As thyroid disorders and diabetes rates continue to increase, more research is beginning to surface, showing that the two conditions are intimately linked. Multiple scientific journals and years of research have shown a direct correlation between underactive thyroid and increased risk for diabetes (1,2,3). Our previous blog article covered the crucial roles of the thyroid; now, we will cover the importance of monitoring both blood sugar levels and thyroid hormones
How diabetes affects the thyroid
Thyroid disorders are more common in patients with type II diabetes than in the general population. There are many reasons why this is the case; it is not a coincidence. Diabetes is considered a metabolic disease resulting from disrupted carbohydrate metabolism. It is characterized by high levels of circulating blood glucose due to ineffective production of insulin (type I) or ineffective response of cells to insulin (type II) (4). Because glucose is the preferred fuel source in the human body, not utilizing it properly can greatly disrupt energy levels, increase fat storage, decrease kidney function, and increase the risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s.
These conditions can significantly disrupt the quality of life and make it much more difficult to exercise and eat healthy. Once the adverse side effects of diabetes and uncontrolled blood sugar start to set in, thyroid function can significantly plummet. Many times, the symptoms of hypothyroidism mimic those of type II diabetes which can begin a downward spiral of health that is hard to reverse. Prevention of both disorders is much easier than treatment.
How Thyroid Disorders Increase the Risk for Diabetes
Decreased thyroid function does not directly lead to higher blood sugar levels; it indirectly impacts blood sugar by greatly lowering energy levels and slowing down the metabolism. A sluggish metabolism will lead to weight gain and obesity, the two most common risk factors for diabetes. Many people suffering from low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) will begin to gain weight slowly and have poor digestive function. Once this cycle starts, exercise and leading an active lifestyle become very difficult. As a personal trainer, I must consider this when working with people suffering from hypothyroidism because workouts that are too intense or strenuous can be counter-productive. Sadly, many people make the mistake of beginning exercise routines that exceed their capacity, which only causes them to drop off and quit training.
The Danger of Pre Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Even if you have not been diagnosed with full-blown diabetes, higher than normal blood sugar or insulin resistance can cause various damaging long-term effects. Because the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 help maintain glucose homeostasis, hypothyroidism can alter glucose metabolism and become a major risk factor for insulin resistance. A study published by the International Journal of Health Sciences showed that patients with hypothyroidism were at much greater risk for developing insulin resistance and cardiovascular disorders (5). They also stated that regular screening for thyroid disorders and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) should be conducted regularly, with treatment beginning at earlier stages.
This information is very valuable and shows the importance of regular blood work either through comprehensive lab testing or daily blood sugar monitoring which can be done at home. It is also essential to take note of the similar warning signs for both diabetes and hypothyroidism, which are:
- Low energy levels
- Constantly feeling hungry or the need to snack
- Unexplained weight gain
- Thinning hair
- Poor short term memory and constantly forgetting simple things
- Dry and rough skin
Waiting for diabetes to set in can be one of the worst things for the health of your thyroid. If your Hemoglobin A1C levels are hovering around 5.7 or 5.8 and your fasting blood sugar levels are higher than 100, these are warning signs it is time to make changes.
Which Comes First: Hypothyroidism or Diabetes?
It is hard to say which condition will set in first, but typically insulin resistance and pre-diabetes will manifest early on and go undetected for months or even years. Estimates show that 1 in 3 Americans suffers from insulin resistance. Being overweight, not exercising, and eating a diet high in refined carbs and sugars can greatly increase the chances of developing a metabolic condition like insulin resistance. Chronic diseases are not like infections or viruses and take many years to fully set in. Both hypothyroidism and diabetes do not occur overnight and are directly related to lifestyle behaviors. In a way, this is a good thing because it means they can also be reversed or prevented with lifestyle behaviors.
Ways to Prevent High Blood Sugar and Hypothyroidism
1) Adopt a diet low in refined carbs and sugars: If you are fueling your body with fast-burning sources of carbohydrates, you are setting up your metabolism to become dependent on them. People who frequently eat sugars and high carb foods like bread, pasta, and rice will often crave them not because of the taste but because they have adapted to rely on them as an energy source. The solution is adding more healthy protein, fat, and fiber from whole food sources.
2) Incorporating time-restricted eating: Breakfast is an important meal, but it does not have to be right after waking up. Delaying breakfast for several hours and listening to your body’s hunger signals can be a great way to break the dependence on carbs and help give your thyroid much-needed rest from high blood sugar.
3) Daily exercise and targeted resistance training: Muscles require glucose for energy, so every time you contract your muscles, you burn up sugar in the body. Exercise can significantly increase circulation throughout the body and help produce endorphins which help improve our mood and boost energy levels. Exercise also helps make us tired and can dramatically increase sleep quality.
4) Identify sources of stress: Chronic stressors that may seem minor like sitting in traffic, rushing through meals, being annoyed with fellow workers, and watching the news can quickly add up and negatively impact both the thyroid and glucose metabolism. Spending time to identify and mitigate these sources of stress can be a significant relief and help ease anxiety levels. Please do not underestimate the power of reducing even the slightest sources of stress, as they can pay off for long-term health.
5) Get adequate nutrients through whole food or supplements: Many Americans lack key thyroid nutrients such as selenium, iodine, B vitamins, zinc, iron, tyrosine, sulfur, and magnesium. We have many amazing products in our clinic which can help boost these levels, so the thyroid has the building blocks to produce its necessary hormones. It is best to start with a nutrient-rich, whole foods diet, but sometimes it is not enough, which is why supplementation can be very beneficial.
Left untreated, thyroid disorders and diabetes can lead to negative consequences for long-term health, extending into all areas of life. There is no need to feel powerless or helpless for these two debilitating conditions as we are here to help. Setting up a free discovery call with our clinic can start the journey to identifying and treating the proper condition.
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