I want to tell you about a patient whose story of irritability and mood swings 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 an irritable and moody raging witch.
Sarah said that at dinner the night before, her family was sitting around the table and her 9-year-old son mentioned he had a project due that he forgot to tell her about. She immediately snapped at her son and asked why he couldn’t keep track of these things. Then she turned to her husband and asked why he wasn’t more involved in their son’s project.
She could feel her voice rising and hear the irritation in it. Her husband and children were uneasy and the situation was escalating, but she felt powerless to stop it—the “raging witch” took over.
Sarah confessed to me that it was becoming a regular occurrence in their household. Her patience was low and she was quick to snap at her family. 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, they were financially stable, her children were now both school-aged, and she had the time and freedom to finally do things for herself. Sarah experienced far more stressful periods in her life before, and she never responded this way.
She tried everything she could think of to solve the problem. Sarah took up yoga and changed her diet to see if food sensitivities were the issue. She went to her family doctor, but he brushed it off as stress or age and told her she was probably perimenopausal. She went to her OB/GYN to have her hormones checked, and was told all of her labs were normal, so she was offered antidepressants.
Yet Sarah knew that something else was going on and the solution was not a prescription medication. That’s why she came to me.
The truth is that the mood swings and irritability Sarah experienced are frequently a symptom of an underlying health issue.1 Sarah’s story signaled to me that we needed to look for clues inside her body to discover what triggered the “raging witch” moments. By doing this we would be able to address the true reason for the outbursts and meltdowns and get her back to feeling herself again.
After nearly a decade of treating thousands of patients in my functional medicine clinic, I find there are two common culprits behind irritability and mood swings. Now you have the ability to discover what they are and how to overcome them.
1. Hashimoto’s, Thyroid Dysfunction, and Adrenal Fatigue
Your thyroid is your body’s engine. It produces hormones that attach to every cell in your body. It regulates all of your metabolic functions including heart rate, temperature, metabolism, and your mood. Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones and all of your metabolic processes slow down.2
How Hashimoto’s and Thyroid Dysfunction Affect Mood
The most common form of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune condition which provokes your immune system to mistakenly attack your own thyroid. When this occurs, your thyroid underproduces its hormones. In fact, 90% of hypothyroidism cases are caused by autoimmunity,3 and studies show that patients with mood disorders are more likely to have thyroid antibodies associated with Hashimoto’s.4
Hashimoto’s can cause a huge range of symptoms because your thyroid is so vital to many of your body’s functions, 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
Hashimoto’s is frequently missed by conventional medicine doctors because many doctors often write off Hashimoto’s symptoms as symptoms of stress, PMS, perimenopause, menopause, or even just being a woman. If they do order labs they typically only use one or two tests as opposed to a complete thyroid panel. They also use the “normal” lab reference ranges as their guide instead of the optimal ranges. This was the case with Sarah’s OB/GYN who determined that Sarah’s labs were fine. I discuss the full list of all the thyroid tests I ordered for my patients, and optimal lab ranges in my book, The Thyroid Connection.
In addition to seeing Hashimoto’s as a common cause for irritability and mood swings, I often saw that Hashimoto’s and adrenal fatigue go hand in hand.6
Adrenal Fatigue and Mood
Your adrenals are primarily responsible for managing your stress response. They produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, in addition to neurotransmitters and sex hormones. However, if you experience chronic stress, as Sarah did in years when her husband constantly traveled for work and she was home alone with her children, you can develop adrenal fatigue. Your adrenals are no longer to keep up with your stress levels and do not produce sufficient amounts of stress hormones.7
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
Hashimoto’s and adrenal fatigue are both major players in your endocrine system, which regulates your hormones. You can think of your endocrine system as an orchestra. Each musical section plays different parts of the same piece of music at the same time, ideally in perfect harmony. If the string section is off tempo or out of tune, 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 poor adrenal health, and vice versa. In many patients, it becomes a question of the chicken or the egg and 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. This leads to further adrenal fatigue and decreased thyroid function. That’s why it’s important to treat the root of both these concerns at the same time.
The Next Step
If you suspect that Hashimoto’s and/or adrenal fatigue are giving rise to irritability and mood swings, I recommend getting a complete thyroid panel to determine if you have Hashimoto’s or any other form of thyroid dysfunction.
Additionally, if you are concerned about developing Hashimoto’s or adrenal fatigue, my book, The Thyroid Connection, is an excellent resource. In it, I explain how to work with your doctor to get the right diagnosis and treatment protocol. I also 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
The other common root cause of irritability and mood swings that I see in my patients is poor gut health.8 95% of serotonin, the key neurotransmitter for regulating mood, is produced in your gut. It’s one of many reasons 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 “raging witch syndrome” patients is Candida or yeast overgrowth.
Candida is a fungus, which is a form of yeast. A very small amount lives in your mouth and intestines. Its job is to aid with digestion and nutrient absorption. However, when it is overproduced Candida wreaks havoc on your gut, impairing its ability to produce serotonin and other neurotransmitters.
If left unchecked, Candida overgrowth also breaks down the wall of your intestine, leading to leaky gut syndrome, and penetrates the bloodstream which releases toxic byproducts into your body.
This can trigger 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 also dealt with a persistent case of eczema. This 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.
How to Identify and Eliminate Candida Overgrowth
So what leads to Candida overgrowth in the first place? 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, oral contraceptives, 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 took antibiotics for a kidney infection, and she often had a glass of wine at the end of the day to help her unwind and provide comfort her after an outburst.
If the lifestyle factors and symptoms above sound familiar, you can take this quiz to find out if you may have yeast or Candida overgrowth.
Once you eliminate your Candida overgrowth and your serotonin levels return to normal, 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 Breakthrough® 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.
Goodbye Mood Swings and Irritability!
Now it’s time for my favorite part of Sarah’s story. Once 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 linked to mood disorders. She began following The Myers Way® diet and lifestyle program in The Thyroid Connection. I also started her on my Candida Breakthrough® protocol to eliminate yeast overgrowth.
Three months later she returned for her follow up appointment on the verge of tears again—this time it was for a great reason! She no longer experienced mood swings, and her husband and children stopped worrying what version of her would be at dinner each night. She also noticed an increase in her energy levels and 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 root cause and banish the “raging witch syndrome.”
- What Can Cause Rapid Shifts in Mood?. Natalie Silver. Healthline. 2019.
- Hypothyroidism (Underactive). American Thyroid Association.
- Autoimmunity and Hypothyroidism. N Amino. NCBI. 1988.
- The Link Between Thyroid Autoimmunity (Antithyroid Peroxidase Autoantibodies) with Anxiety and Mood Disorders in the Community: A Field of Interest For Public Health in the Future. Mauro Giovanni Carta, Andrea Loviselli, Maria Carolina Hardoy, Sergio Massa, Mariangela Cadeddu, Claudia Sardu, Bernardo Carpiniello, Liliana Dell'Osso, Stefano Mariotti. BMC Psychiatry. 2004.
- The Connection Between Thyroid Disorders and Fertility. Jennifer Lutz. Endocrine Web.
- Comorbid Latent Adrenal Insufficiency with Autoimmune Thyroid Disease. Toshihide Yamamoto. NCBI. 2015.
- Adrenal Fatigue. Hormone Health Network.
- Gut Feelings: How Food Affects Your Mood. Uma Naidoo. Harvard Health Publishing. 2019.