Just when we think we have this whole “health thing” figured out, we hear about your thyroid hormone levels and your heart, and their “unfriendly connections.” Sigh…
As a patient once told me, “These poor hearts of ours are either scattered or shattered.” Wise man.
So, here’s the story:
Too much or too little thyroid hormone can make your cholesterol levels go up OR down.
People who have under-active thyroid glands often report symptoms such as:
- Depression-a lack of enthusiasm for anything
- Foggy Brains-difficulty thinking straight or remembering even common, everyday things
- Weight gain-they just can’t seem to lose weight no matter what they do
- Lack of libido – no desire for sex
- A slow heartbeat (slower than usual), called Bradycardia
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Increased muscle aches and weakness
- Dry skin
- Frequent or chronic constipation
The connection between your thyroid hormone levels and your heart are due to the fact that when your Thyroid hormone levels are low (hypothyroidism), your body doesn’t break down and remove LDL cholesterol (the one you don’t want) as efficiently as usual.
LDL cholesterol (being the unfriendly fellow that it is) can then build up in your blood.
Too much of it can lead to atherosclerosis, the hardening of your arteries due to an accumulation of fatty deposits (plaque) in the artery walls.
- The plaque is made up of fats, waste products from cells, cholesterol, calcium, and a blood-clotting material called fibrin.
As the plaque builds up, it can obstruct blood flow through the artery and result in:
- chest pain (called angina):
- coronary heart disease
- carotid artery disease
- peripheral artery disease and
- chronic kidney disease
Middle-aged and older people are at higher risk for developing Atherosclerosis.
Under most circumstances, high cholesterol levels are due to a poor diet, especially if you eat foods high in saturated fats, like red meat and butter.
However, as we’ve now learned, the thyroid gland may partially be to blame.
According to the latest statistics report from the American Heart Association, heart disease, stroke, or other types of heart disease are responsible for 1 out of every 3 deaths in the United States.
And it’s looking suspiciously like there may well be a connection between your thyroid hormone levels and your heart.
While the new study does not say that raised thyroid hormone leads to atherosclerosis, it does suggest that it could help to identify people at higher risk.
The study found a link between how the thyroid gland is working and clinical symptoms (observable and recognizable) and subclinical symptoms (not severe enough to present definite, observable clues).
Tests for free thyroxine are commonly used to help evaluate thyroid function and diagnose “thyroid diseases” such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
- In the study, the researchers analyzed data collected over a follow-up of 8 years on 9,231 people.
- They were aged 64.7 years on average, without known cardiovascular risk factors.
The researchers looked for links between thyroid function and undiagnosed atherosclerosis, as well as between thyroid function and events and deaths related to atherosclerosis.
The analysis took factors into consideration that could potentially affect the results, such as:
- body mass index (BMI)
- cholesterol and triglycerides levels
- blood pressure
- alcohol consumption
- smoking and
- medications for lowering blood pressure and fats/cholesterol
During the follow-up, there were 1,130 events linked to atherosclerosis and 580 deaths, also linked to atherosclerosis, in the group.
The analysis revealed that higher levels of Free Thyroxine were linked to a higher risk of events and deaths, without “known” cardiac risks factors.
The analysis also showed that higher Free Thyroxine levels were associated with an increased risk of “subclinical atherosclerosis” – a condition in which the plaque build-up can be detected but it has not led to cardiovascular events.
While the researchers say that their findings show a link between thyroid function and atherosclerosis, the “pathway” by which it happens is still unknown. The studies are ongoing.
We know that Coronary Artery Disease and Strokes remain a leading cause of death worldwide, despite advances in prevention and treatment.
Identifying other modifiable risk factors for atherosclerosis, such as any connection between your thyroid hormone levels and your heart, is extremely important.