Your Thyroid’s Connected to Your Cholesterol?

Your thyroid controls several metabolic functions in your body. It plays a major role in how your brain, heart, and lungs function. It even contributes to how your body grows, rests, and digests. It also has a direct connection to your cholesterol levels. For some, this can lead to trouble with the heart, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Key takeaways:
  • arrow-right
    The thyroid makes hormones that control a number of functions throughout the body.
  • arrow-right
    Cholesterol comes from the body naturally and from foods that are high in saturated fats.
  • arrow-right
    People with hypothyroidism are at higher risk of developing heart disease and heart failure.
  • arrow-right
    An underactive thyroid causes people to develop high LDL levels, otherwise known as bad cholesterol.
  • arrow-right
    Hyperthyroidism and elevated cholesterol lead to an increased risk of heart disease, plus the heart has to work harder to pump blood.

The thyroid

The thyroid is a small gland at the bottom of the throat. It makes hormones that control a number of functions throughout the body. These hormones include Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3). If these hormone levels are abnormal, the body doesn’t function like it should.

If the thyroid is underactive and not releasing enough hormones, the body starts slowing down. This is knowns as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism often comes on gradually. Symptoms may start slow and can go unnoticed.

Hyperthyroidism is the opposite. The thyroid releases too many hormones into the bloodstream and the body starts to speed up. This can occur suddenly, and the symptoms can begin quickly or without warning.

When these thyroid disorders are left untreated, they can cause problems throughout the body like poor cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels.

What is cholesterol and what does it do?

Cholesterol has an important role in your body, even though it always seems to sound bad. Cholesterol is a waxy-like substance that helps the body make new cells, vitamins, and hormones. Too much cholesterol, however, can be bad.

Cholesterol comes from the body naturally. The liver makes all of the cholesterol the body needs. Cholesterol also comes from foods like meat, poultry, and dairy that are high in saturated fats. Saturated fats cause the liver to make extra cholesterol the body can’t use.

Cholesterol travels in the blood and too much can cause health problems, like heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

There are two types of cholesterol: LDL, the bad cholesterol, and HDL, the good cholesterol. LDLs cause fatty plaque to stick to the walls of the arteries causing the arteries to become narrow. This can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

HDL guards against heart attack and stroke by carrying the LDL back to the liver to be destroyed and removed from the body.

Triglycerides are the most common type of fat found in the body, which is stored and used for energy. However, high triglycerides and high cholesterol stick with the plaque in the arteries increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Hypothyroidism and cholesterol

When hypothyroidism isn't treated, it can lead to many health problems. Heart disease is one of them. People with hypothyroidism are at higher risk of developing heart disease and heart failure. This is especially true if their hypothyroidism is untreated or poorly treated.

The underactive thyroid causes people to develop high LDL levels, otherwise known as bad cholesterol. Hypothyroidism also has a relationship with high total cholesterol and triglycerides.

Hypothyroidism causes a lower amount of hormone to be released which slows the heart rate. It also decreases the elasticity or stretch of the arteries and leads to increased blood pressure. High blood pressure is another risk for heart disease. The plaque that builds up causes the arteries to harden.

Hyperthyroidism and cholesterol

If hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, isn’t treated, too much thyroid hormone is released causing the body's functions to speed up. This is much less common than hypothyroidism. High thyroid hormone levels cause the heart to beat faster. Palpitations or abnormal heart rhythms can occur.

Hyperthyroidism in people with high blood pressure creates an increased risk. Add elevated cholesterol to the mix and the heart has to work hard to pump blood. There is an even higher risk of heart disease, angina, heart attack, or stroke.

Who’s at risk?

People at risk of cholesterol are not necessarily at risk of developing a thyroid problem. However, people at risk of having a thyroid disorder could develop high cholesterol from the thyroid problem. So, who’s at risk of thyroid issues?

  • Women are five to eight times more likely than men to develop a thyroid disorder.
  • People over age 60.
  • Women in peri-menopause and post-menopause.
  • Family history.
  • Caucasians.
  • Current medical history: autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Addison’s disease, Type 1 or 2 diabetes, pernicious anemia, radiation treatment of the neck or head, vitiligo, or lupus.

So is it thyroid, cholesterol, or both?

If your thyroid is misbehaving, it can alter your cholesterol levels. But, unless you have symptoms that suggest your thyroid is causing trouble, your healthcare provider may find your cholesterol levels are out of order first.

This is a good time to have your thyroid tested, especially if you fall into one of the “who’s at risk” categories above. Hypothyroidism can go unnoticed for a long time and lead to cholesterol trouble. It is good to have them both checked and monitored when your healthcare provider suggests.

Thyroid disorders and cholesterol are easily diagnosed

Your healthcare provider can diagnose thyroid disorders and elevated cholesterol with blood tests.

Blood tests for thyroid disorders begin with testing the Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). An abnormal TSH is the first sign the thyroid isn’t functioning correctly. The provider will also check T4, Free T4, T3, and Free T3 to help monitor poor thyroid function.

Cholesterol bloodwork includes HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol. This bloodwork will likely require fasting for accurate levels.

Treating thyroid disorders and cholesterol

Thyroid disorders and cholesterol are both treatable. Thyroid hormones can be replaced or controlled with medication or other treatments.

Cholesterol can be managed with diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary.

Some studies suggest that people who struggle with muscle pain from the medications used to treat cholesterol may have muscle pain from thyroid hormone imbalance. It can be beneficial to know what the problem is.

Can I prevent this?

Taking positive steps in your health can minimize your risk of elevated cholesterol. Unfortunately, some of the risk factors for elevated cholesterol can’t be controlled. These risks include:

  • Family history.
  • Age, though elevated cholesterol can begin in your teens.
  • Race or ethnicity, Caucasians are most likely to have high total cholesterol.
  • Other medical diseases like kidney disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), sleep apnea, or HIV.

Factors you can control include:

  • Poor diet.
  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Smoking.
  • Drinking alcohol, more than two drinks per day for men and one per day for women can lead to increased cholesterol.
  • Stress levels.

The same goes for thyroid disorders. The causes of thyroid disorders can’t be controlled. While you can’t prevent thyroid disorders from happening, you can take can care of them properly and prevent problems from occurring.

The thyroid is directly connected to many of your body’s functions, including the way your heart functions. Thyroid disorders can have an impact on your cholesterol levels, putting you at greater risk for heart disease. Both may only be found with blood work because symptoms can go unnoticed. Treating both are important for heart health and preventing greater problems like a heart attack or stroke.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked  


Suzanne Suzanne
prefix 1 month ago
Will treatment of high cholesterol affect a thyroid already being treated for years ?