[This post is authored by Susan Prince, MS, FLT, CMT.]
It’s estimated that metabolic syndrome currently affects upwards of 50 million Americans. If you add to these numbers the almost 35% of Americans who suffer from insulin resistance, one of the hallmark diagnostic factors for metabolic syndrome, it’s entirely possible that this condition alone could eventually bankrupt our healthcare system.
To add insult to injury, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance are major risk factors for two of the leading causes of death in the U.S.– heart disease and diabetes.
What does this have to do with the thyroid? A lot.
The American Thyroid Association now estimates that 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. Some in the functional medicine community claim that the estimates are as high as 60 million. According to a 2013 study published in the journal Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, “Diabetes mellitus (DM) and thyroid dysfunction (TD) are the two most common endocrine disorders in clinical practice.”
In other words, diabetics have an increased frequency of thyroid disorders, and people with thyroid dysfunction have an increased frequency of metabolic syndrome.
Just what is metabolic syndrome? To receive a diagnosis, three out of five diagnostic risk factors must be present:
1. elevated triglycerides
2. decreased HDL
3. elevated blood pressure
4. insulin resistance or elevated fasting blood sugar
5. abdominal obesity
Metabolic syndrome is caused by chronic hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar. Research has shown that the destruction of the thyroid gland in people with Hashimoto’s is largely caused by the constant onslaught of the insulin spikes that are the hallmark of insulin resistance.
As if that weren’t enough, low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is just as detrimental to the thyroid. Chronic low levels of glucose in the blood are perceived by the body to be a significant stressor – some say it’s an emergency state. This in turn signals the adrenals to repeatedly release cortisol and adrenaline in preparation for “flight or fight” from the threat. Chronically high levels of cortisol promote inflammation, exhaust the adrenal glands, and impair overall metabolism.
The thyroid gland, unfortunately, isn’t an innocent bystander in this process. Hypothyroidism can also cause metabolic syndrome and dysglycemia (high or low blood sugar). In the presence of hypothyroidism, the cells become unresponsive to the action of glucose, causing symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, irritability, etc. This unresponsiveness to glucose is, again, perceived by the body as a threat and the adrenals will start pumping out more cortisol, further suppressing thyroid function.
So how to control this roller coaster ride? Keep your blood sugar as stable as possible and nourish and support your thyroid, including taming Hashimoto’s.
Metabolic syndrome is classified as a chronic condition. Most chronic conditions can be managed very successfully by making appropriate lifestyle modifications including optimal nutrition, appropriate physical activity, and stress management techniques, all of which will also help manage thyroid dysfunction.