The body is a complex collection of highly interconnected systems and substances. As such, it is often the case that dysfunction in one area leads to disruption of others. This is exemplified in the relationship between insulin resistance and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. These seemingly disconnected conditions actually have notable influence over the development and continuation of one another. Having an understanding of both conditions and how they are connected to one another may facilitate better treatment.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin is a hormone that regulates the metabolization of glucose. This process involves the delivery of glucose into cells and tissues, which helps maintain proper levels in the bloodstream. Low insulin levels or poor insulin receptivity, known as insulin resistance, can lead to excess glucose circulating in the bloodstream. Maintaining an elevated blood glucose level can result in significant dysfunction.
Insulin levels increase in response to consumption of carbohydrates and sugars. Regularly eating a large amount of carbohydrates can cause insulin levels to remain elevated, which makes muscles, cells, and tissues less receptive to its effects. The pancreas responds to the reduced receptivity by increasing insulin production. If sustained for an extended period, the additional production may exhaust the pancreas and inhibit insulin secretion, which ultimately results in an insulin deficit. Without adequate insulin, dysregulation of blood glucose is almost entirely assured. This increases the risk of developing chronic disorders such Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
The thyroid is a small but powerful gland that regulates numerous bodily functions through the production of hormones. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune thyroid condition wherein the immune system wrongfully identifies proteins in thyroid tissue as a threat. This triggers the release of thyroid antibodies to eliminate which actively attempt to destroy thyroid tissue.
As thyroid tissue is destroyed it releases the thyroid hormone it previously contained. The sudden increase of thyroid hormone can cause a temporary hastening of bodily function. This is typically accompanied by symptoms similar to hyperthyroidism such as anxiety, faster heartrate, sweating, jitteriness, diarrhea, and unexpected weight loss. Hyperthyroidism associated with or caused by Hashimoto’s is known as Hashitoxicosis.
As damage to the thyroid gland continues to accrue, Hashimoto’s patients experience an ongoing decline of thyroid activity punctuated by temporary bouts of Hashitoxicosis. The immune system’s onslaught causes irreversible damage to the thyroid gland resulting in an ever-worsening case of hypothyroidism. Symptoms associated with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism include fatigue, brain fog, constipation, memory loss, and weight gain – get a full list of thyroid disease symptoms here.
Identifying the Connection
Despite being two separate conditions, insulin resistance and Hashimoto’s have a notable degree of influence over one another. This is exemplified in interactions between insulin and thyroid hormones.
Thyroid hormones, particularly the active form triiodothyronine (T3), has notable influence regarding cell and tissue receptivity to insulin. Both suppressed and elevated levels of T3 are associated with decreased insulin receptivity and can increase the risk of developing insulin resistance. In the case of Hashimoto’s, levels of T3 may alternate between too high and too low. As such, Hashimoto’s is a powerful contributor to insulin resistance.
Reduced insulin receptivity may inhibit thyroid hormone production. The liver converts, thyroxine (T4), the storage form of thyroid hormone, into the active form T3. Insulin resistance often limits the liver’s ability to convert T4 into T3, which is a factor of Hashimoto’s and a leading cause of hypothyroidism.
Research suggest that those with Hashimoto’s are at greater risk of developing insulin resistance. According to a Polish study, upwards of 50 percent of Hashimoto’s patients experience poor carbohydrate tolerance. This means that it is common for Hashimoto’s patients to experience a significant spike in blood glucose levels soon after eating carbohydrates. A sudden increase in glucose triggers the release of excess insulin in an attempt normalize blood sugar levels. This action contributes to the development of insulin resistance.
Effectively Treating Hashimoto’s and Insulin Resistance
When treating Hashimoto’s and insulin resistance it is important to consider the many factors at play. Rather than focusing solely on one condition it is best to take a more holistic approach and optimize all areas of influence. Below are effective ways of improving factors of Hashimoto’s and insulin resistance.
Optimize Thyroid Levels
Many patients with Hashimoto’s are enrolled in some form of hormone replacement therapy to alleviate thyroid hormone deficiency. However, this does not necessarily mean their levels have been optimized. It is quite common for thyroid patients to have test results that rest in the “normal” range while still experiencing notable thyroid disruption. Optimizing thyroid treatment and reaching an individualized ideal range can significantly improve thyroid function and insulin receptivity. Speak with a knowledgeable thyroid doctor about the thyroid treatment that is best for you.
Insulin levels are closely related to the types of food consumed. For example, fattening and sugary carbohydrates significantly increase insulin production thereby contributing to insulin resistance. Try replacing processed, prepackaged, and sugary foodstuffs with healthy fats and proteins. These types of food take longer to metabolize meaning they are less likely to trigger sudden spikes in blood sugar. They also tend to keep you feeling fuller for longer which can help reduce the urge to reach for sugary high-glycemic snacks.
Supplementation is beneficial for treating insulin resistance and may also improve thyroid health. Below is a collection supplements that may be beneficial for insulin resistant and Hashimoto’s patients:
- Berberine: a natural chemical found in many herbs that has a similar glucose-regulating effect as the traditional diabetes medication Metformin
- Konjac root: a fibrous plant substance that provides sensations of fullness, supports healthy bacteria, and reduces resistance to insulin
- Gymnema: an herb that supports greater blood sugar balance and limits cravings
- Chromium: an essential metal that may support muscle mass, weight loss, and glucose regulation
Better Treatment Through Careful Consideration
The relationship between insulin resistance and Hashimoto’s may not be immediately apparent. However, the two conditions have significant influence over one another. Therefore, jointly attending to insulin resistance and Hashimoto’s may improve the treatment outcomes for both conditions. If you are suffering from insulin resistance, Hashimoto’s, or other forms of thyroid dysfunction, be sure to consider their broader influence and utilize treatments that attend to all relevant factors.
1. Wilcox, Gisela. “Insulin and insulin resistance.” Clinical biochemist. Reviews vol. 26,2 (2005): 19-39.
2. Gierach M, Gierach J, Junik R. “Insulin resistance and thyroid disorders.” Endokrynologia Polska 2014;65(1):70-76.
3. FHN Staff. “Eating Yourself Sick: Insulin Resistance and Hashi’s.” Functional Health News.
4. Izabella Wentz, Pharm.D., FASCP. “Why Balancing Blood Sugar is Vital for Hashimoto’s Health.” Thyroid Pharmacist.
5. NES Staff. “Insulin Resistance and Thyroid Health.” Natural Endocrine Solutions.