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Can Hashimoto’s Cause Insulin Resistance?

Hashimoto’s disease has been on the radars of alternative and specialized health care for the past decade or so, but this complex condition dates back to 1912. Named after Dr....

Hashimoto’s disease has been on the radars of alternative and specialized health care for the past decade or so, but this complex condition dates back to 1912. Named after Dr. Hakaru Hashimoto, the physician who first observed a pattern of chronic thyroid gland inflammation and destruction. However, the disease wasn’t widely recognized until the 1930’s. 

Dr. Hashimoto’s groundbreaking research provides important insight into the autoimmune nature of the disease, as well as its impact on the thyroid gland. Several recent studies suggest a potential link between Hashimoto’s disease and insulin resistance, but the association of these two metabolic conditions and their symbiotic relationship have not been examined extensively enough to draw reliable conclusions. 

More than a century later, the disease’s pathology, diagnosis, and treatment remain partially unknown, and the link between Hashimoto’s disease to insulin resistance is still not fully understood by scientists. Today, Hashimoto’s is one of the most common autoimmune disorders worldwide, affecting millions of people: approximately 1-2% of the general population.

In this article, we will define Hashimoto’s disease and discuss the thyroid’s role in the production of insulin. We will dive deeper into insulin resistance, thyroid disorders, and other health conditions that play a role in restoring the thyroid to healthy, properly functional levels. 

First, An Anatomy Lesson: What Exactly Is The Thyroid Gland And What Does It Do? 

The thyroid is a small gland located at the front of the neck, under the Adam’s apple. This butterfly-shaped gland produces and secretes the hormones that play a vital role in regulating metabolism, normal brain development, healthy bone, and tissue growth. Together with the nearby hypothalamus and pituitary gland, the thyroid’s functions include regulating body temperature, affecting heart rate, and determining blood pressure. 

Although thyroid disorders are relatively common, when left untreated, they can result in destructive symptoms that require expert help from a thyroid specialist. These health professionals treat hypothyroidism, the insufficient production of thyroid hormones, as well as hyperthyroidism, which is an overactive thyroid. 

Overall, the thyroid gland is vitally important for a healthy human. Proper thyroid function is imperative for a person’s overall health, energy levels, and ability to maintain healthy body weight by efficiently metabolizing carbohydrates. It does this by releasing multiple hormones that are required to regulate many vital bodily functions.

If you have reason to believe that you might have a thyroid problem, you need to seek help from someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating thyroid disorders. If you are unsure and have never discussed your issues with your healthcare professional, this thyroid quiz makes it easy to help you identify and learn more about the issue and how you can treat it. The thyroid function score you receive can serve as a starting point for taking the next step to fix your thyroid.

Defining The Disease: What is Hashimoto's?

Hashimoto’s disease - also referred to as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis - is a thyroid autoimmune disorder where the body perceives it’s under attack and responds by attacking itself, creating an inflammatory response. During these ongoing immune system attacks, the thyroid is compromised and becomes damaged.

The thyroid gland becomes underactive from all the damage, which can present unpleasant symptoms ranging in severity, including weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, dry skin, depression, and intolerance to cold. For someone with Hashimoto’s disease, the thyroid is injured, and as a result it no longer functions properly, resulting in the gland’s inflammation. 

The causes of Hashimoto’s disease are unknown, but hypothyroidism, an under-production of the thyroid hormone, is often an underlying cause. Additional causes are believed to be environmental factors and genetics. Hashimoto’s is diagnosed through blood tests and sometimes ultrasounds or other imaging tests that can assess the size and appearance of the thyroid gland.  

While there is currently no cure for Hashimoto’s disease, it can be successfully managed with medication, supplements, lifestyle changes, and the help of a functional medicine practitioner who specializes in thyroid issues and metabolic disorders. Treatment for Hashimoto’s includes managing symptoms to restore normal thyroid hormonal levels, which requires regular, ongoing monitoring by a thyroid specialist who can help achieve healthy hormonal levels of the thyroid gland. 

