Hypothyroidism is linked to cholesterol levels. An underactive thyroid 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 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 an underactive thyroid 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.
If your levels still remain high, 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.
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