High Cholesterol Linked With Hypothyroidism

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Hypothyroidism is linked to cholesterol levels. An underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism can cause cholesterol to increase and you may not even be aware that this is the cause or a factor for your high cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol itself has a bit of a bad reputation, but it is actually important in hormone and nerve cell production and function. The problem is when we have too much bad cholesterol, which can begin to build in the arteries and raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes, among other heart issues.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol, is the culprit for those with high cholesterol levels. Levels of LDL should be below 100 mg/dL to be considered optimal – levels above 130 mg/dL increase health risks. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the ‘good’ cholesterol, transports and helps removes excess LDL causing arterial blockages.

So, ensuring we have healthy cholesterol levels is clearly important in maintaining good health. And those of us with hypothyroidism should be especially attentive to our cholesterol levels as hypothyroidism can impact on this.

The main purpose of thyroid hormones, produced by the thyroid gland, is to ensure the metabolism is running properly. The metabolism’s job is to produce heat and fuel but also to regulate cholesterol levels. So with reduced metabolic function comes poor processing of cholesterol, as the metabolism slows down from hypothyroidism, causing cholesterol levels increase.

If you have hypothyroidism and are found to have high cholesterol, then treatment for the high cholesterol may be delayed to wait until your thyroid treatment is optimal, as this often brings the cholesterol levels down on its own and so removes the need for statins. Statins are also more likely to cause muscle damage in people with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).

Optimal thyroid levels are a TSH below 2, a Free T3 level in the top quarter of the range and a midrange or higher Free T4 level. Testing Reverse T3 and thyroid antibodies is also beneficial. However, many people on standard T4-only thyroid medication such as Levothyroxine and Synthroid, do not have optimal thyroid levels, but instead doctor’s just get them ‘in range’, which isn’t the same.

A research team headed by Elizabeth McAninch, MD, an assistant professor in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, found higher cholesterol levels in the blood of hypothyroid patients treated with Levothyroxine, than in healthy control subjects. Demonstrating the link between T4-only meds and cholesterol, too.  The statistically significant difference held both in terms of total cholesterol (TC) and serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad cholesterol,” which increases the risk of heart disease.

As I explained above, if thyroid levels aren’t optimised, which is particularly common when on T4 only medications as thyroid patients don’t convert the T4 to an adequate amount of T3, this can lead to on going issues and symptoms, such as high cholesterol. The doctor that headed the research also suggested this too;

“It’s very well established that untreated hypothyroidism causes your cholesterol level to be higher,” McAninch said. The study “points us to the conclusion that levothyroxine therapy may not truly be normalizing these people,” who are using LT4 to replicate adequate thyroid function.

If your levels still remain high after optimising treatment, there are other things you can do to try and lower them. Diet can play a big part, by reducing the amount of high-cholesterol foods you eat and increasing low-saturated fat and high-fiber foods. You could also introduce food that specifically acts to lower cholesterol levels, such as spreads that contain sterols or stanols.

Increasing your exercise levels, starting off slow and going gently, can also help to lower high cholesterol. Just remember to listen to your body and not overexert or push yourself, which can worsen hypothyroidism but also bearing in mind that high cholesterol increases your risk of heart attacks for example.


You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.

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Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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Rachel Hill, Thyroid Patient Advocate, blogger and author, has Six 2018 WEGO Health Award Nominations. She is a highly ranked writer appearing in the Top Hypothyroidism Websites and Top Thyroid Websites and has worked with The National Academy of Hypothyroidism, The BBC, The Mighty, Yahoo, MSN and ThyroidChange, to name just a few. She is well-recognised as a useful contributor to the thyroid community and also contributed the foreword to Emily Kyle’s The 30-Minute Thyroid Cookbook.

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