How Keto Diet affects Thyroid Function

Ketogenic diets, which are low in carbohydrates, moderate in proteins and high in fats, is a burning subject nowadays among wellness and health community.

The popularity level of Ketogenic diet went to its extreme level in the recent few years when impacts of Ketogenic diet on multiple health issues uncovered. It was 1928 when the first-time Ketogenic diet was used as a treatment of epilepsy and it was a successful experiment. This experiment opened a new era in health and medical world.

At present, there are numerous health benefits of Ketogenic diets including improvement in pain, migraines, blood sugar balance, oxidative stress, and inflammation, etc. Research of experts revealed that the Ketogenic diet is also very helpful in various disorders ranging from neurological disorders to epilepsy and hypoglycemia.

Before diving into details of this article, it is necessary to define and understand some terms related to health, which will be used in this article.

What are the Glands?

A gland (in the human body) is an organ that produces and releases hormones that perform particular functions in our body. There are two types of glands i.e. Endocrine glands and Exocrine glands.

Endocrine Glands:

Endocrine glands produce and releases hormones directly into the bloodstream/tissues of the body. The endocrine glands include hypothalamus glands, thyroid glands, adrenal glands, pituitary glands, and parathyroid glands, etc.

Exocrine Glands:

Exocrine glands produce and release the hormones onto an epithelial surface through a duct. Examples of exocrine glands are mammary, lacrimal, salivary, sebaceous, sweat, ceruminous and mucous, etc.

What is the Endocrine System?

The endocrine system is basically “a series or network of glands in our body that produces such hormones that regulate the functioning of body cells and organs. The hormones also regulate metabolism, tissue and cell functions, growth and development, sexual functions, reproduction and other frames of mind such as sleep, mood, etc. The series of glands include thyroid glands, adrenal glands, pituitary glands, and parathyroid glands. The ovaries, testes, and pancreas are also part of our endocrine system.

Endocrine System
Endocrine System

The basic function of the endocrine system is to produce hormones that regulate the developmental and growth process of the body tissues and organs. It also manages the release of hormones and sends them directly into the bloodstream, from where they can travel to other parts of the body.

What are Thyroids?

The thyroids are Lepidoptera shaped glands situated in front of the neck just above the trachea and below Adam’s apple or larynx (larynx is an organ involved in producing sounds, breathing and caring the trachea against food aspiration (generally larynx called “Voicebox”)).

Thyroid System
Thyroid System

A normal thyroid gland can easily be felt if you put finger pressure at your neck.

A Detailed Overview of Thyroid System and What it does?

The thyroid glands make and release hormones which are called thyroxin. These thyroxin hormones regulate the metabolic rate of the body and keep smooth the digestive and heart function, brain growth, bone maintenance, and muscle control. Thyroxin glands also produce “calcitonin OR Thyrocalcitonin” which is used to maintain the calcium level as well as a level of phosphate in the blood.

When thyroid glands release thyroid hormones, they are controlled by “thyrotrophin releasing hormones (TRH: hormone released from the hypothalamus, which is a region/part of the forebrain, located just below the thalamus and above the pituitary gland.)” and “thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH: hormones produced and released by pituitary glands directly into the bloodstream to control the production of two kinds of thyroid hormones “thyroxin (T4)” and “triiodothyronine (T3)”)”.

The thyroid glands produce thyroxin hormones which are usually inactive, however, converted into an active form called triiodothyronine, by liver and kidneys. The thyroxin hormones are secreted into the bloodstream where they maintain the heart and digestive functions, brain development, control muscle functions, and bone maintenance.

calcitonin OR Thyrocalcitonin
calcitonin OR Thyrocalcitonin

There is some different stance of medical experts on thyroxin and triiodothyronine. One is stated above. The other stance is that thyroxin and triiodothyronine are two different hormones and both produced by thyroxin. According to 2nd stance, thyroxin hormones are inactive while triiodothyronine hormones are active and both collectively called thyroid glands. 20% of triiodothyronine is produced by thyroid glands while the other 80% comes from converted thyroxin.

What are Hypothyroidism and its main causes?

When thyroid glands are unable to produce enough / required quantity of thyroid hormones, this condition is called “hypothyroidism”. Hypothyroidism is a disease due to the insufficient production of thyroid hormones. Subclinical hypothyroidism is a condition when thyroid glands work much harder to maintain the level of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream. During this condition, the level of the hormones remains normal in the bloodstream but thyroid glands need to work hard to keep it normal.

 

The main cause that leads to Hypothyroidism is autoimmune. It means that the body’s immune system starts to produce its thyroid glands and later on attack and damages it. In some cases, even it destroys healthy tissues. The autoimmune conditions include thyroid eye disease, Graves’ disease, and Hashimoto’s disease.

Some other causes of hypothyroidism are the following:-

  • Iodine deficiency (Iodine is an important constituent of thyroid hormones).
  • Surgical removal of thyroid glands.
  • Certain medications including amiodarone and lithium.
  • The extreme dose of drugs for the treatment of hypothyroidism.
  • Destruction of thyroid glands due to treatment with radioactive iodine.

Hypothyroidism is a common disease and women are more it’s victims as compared to men. If we determine as a ratio of hypothyroidism’s victims, we find 1 in 1000 men and 20 in 1000 women. Generally, it happens in middle-age women i.e. 30-50.

What are Hyperthyroidism and its main causes?

