was experiencing are frequently a symptom of an underlying health issue. When Sarah told me her story that signaled to me that we needed to look for clues to what was happening inside of her body to trigger her “raging witch” moments. And by piecing together these clues, we would be able to address the true reason for the outbursts and meltdowns, to get her back to feeling like herself again.
After nearly a decade of treating thousands of patients in my functional medicine clinic, there are two culprits for the “raging witch syndrome” that I see most commonly. Let’s talk about what they are and most importantly, how to overcome them!
1. Hashimoto’s (or Other Thyroid Dysfunction) and Adrenal Fatigue
Your thyroid is your body’s engine, and it produces hormones that attach to every cell in your body. It regulates all of your metabolic functions, from heart rate to temperature to metabolism to, you guessed it – your mood. When your thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones, you become hypothyroid and all of your metabolic processes slow down.
The most common form of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s, which is an autoimmune condition where your immune system mistakenly attacks your own thyroid, causing it to underproduce its hormones. In fact, 90% of hypothyroidism cases are caused by autoimmunity. And, studies have found that patients with mood disorders are more likely to have the thyroid antibodies associated with Hashimoto’s.
Because your thyroid is so vital to your body’s functions, Hashimoto’s can cause a huge range of symptoms, including:
- Mood swings, irritability, anxiety and depression
- Hair loss or hair that is brittle or thinning
- Weight gain or inability to lose weight
- Fatigue even after getting 8-9 hours of sleep
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, or poor memory
- Constantly feeling cold or having cold hands and feet
- Slow heart rate
One very important thing to know is that Hashimoto’s is very frequently missed by conventional medicine doctors. This is because many conventional medicine doctors often write off Hashimoto’s symptoms as stress, PMS, perimenopause, menopausal symptoms or even being a woman, just like Sarah’s family doctor. If they do order labs they typically only use one or two tests, as opposed to a complete thyroid panel, and they use the “normal” lab reference ranges as their guide instead of the optimal ranges. This was the case with Sarah’s OB/GYN who told her that her labs were fine. For a full list of all of the thyroid tests I run on my patients, and optimal lab ranges, check out my book The Thyroid Connection.
In addition to seeing Hashimoto’s as a common cause for “raging witch syndrome”, another pattern I see all the time in my clinic is that Hashimoto’s and adrenal fatigue often go hand in hand.
Your adrenals are primarily responsible for managing your stress response. They produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, in addition to neurotransmitters and your sex hormones. However, if you experience chronic stress, like Sarah did in the years when her husband was constantly traveling for work and she was home alone with her children, you can develop adrenal fatigue, where your adrenals are no longer to keep up with your stress levels and they produce insufficient amounts of stress hormones.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and depression
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Body aches and muscle pain
- Fatigue and difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- Low blood pressure
- Salt and sugar cravings
- Shakiness or lightheadedness after skipping a meal
- Dizziness upon standing
- Feeling “tired and wired”
- Low libido
- Hair loss
The reason Hashimoto’s and adrenal fatigue so often go hand in hand is that they are both major players in your endocrine system, which regulates your hormones. You can think of your endocrine system a bit like an orchestra where each musical section plays different parts of the same piece of music at the same time, ideally in perfect harmony. If the string section gets off tempo or out of tune however, then it’s typically only a matter of time before the horns and woodwinds are out of sync too.
The same is true for your hormones. If your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, it can lead to adrenal issues, and vice versa. In many patients it becomes a chicken or the egg question, which one came first? What we do know is that once you develop Hashimoto’s and adrenal fatigue, you are more likely to become irritable and stressed, which leads to further adrenal fatigue and decreased thyroid function. That’s why it’s important to treat both underlying issues at the same time.
If you suspect that Hashimoto’s and/or adrenal fatigue are causing your “raging witch syndrome” you can download my Hashimoto’s and adrenal fatigue symptoms checklist as a simple diagnostic tool.
I also recommend getting a complete thyroid panel to determine if you have Hashimoto’s or any other form of thyroid dysfunction.
