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The relationship between thyroid health and cardiac health has been known since 18831. It is pretty common that, with mainstream medicine, the approach is to treat each organ system as its own entity hence the creation of a specialist in an “ology” practice.
Yet, the body is a whole and needs to be understood in this fashion as one system can directly or indirectly affect another. This is especially true with thyroid and cardiac health. A patient could typically see an endocrinologist and then referred to a cardiologist for a work up.
If you have thyroid disease, you should know there are risks with either having an overactive or underactive thyroid gland. It is more obviously seen with hyperthyroidism and/or Graves’ disease, but it can also be present in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Studies suggest that too much thyroid hormones can lead to high blood pressure and clotting problems, where too little hormones can instigate high cholesterol and inflammation1.
Risks for Underactive Thyroid and Heart Disease
In a recent meta-analysis of over 55 cohort studies that had approximately 2 million people involved, patients that had hypothyroidism compared to euthyroidism (normal thyroid function) had higher risks of ischemic heart disease and cardiac mortality4.
Key Insight: Low thyroid hormone levels can slow your heart down and can cause the arteries to become less elastic and then can lead to high blood pressure.
Thyroid hormones aid the liver in breaking down lipids and reducing the number of triglycerides (fat in the blood). Thyroid hormones also assist in cellular metabolism. If there is a reduction in the amount of circulating thyroid hormones, this will slow down metabolism.
This can occur for a number of reasons, including:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Trauma to the thyroid gland
Some case-controlled studies have demonstrated that having TSH levels > 4, the higher the chances of coronary heart disease seen2.
If you are low in thyroid hormones, you can have elevated cholesterol levels, especially the low-density one called LDL. In addition, higher TSH levels have been seen in obese patients.
Risks for Overactive Thyroid and Heart Disease
Too much thyroid hormones such as T4 and T3 can cause heart palpitations and predispose you to a heart condition known as Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib). This is caused by overstimulation of thyroid hormones on the heart causing it to beat irregularly.
Best Screening Methods for Thyroid and Heart Health
Let’s break down the steps of screening the health of both your thyroid and your heart. Please consider the following:
- Take the Thyroid Quiz (1)
- Get your thyroid levels checked (TSH, fT3, fT3, TPO antibody, and TGB antibody)
- Get your cholesterol levels checked ( Lipids, Cardio IQ for a more in-depth lipid analysis)
- Screen your Lipoprotein A Levels. If it is high, your cholesterol needs to be lower than it would otherwise
- Get your glucose levels checked (Fasting glucose, HA1c)
- Thyroid ultrasound (Can help you identify if you have inflammation, nodules or early signs of thyroid disease)
- Cardiac CT score (A simple and fast way that can help you determine the number of calcium deposits in coronary arteries. Identify plaque build up in your arteries)
Key Insight: Most insurance companies do not pay but you can get a doctor’s order for cash price at a local imaging center.
Outside of screening and treating, what are some simple solutions that you can put into action today to benefit both your heart and your thyroid? Here is what you can do:
Cruciferous veggies, such as:
- Brussel Sprouts
These are often thought to be harmful to patients with thyroid disease. However, in cooked versus raw forms, they are helpful for detoxing which is imperative to the digestive system of those suffering from autoimmune conditions (2).
Sometimes, a single nutrient can be a limiting factor that prevents the ability to make proper thyroid hormones. Selenium is a good example of this (3).
This mineral is essential to help convert thyroid hormones to active hormones and this will allow for the thyroid to work properly. An easy way to get the recommended amount of 200 mcg per day is to eat 3 brazil nuts daily.
Your thyroid needs iodine to function and needs it to make thyroid hormone (4). However, too much or too little of iodine can be problematic.
In today’s Western world, iodine deficiency is less likely. Individuals do not need to supplement much more of this mineral to support thyroid health.
Some multivitamins and other supplements contain high levels of iodine, which can actually cause more disruption and dysfunction of thyroid production.
The Institute of Medicine and WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations for iodine are 150mcg daily5.
Bottom Line: The thyroid gland only needs 52mcg daily to produce T4 and this is usually achieved by the amount of iodine present in thyroid medication.
The best exercises for both an underactive thyroid and cardiovascular health is low impact aerobics (5). What may have more of an impact is if you can do your exercises earlier in the day versus later in the evening.
This is due to changes in cortisol levels (a stress hormone) which can affect your sleep if being caused to be released due to strenuous evening activity3.
Secure Your Future Health Today
First, you need to seek out a practitioner that will help you figure out health concerns with an integrative approach. This is because the body systems are intrinsically related.
If you have abnormal lipid or glucose levels on your next physical examination, check for a potential underlying if you could have an underlying thyroid condition. Also, another big recommendation is that all men and women above 40 years old should have a baseline cardiac workup done.
It is interesting how many of us will get a maintenance check on our cars, yet when asked about maintenance on heart health, no one goes to a cardiologist for screening and preventative measures. Yet, you can live without a car, but not your heart! Please do what you can to secure your future health today, and reach out to the professionals at Integrative Health to learn more.
1. Cappola, A. R. & Ladenson, P. W. Hypothyroidism, and Atherosclerosis. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 88, 2438–2444 (2003).
2. Mya, M. M. & Aronow, W. S. Subclinical Hypothyroidism Is Associated With Coronary Artery Disease in Older Persons. Journal of Gerontology 57, (2002).
3. Yun Seo, D. et al. Morning and evening exercise. Integr. Med. Res. 2, 139–144 (2013).
4. Ning et al. BMC Medicine (2017) 15:21 DOI 10.1186/s12916-017-0777-9
Written by Dr. Linda Khoshaba of Integrative Health. Dr. Linda Khoshaba has been practicing as an Associate Physician at Integrative health for 5 years. She specializes in treating Hashimoto’s and Graves thyroid disease, Adrenal Dysfunction and Hormone imbalance in both men and women.
Learn more about Dr. Khoshaba here.