You were diagnosed with elevated cholesterol levels and decided to be proactive. You revamped your entire diet. You tossed out the junk food, added more greens and started exercising 4 to 5 days a week. After all this, you find out that your cholesterol, still, hasn’t budged at all.
Millions of Americans are trying to lower their cholesterol through improved diet, exercise, and even cholesterol-lowering drugs. For some, even these significant changes, still had not lowered their LDL (bad cholesterol).
What you or your doctor may not realize is that your cholesterol levels are linked to your thyroid function. Elevated cholesterol may be due to undiagnosed thyroid problems.
Hypothyroidism can elevate your cholesterol levels
An underactive (slow) thyroid can cause elevated cholesterol. This condition is called Hypothyroidism. So, what does the thyroid have to do with cholesterol?
Your body is dependent on thyroid hormones to make cholesterol and to eliminate the excess cholesterol it doesn’t need. When thyroid hormone levels (T4 and T3) are low (hypothyroidism), your body doesn’t break down and remove LDL cholesterol as efficiently as usual. LDL cholesterol can then build up in your blood.
Believe it or not, you don’t need a drastic drop in Thyroid hormone levels to increase cholesterol. Even people whose thyroid hormones fall within the lower end of the normal range can suffer from subclinical hypothyroidism. This can still result in elevated LDL levels.
A study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM) found that high TSH levels alone can directly raise cholesterol levels, even if thyroid hormone levels aren’t high.
In 2009, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) conducted a survey looking at the connection between undiagnosed hypothyroidism and high cholesterol. This survey revealed several important findings:
- Less than half of the adults diagnosed with high cholesterol had ever been tested for thyroid disease, despite the well- documented connection between the two conditions.
- Ninety percent of those surveyed were never informed of thyroid gland's impact on cholesterol regulation.
According to AACE's president at the time, Richard A. Dickey, M.D., "Patients who have been diagnosed with high cholesterol should ask their physician about having their thyroid checked. If they have an underlying thyroid condition in addition to their high cholesterol, the cholesterol problem will be difficult to control until normal levels of thyroid hormone are restored."
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain, or inability to lose weight
- Fatigue, exhaustion
- Feeling run down and sluggish
- Depression, anxiety, mood swings
- Menstrual irregularities, including more frequent or heavier periods
- Dry, coarse and/or itchy skin
- Dry, coarse and thinning hair
- Feeling cold, especially in the extremities
- Muscle cramps, joint pain, carpal tunnel or tendonitis
The National Cholesterol Education Program and the Food and Drug Administration recommend thyroid testing in patients with high cholesterol levels.
Many Thyroid Problems Commonly Missed By Doctors
Approximately, 20 million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of thyroid disease, however, 60 % of adults are unaware that they have thyroid disease. Either they have never been diagnosed because the appropriate lab work was never run or they may have been misdiagnosed by their doctor.
Most Thyroid Tests, Insufficient And Incomplete
Most doctors who run thyroid test do not run a complete thyroid panel, and even worse, do not truly understand how all of the thyroid hormones work. Commonly, patients come into my office with their blood work, and their doctor has only ordered TSH and T4. This is an incomplete thyroid panel and does not give you a clear picture as to how well your thyroid may be functioning.
Most Doctors - Outside of Endocrinologists- Do Not Know How To Order or Correctly Interpret Thyroid Tests.
If you suspect that you may have hypothyroidism, or haven't had any success reducing your Triglycerides, LDL, and Total cholesterol - despite eating healthy and exercising daily- then, you need to have a complete thyroid work up done. Although any doctor can order these tests, most doctors (including Primary Care Physicians / family doctors) do not know how to interpret or treat hypothyroidism, correctly. It is best to be seen by either an endocrinologist or a doctor that specializes in hormones.
Tests your doctor should order for a full thyroid panel (these tests are covered by most insurances)
- TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone)
- T4 (free) [this is very different than just T4]
- T3 (free) [also very different than just T3]
- rT3 (reverse T3)
- TPO (Thyroperoxidase Antibodies)
- TBG (Thyroxine Binding Globulin)
If your doctor refuses to run these test for you, it's time to find another doctor.
If your cholesterol (lipid) levels are not improving, despite all the lifestyle choices you have made, chances are you may have a thyroid problem. Once, your thyroid condition is accurately diagnosed and treated, not only will you feel fantastic (great energy, losing weight, better mental clarity, etc.) but your cholesterol levels will quickly return to normal, without having to take dangerous cholesterol medication(see: Statins Red Alert)
It's important to treat the cause of the problem and not just the symptom. Your high cholesterol may merely be a symptom of an under active thyroid gland. Learn More
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