How Hypothyroidism and Diabetes are Related

Hypothyroidism and diabetes is a precarious combination requiring careful attention to your health, particularly diet.  Thyroid hormones, even when just mildly depressed, can alter the way our metabolism works.  Low thyroid hormone levels decreases the efficiency of our metabolism, leading to the characteristic weight gain often associated with hypothyroidism.  Weight gain is a common and well-known risk for Type 2 diabetes.

How We Manage Dietary Sugar

When blood sugar levels (glucose) rise after consumption of carbohydrates, the pituitary gland signals the pancreas to begin producing insulin.  Insulin is required for cellular uptake of glucose.  As insulin levels in the blood rise, cells begin taking in glucose, removing it from the bloodstream and lowering blood sugar levels again.  When blood sugar levels drop back down below a certain point, the pituitary gland signals the pancreas to stop insulin production.  Blood sugar levels begin rising again.  This whole process is a fine juggling act of hormones and glands.

When dietary sugar is obtained from natural sources like fruit and moderate amounts of carbohydrates, the release of glucose into the blood stream is controlled, as is the production and cessation of insulin.  When it’s obtained via unnatural processed sugar sources or excessive amounts of carbohydrates, glucose release is nowhere near as controlled.  This causes blood sugar spikes and dips.

Normally we can handle a bit of this happening but when it happens consistently, and for long periods of time, the body begins to lose its responsiveness to insulin.  This is insulin resistance, a pre-diabetic condition.

Like all the processes that go on in our bodies, glucose uptake by our cells is highly regulated.  It doesn’t ‘just happen’ randomly.  Genes like GLUT-4 (glucose transporter type-4) and PGK-1 (phosphoglycerate kinase) produce proteins that facilitate these activities.  Between them these various proteins act as a series of balance and checks, switching various cellular activities on and off or transporting other molecules across cellular membranes.

GLUT-4 is an insulin sensitive transporter protein that facilitates the transport of glucose out of the bloodstream and into tissue cells where it’s converted to ATP, our primary source of cellular energy.  PGK-1 is an enzyme that ‘switches on’ the process of converting ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) to ADP (Adenosine diphosphate) and vice versa.  Both ATP and ADP are essential for keeping our cellular processes kicking over.

Interesting Questions about Thyroid:

How Do Doctors Test for Hypothyroidism?

As with any disease, it is important that you watch for the early warning signs of hypothyroidism. However, only your doctor can tell for sure whether or not you have the disease. Your doctor may examine:

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism?

Signs and symptoms of Hyperthyroidism may include:

  • fast heart rate (100-120 beats per minute or higher)
  • slightly elevated blood pressure
  • nervousness or irritability
  • increased perspiration
  • muscle weakness (especially in the shoulders, hips, and thighs)
  • trembling hands
  • weight loss, in spite of a good appetite
  • hair loss
  • fingernails partially separated from finger-tips (onycholysis)
  • swollen fingertips (achropachy or clubbing)
  • retracted (pulled back) upper eyelids
  • skin changes
  • increased frequency of bowel movements
  • goiter (an abnormal swelling in the neck caused by an enlarged thyroid gland)
  • in women, decreased menstrual flow and less frequent menstrual flow
  • in men, slight swelling of the breasts
  • in Graves’ disease: thick or swollen skin over the shin bones (pretibial myxedema); eyes that seem to be popping out of their socket (exophthalmos).

Most of these conditions will return to normal after the hyperthyroidism is treated. Certain others may be treated separately.

How Do Doctors Test For Thyroiditis?

As with any disease, it is important that you watch for the early warning signs of thyroiditis. However, only your doctor can tell for sure whether or not you have the disease. Your doctor may examine:

Have more questions? Need more answers? Check our Full Thyroid FAQ

How are thyroid hormones involved in these processes?

Thyroid hormones are directly involved in many of our metabolic processes; it’s one of their primary functions.  They stimulate genes like GLUT-4 and PGK-1 to increase production of their respective proteins when circumstances require it.  Increased blood levels of insulin for example stimulates GLUT-4 to begin producing its transporter protein.  Thyroid hormones up-regulate, or increase this response, thereby improving insulin sensitivity and contributing to increased glucose uptake by cells and reducing blood sugar levels faster.  When thyroid hormone levels are low, the metabolic genes they stimulate likewise produce less protein, slowing down cellular glucose uptake and reduction of blood sugar levels.

What To Eat When You Have Hypothyroidism And Diabetes

A diet rich in foods with nutrients and low in carbohydrates is ideal if you have both hypothyroidism and diabetes.  Lean protein and vegetables should comprise major portion of the diet. You can have chicken, breast, lean beef and pork. Eggs, yogurt and cheese can also be included. Eat fruits in moderation as they can have an impact on your blood glucose level. You have to test the fruits that can lower your blood glucose levels. Berries are a good choice. Drink plenty of water.

When To Eat When You Have Both Hypothyroidism And Diabetes

Eating at regular times is important for managing your diabetes.  It is as important as what to eat. Avoid skipping breakfast.  This will kick start your metabolism.  You should eat small meals spread out over the entire day. The heavier meals should be in the earlier part of the day.  Have a light dinner.  Snack on foods that are healthy when you feel hungry.  Avoid eating after dinner.

Foods That You Need To Avoid When You Have Diabetes

  • You should refrain from eating foods that are rich in carbohydrates. If you do have them, only have small portions.  Eat cruciferous vegetables in moderation as they interfere with the functioning of the thyroid. Soy hinders absorption of thyroid medication. Limit the consumption of saturated fats. Substitute with healthy fats such as omega 3 fatty acids. These are available from fish and flax seeds.
  • Avoid sugary drinks and soda.  Get a food allergy test done to ascertain whether or not you’re allergic to certain foods.  Food allergies often coexist with hypothyroidism.
  • It is vital for a diabetic patient to keep their weight in check. This gives better control over blood glucose levels. However, if you have hypothyroidism and diabetes, weight control becomes a lot harder as your metabolism slows right down.  Ensuring you take your thyroid medications religiously will help keep your weight under control.
  • Exercise every day.  Regular exercise is great for weight loss, it improves your mood and creates energy.
  • Get plenty of sleep – this is a very important factor that contributes to good health in so many ways.

Hypothyroidism and diabetes is a dangerous combination.  Take due care of your diet and follow a strict exercise regimen.  Keep your weight under control and sleep well.  Take your medications as prescribed and don’t try any new medications or alternative therapies without first discussing it with your doctor.

Donna Morgan

Donna Morgan

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