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Understanding the Connection: How the Thyroid Controls Cholesterol

Understanding the Connection: How the Thyroid Controls Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance excreted by the liver into the digestive tract. A portion is then reabsorbed by the small bowel back into the bloodstream. Cholesterol production maintains membranes which protect cells. Cholesterol is also a precursor for the synthesis of hormones and bile acids.

Cholesterol, a lipid molecule, is naturally occurring and includes sterols, fats, and fat-soluble vitamins among other elements. It is essential for all human life. To function correctly, our bodies need healthy levels of cholesterol. Unhealthy levels of cholesterol can cause many serious health issues.

Unfortunately, among Americans, high cholesterol is a common problem. According to, “High cholesterol affects an estimated half the American population, and is a major contributor to heart disease, America’s number one killer.”

Insufficient exercise, a diet high in saturated fat, and liver disease are all well-known causes for high cholesterol. However, cholesterol can also become elevated due to an undiagnosed or under-treated thyroid problem.

The thyroid is a large gland made up of two lobes connected by a narrow piece of tissue in the middle. This gland, in the anterior of the neck, controls the output of hormones and synthesizes protein as well as regulating other metabolic functions. You actually need thyroid hormones to make cholesterol and to get rid of cholesterol.

However, a thyroid that is not producing enough thyroid hormones — hypothyroidism — can cause too much low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (commonly called “bad cholesterol” or LDL) to build-up in the blood. The body’s metabolism slows down, often causing weight gain. Your hair and skin become dry, you’re more susceptible to the cold, and you will often feel fatigued. If left untreated, symptoms can slowly increase, eventually becoming problematic. Women and people over 60 years of age are most prone to hypothyroidism which is the most common disorder of the thyroid.

According to Functional Performance Systems, Ray Peat, PhD (a hormone researcher) has stated that, “The accumulation of cholesterol clearly indicates the failure to convert it to steroids, so elevated cholesterol is a fairly reliable diagnostic indicator of hypothyroidism.”

Though many people today still aren’t aware of the connection between the thyroid and high cholesterol, as early as the 1930’s, researchers established that thyroid problems caused high cholesterol. The result of an increase in cholesterol is a build up of plaque in the arteries with an elevated risk for stroke and/or heart disease. So this is a condition that you shouldn’t ignore. Treatment will not only lower your cholesterol levels, but it will decrease the chances of your developing a related illness.

According to Endocrine Web, “In the 1800s, ingesting sheep thyroid extract or frying up and eating sheep thyroids were treatments for hypothyroidism.” The good news is that today thyroid problems are more easily treated with medication. Though it’s a lifelong treatment, generally the pills that consist of a thyroid hormone replacement are inexpensive and don’t cause serious side effects. By treating your thyroid problem, you’ll help to lower your cholesterol levels, perhaps even lowering them to normal levels where no additional medication proves necessary.

If you have high cholesterol, make certain that you’ve been tested for thyroid disease, so you’re sure to receive the best treatment possible to reverse this condition.

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