When thyroid glands become overactive and produce an excessive quantity of thyroid hormones, this condition is called “hyperthyroidism”. Hyperthyroidism is a disease due to too much production of thyroid hormones. If you become tired quickly, losing weight excessively without any exercise or diet and amplifying sweating, then you are becoming the victims of hyperthyroidism.

The main cause that leads to Hypothyroidism is autoimmune. It means that the body’s immune system starts to produce its thyroid glands and later on attack and damages it. In some cases, even it destroys healthy tissues. The autoimmune conditions include thyroid eye disease, Graves’ disease, and Hashimoto’s disease.  It is important to mention that autoimmune mostly affects women (almost 80%) than men. This is due to because antibodies (a special protein) are more produces in women and these antibodies attacks on thyroid glands. The damage of thyroid glands ultimately leads to hyperthyroidism.

Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism

Another main cause of hyperthyroidism is “thyroid inflammation or thyroiditis”. It happens due to viral illness, in which tissues of thyroid glands become damages. This condition resultantly leads to inflammation and inflammation leads to hyperthyroidism.

The excessive use of drugs to treat other diseases and health issues can cause hyperthyroidism. The best example is “use of amiodarone” used to control the irregular heartbeat but it also causes hyperthyroidism. The benign tumor of pituitary glands is also a reason for hyperthyroidism. Benign tumor of pituitary glands produces an excessive quantity of thyroid-stimulating hormones that is the main root cause of hyperthyroidism.

Ketogenic Diet and our Thyroid System

A Ketogenic diet contains very low-carbohydrates, a moderate quantity of protein and high-in-fats. When we follow the Ketogenic diet, fat becomes the mainstream source for energy, instead of glucose. The lower intake of carbohydrates reduces the quantity of insulin that ultimately affects the production of glucose. The body uses glucose as a source of energy but when insulin didn’t provide the required quantity of glucose, the body looks an alternative source. At this stage, it starts to burn the fats into smaller particles called ketosis, either from its fat cells or from food that we intake, and uses ketosis as an energy source.

On the other hand, Ketosis might be the main strain on adrenals (adrenal glands are located on top of kidney and these produces such hormones which are necessary to survive including sex hormones and cortisol). When we use the Ketogenic diet, it means “lower intake of carbohydrates” to our body. The lower intake of carbs decreases the level of thyroid hormone and increases cortisol (the root cause to decrease thyroid function). Thus workload on adrenal increases resultantly increases in adrenal fatigue leads to hypothyroidism. Hence it proves that a Ketogenic diet affects thyroid functions.

Ketogenic Diet and T3 (Triiodothyronine)

The lower intake of carbs and Ketogenic diet leads to a decrease in inactive thyroid hormones called “Triiodothyronine (T3)”. But the decrease in the level of T3 hormones doesn’t mean that you are on the path of hypothyroidism. But it is also one of the reasons for hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism happens when other factors also characterized like drop-down in the metabolic process, unusually high level of thyroid-stimulating hormones and lower level of Thyroxine (T4). A drop down in the T3 thyroid hormone can be lead to go down the metabolic rate, but it also doesn’t mean to be on the way of hypothyroidism. Hence these arguments show that the Ketogenic diet can’t affect the triiodothyronine hormones.

Ketogenic Diet and Thyroid Function (Research in Children)

To determine the effects of Ketogenic diet on our thyroid functions, a special study was conducted at children’s hospitals in Turkey. The study based on 120 patients (63 males, 52.5%), between the ages of 6 months and 18 years. Children of 6 months to 3 years were also included. Patients were kept under Ketogenic diet treatment at least for 1 year. During this period, patients were carefully treated and their every body movement including side effects, seizure control were recorded. Level of Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), triiodothyronine hormones (T3) and thyroxine hormones (T4) was measured post-treatment months 1-12.

Among these 120 patients, the following patients were excluded.

  • Patients having a family history of thyroid diseases.
  • Patient with a personal history of thyroid diseases.
  • Patients who had used medications within the previous 6 months for nonseizure indications.

The patients were stratified into two categories according to their baseline TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) level.

  1. Patients with elevated TSH levels (TSH>5 mIU/L; 14 patients).
  2. Patients with normal TSH levels (TSH<5 mIU/L; 106 patients).

After completion of the study, it is revealed that hypothyroidism was diagnosed in patients having elevated TSH levels as compared to patients with normal TSH levels with the following ration.

  • Hypothyroidism diagnosed in 71.4% of patients having an elevated TSH level.
  • Hypothyroidism diagnosed in 9.4% of patients only having normal TSH levels.

The experts, at the end of this study, concluded that the Ketogenic diet might cause hypothyroidism in children. The experts further recommended that if the Ketogenic diet applied to children, they must be monitored and checked by a child specialist from time to time.

Ketogenic Diet and Thyroid Function (Research in Adults)

Another case study has been carried out to determine the influence of Ketogenic diet on thyroid functions. In this research, two kinds of diets were given to two groups of adults. One group was served with a low-carb diet containing 33% and the other was served with a high-carb diet (70%). In both diets quantities of calories were very low i.e. 530 cal for 4 weeks. After 28 days (4 weeks), RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate) decreased in a high-carb group (20%) as compared to the low-carb group (12.4%).

Keeping all the above-mentioned research and case-studies, it clearly shows that Ketogenic diet, if not followed properly and according to the instructions of a nutritionist, may lead to thyroid disorder Hypothyroidism.

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