How Does Insulin Work?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, a gland located in the abdomen, that helps regulate blood sugar levels by breaking down the carbohydrates in glucose. It plays a crucial role in controlling blood sugar levels by moving glucose from the bloodstream and delivering it to the body’s cells, where it’s stored to be used as energy later.

Insulin is crucial for regulating certain hormones in the metabolism of glucose, or blood sugar. When insulin is not properly processed in the body, the cells don’t receive the right amount of energy, impacting overall health. In addition to its role in glucose metabolism, insulin also influences the storage of fats and proteins, helps regulate appetite, and affects other metabolic processes in the body. Combined, these issues can lead to weight gain and difficulty losing weight. 

What’s Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is a condition where the body’s cells become less responsive to the hormone, causing blood sugars to increase. Failure to address and treat insulin’s role in glucose metabolism and other metabolic processes can lead to type 2 diabetes and a host of other unpleasant and more serious health issues.

Insulin resistance occurs when the body does not produce enough or properly metabolize insulin. When insulin levels are low, the body begins to resist its effects by raising blood sugar. This complicated condition can lead to serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes.  

Common Causes Of Insulin Resistance

There are several potential key factors that may contribute to the development of insulin resistance. Some are genetic, and some are related to lifestyle choices, such as obesity, physical inactivity, poor diet, smoking, and stress. These lifestyle factors can increase the risk of developing insulin resistance.

To diagnose insulin resistance, several tests are used to measure blood sugar and insulin levels in the body. This can be accomplished through a fasting glucose test, a hemoglobin A1C and fasting insulin test. 

Lifestyle changes can be changed to help reverse and manage insulin resistance. Healthy habits include weight loss (when necessary), exercising more regularly, eating a nutritious, whole foods-based diet, quitting smoking (when appropriate), and creating healthier outlets for stress management. However, despite taking all the right steps and doing everything within their control, some people may need additional supplementation, proper thyroid treatment and guidance from a thyroid specialist.

Hashimoto's And Insulin Resistance

In Hashimoto’s disease, the autoimmune process that damages the thyroid gland may also affect other organs and tissues in the body. This autoimmune response creates inflammation, which when left untreated may be implicated in the development of insulin resistance.

Studies have seen higher rates of insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism in individuals with Hashimoto’s disease compared to those without the condition. The elevated levels of some inflammatory markers and the potential impact of thyroid hormonal imbalances on insulin sensitivity may contribute to the development of insulin resistance in Hashimoto’s disease. 

This relationship is still being studied, and not everyone who has Hashimoto’s disease will become resistant to insulin, but more research is being conducted to understand the clinical implications of this association and their underlying mechanisms. 

If you have Hashimoto’s disease, suspect that you have a thyroid disorder, or if you experience multiple symptoms that may point to insulin resistance and/or a combination of these related issues, it’s vital that you consult with a healthcare professional who SPECIALIZES in thyroid and hormones to get the proper treatment you need. It’s important to note that just seeking out a “functional” or “integrative” practitioner is not enough. Optimizing the thyroid is a nuanced art and takes someone who has dedicated their practice and training to knowing the thyroid inside and out. 

Get Help From The Thyroid Fixer™

Dr. Amie Hornaman, “The Thyroid-Fixer,” is a leading functional medicine expert in thyroid conditions, weight issues, and dysfunctional hormones. She is a Doctor of Clinical Nutrition and Founder of The Institute for Thyroid and Hormone Optimization. 

Dr. Amie Hornaman’s top-rated medicine and alternative health podcast, The Thyroid Fixer™, has a growing worldwide audience. Her proven approach successfully addresses thyroid dysfunction and helps support people in their return to full health. 

Connect with Dr. Amie Hornaman on Facebook and Instagram, and by subscribing to her YouTube channel.
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