If you do have Hashimoto’s or adrenal fatigue, or think you may be on the path to developing them, I recommend reading my book, The Thyroid Connection. In it, I explain how to work with your doctor to get the right diagnosis and treatment protocol, and I walk you through how to restore optimal thyroid and adrenal function using dietary and lifestyle changes, with a step-by-step, 28-day plan.
2. Gut Health Issues
The other common root cause of irritability and mood swings that I see in my patients is gut health issues. This may sound surprising at first, but it makes complete sense once you know that 95% of your serotonin, the key neurotransmitter for regulating mood, is produced in your gut. It’s one of many reasons that I always say the gut is the gateway to health!
While there are many gut infections and conditions that play a role in your overall gut health, the one I see most often in my “raging witch syndrome” patients is Candida or yeast overgrowth.
Candida is a fungus, which is a form of yeast, a very small amount of which lives in your mouth and intestines. Its job is to aid with digestion and nutrient absorption. However, when it is overproduced it wreaks havoc on your gut, impairing your gut’s ability to produce serotonin and other neurotransmitters.
If left unchecked, it also breaks down the wall of your intestine, causing leaky gut, and penetrates the bloodstream, releasing toxic byproducts into your body.
This can lead to many different symptoms, including:
- Irritability, moodiness, anxiety and depression
- Skin and nail fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, and toenail fungus
- Feeling tired and worn down or suffering from chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
- Digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
- Difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, ADD, ADHD, and/or brain fog
- Skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis, hives, and rashes
- Vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, rectal itching, or vaginal itching
- Severe seasonal allergies or itchy ears
- Strong sugar and refined carbohydrate cravings
In addition to her moodiness and irritability, Sarah was also dealing with a persistent case of eczema, which indicated to me that she may also have a yeast problem. While gut infections and Hashimoto’s do not always occur together, I do see it more often than not.
So what causes the Candida overgrowth to begin with? It can be caused by a diet high in sugar and refined carbs (which feed the yeast), a round of antibiotics (which kill off the good bacteria in your gut that keep your Candida population under control), high alcohol intake, taking oral contraceptives, taking NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, as well as chronic stress. Even a diet high in beneficial fermented foods such as Kombucha, sauerkraut, and pickles, can feed Candida and cause an overgrowth.
In Sarah’s case, she had recently taken antibiotics for a kidney infection, and she often had a glass of wine at the end of the day to help her unwind and to comfort her after a “raging witch” outburst.
If the lifestyle factors and symptoms above sound familiar, you can take this quiz to find out if you likely have yeast or Candida overgrowth.
The great news is that once you eliminate your Candida overgrowth and your serotonin levels return to normal, the mood issues and other symptoms fade away. I’ve helped thousands of patients overcome Candida using a simple three-part protocol. Part one is to follow a low carb diet in order to starve the yeast. Part two is to use two supplements, Candisol and Caprylic Acid, to kill the yeast. And part three is to restore your friendly gut bacteria that keep the yeast in check with a daily probiotic.
You can follow this exact same protocol at home using my 30-Day Candida Control Program. It includes a 30-day meal plan with recipes and shopping lists, all three of the yeast-fighting supplements, and tons of additional resources and videos to restore your gut health.
And now, for my favorite part of Sarah’s story. Since I suspected that she was dealing with Hashimoto’s, I ran a complete thyroid panel on her. Her thyroid levels were below optimal and she tested positive for the Hashimoto’s antibodies that trigger brain inflammation and are linked to mood disorders. She began following The Myers Way® dietary and lifestyle program in The Thyroid Connection. I also started her on my Candida Control protocol to eliminate her yeast problem.
Three months later when she returned for her follow up appointment, she was on the verge of tears again, except this time it was for a great reason! She was no longer having “raging witch” moments and her husband and children had stopped worrying what version of her they would see at dinner each night. She had also seen an increase in her energy levels and had lost five pounds!
If you’re feeling frustrated or out of control because of irritability and mood swings, I want you to know that, just like Sarah, you CAN get to the true underlying cause and banish the “raging witch syndrome”!