Combatting Thyroid-Related High Cholesterol

cholesterol, thyroid, high-cholesterol

Hypothyroidism—an underactive thyroid—is frequently associated with elevated levels of cholesterol, and in particular, triglyceride levels. Also, if you have high cholesterol levels that don't respond to cholesterol-lowering drugs, that can be a symptom of hypothyroidism.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that occurs naturally in all parts of your body. Your body requires cholesterol to function, and uses it to produce other hormones and nutrients such as Vitamin D.

When you have an excess of cholesterol, it ends up being deposited in your arteries, including your coronary arteries, where it can eventually block arteries and cause heart disease.

If you have elevated cholesterol levels and also are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, the thyroid treatment—thyroid hormone replacement—may reduce your cholesterol levels to normal. But in some cases, your cholesterol levels remain elevated, and cholesterol-lowering treatment is needed in addition to your thyroid treatment.

What Are Elevated Cholesterol Levels?

While there is some variation from lab to lab, and from person to person, generally the following ranges outline the risk associated with high cholesterol.

Total cholesterol
Less than 200 mg/dL: Desirable
200-239 mg/dL: Borderline high risk

240 and over: High risk

HDL (high-density lipoprotein)
Less than 40 mg/dL (men), less than 50 mg/dL (women): Increased risk of heart disease

Greater than 60mg/dL: Some protection against heart disease

LDL (low-density lipoprotein)
Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal
100-129 mg/dL: Near optimal/above optimal
130-159 mg/dL: Borderline high
160- 189 mg/dL: High

190 mg/dL and above: Very high

Less than n150 mg/dL: Normal
150-199 mg/dL: Borderline to high
200-499mg/dL: High
Above 500 mg/dL: Very high

Lowering Your Cholesterol

When you need to lower your cholesterol, what are your options?

Generally, it's always a good idea to lose any excess extra weight and begin regular exercise. In addition, there are changes in your diet, supplements, and prescription medications that can help lower your cholesterol. Always plan your treatmennt approach with your healthcare provider. 

A primary line of attack in lowering your cholesterol can be a change in your diet. This involves reducing high-cholesterol foods and emphasizing a more low-saturated fat, high-fiber diet. A good book to help you understand a healthy, cholesterol-lowering approach how best to eat is Julia Ross' The Diet Cure.

You can introduce foods that specifically lower cholesterol into your diet. These include oatmeal (try the slow-cooking steel cut oatmeals, for best health value, and the least sugar) and the special cholesterol-lowering margarine spreads -- Take Control and Benecol -- that can help reduce cholesterol levels. These spreads contain sterols or stanols, which compete with cholesterol in the intestines, and, when taking its place, allow cholesterol to be passed through the system. These products may cut your bad LDL cholesterol by as much as 10 to 15 percent. One downside, however, is that these products are fairly calorie-dense.

Monounsaturated fats (those found in olive, canola, and peanut oils), and most nuts and polyunsaturated fats (such as safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils) can in some cases reduce LDL-cholesterol levels.

Particularly effective for lowering cholesterol are supplements containing phytosterol or beta sitosterol. Optimally, experts recommend you take 1,500 to 3,300 mg per day, divided throughout the day, and taken approximately 30 minutes before meals.

Another option to consider is the herb guggul. Guggul is an ayurvedic herb that can help increase your thyroid function, and also to reduce cholesterol levels.

If you are going to try guggul, however, you should consult with an experienced Ayurvedic physician or naturopath, because guggul can occasionally raise blood pressure, and should not be taken without a practitioner's guidance.

Some studies have shown a connection between elevated homocysteine levels and elevated cholesterol. Supplemental vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid may help in lowering your homocysteine levels.

Vitamin E is also typically recommended, from 100 to 400 IU per day.

As noted earlier, if you make changes in your diet and lifestyle and your LDL-cholesterol level still remains quite high, your doctor may also suggest that you take cholesterol-lowering medications. There are several main types of prescription drugs that can be given for lowering cholesterol, including statins, resins, and probucol.

Statins are considered the primary choice for lowering LDL levels. Statin drugs include lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), simvastatin (Zocor), fluvastatin (Lescol), atorvastatin (Lipitor), and cerivastatin (Baycor).

Fibrates such as Gemfibrozil (Lopid) or fenofibrate (Tricor) are typically given to lower triglyceride levels.

In some cases, high doses of nicotinic acid, also known as "niacin," are recommended for reducing triglyceride levels and raising HDL. Niacin is available over the counter, but should be taken under the supervision of a physician.

Resins are drugs that bind with bile acids in the digestive tract, forcing the liver to clear cholesterol and thereby reducing LDL. These drugs include cholestyramine (Questran, Questran Light) and colestipol (Colestid).

A Word from Verywell

Cholesterol-lowering foods can not only be a healthy part of your plan, but they taste great and are a wonderful addition to your diet. 

Some other foods and drinks that may help decrease your total and LDL cholesterol include red wine, salmon and other fatty fish, nuts like almonds and walnuts, black tea, and avocados. 


ACC/AHA Release Updated Guideline on the Treatment of Blood Cholesterol to Reduce ASCVD Risk, Am Fam Physician. 2014 Aug 15;90(4):260-265.

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