Keto and Hypothyroidism, Causes, Symptoms and Testing
Dealing with hypothyroidism is hard enough, not to mention all the horrific symptoms that can make living life very difficult, but one of the worst symptoms in my opinion is the weight gain that seems to come out of nowhere. If you haven't ben diagnosed and have been told your thyroid is normal and to just "eat less, exercise more" I can sympathize as that was what I was told for years. It can play with your mind and make you believe you're truly losing it!
Having recently been diagnosed with low FreeT3 Hypothyroidism, I am here to share my experience and to bring light and hope to those of you who may be suffering like I was for years with no diagnosis and to just deal with it because "being tired is a part of getting older". Learning all I could about the thyroid and sharing my experience today may help you become your own advocate and get the help you work with a professional who will truly listen to your symptoms and get you properly tested and treated.
T4, T3 and TSH
The two main hormones the thyroid releases are T4 (Thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine).
T4' s main job is to convert into your active thyroid hormone T3. It is basically your storage hormone and should release T3 whenever you need it. T3 is the fuel, the energy we need to live! It is critical to your life and well being. It controls your ability to maintain a normal body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, brain cognition, mood, the ability to burn fat!
If your T4 is not converting to useable T3, it is useless. There could be many issues as to why T4 is not converting to T3 in your body. Things like vitamin and mineral deficiencies, an unhealthy liver, poor diet, adrenal dysfunction, blood sugar imbalances.
TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) is a pituitary hormone and its levels indicate signals that your thyroid hormones are sending out in the body. The TSH is one of the most common tests most doctors check for whether they think you might have a thyroid problem. When they see it as normal they don't do any further testing. Unfortunately the TSH can not tell if your body is actually converting T4 to T3 properly. So you could have a normal TSH level for 10 years and have hypothyroid symptoms like I did before the TSH shows any indication of a problem. If your doctor will only test your TSH and not your T4 and T3, find a doctor who will!
Causes of Hypothyroidism
There could be many reasons why someone develops a low functioning thyroid, hypothyroidism, but there is not any known evidence as to the most common causes. I believe I have had the Epstein bar virus laying dormant in my body since I was a teen and then it became active wreaking havoc in my body in the spring of 2018 which then may have attacked my thyroid. After my third child was born and the long periods and the adding of a synthetic IUD caused a disturbance in my hormones which may have hurt my thyroid as well. Here are some other possible causes:
- an autoimmune diseases
- an iron deficiency
- starvation, a very low caloric diet
Common Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
I believe my symptoms started after my 3rd child was born in 2005. I began with 2 week long periods for many years and no one could figure out why or how to stop them. After a discussion with my OBGYN wanting me to have a hysterectomy I asked if we could try an IUD. I had no other symptoms I describe below until after having the IUD for 3 years. The rest of these horrible symptoms starting happening in 2012 then more symptoms occurred in 2015 and finally in 2018 all of these and they were severe. I believe the IUD was the main cause of the deterioration of my thyroid as well as being hit with Epstein Bar virus.
- irregular menstrual cycles
- weight gain
- inability to lose body fat
- extreme dry skin and hair
- being cold even in the summer
- itchy inner ears
- hair loss and eye brow hair loss
- brain fog
- extreme fatigue
- high cholesterol
- worsening allergies
- nodules on thyroid
- low libido
- low vitamin D levels
Testing for Hypothyroidism
This list above is just a few of the tests that have been done for me over the last year and a half. I had some of them done with my endocrinologist and also sought help with a functional doctor, Dr.Will Cole, who also discovered Candida, leaky gut and a high histamine intolerance, basically major inflammation happening in my body. While testing wasn't cheap it was helpful to know exactly what I was dealing with and how to address it.
Reduced freeT3 levels on a Keto Diet
This is a controversial topic among many experts in the field and while it is true that a very low carbohydrate diet or ketogenic diet does in fact lower your free T3 levels, it doesn't necessarily mean that is a bad thing. I've experienced this first hand. I was at the bottom of the "normal range" when I was diagnosed with Chronic Epstein Bar and hypothyroidism. I had all the symptoms I mentioned above, but my FT3 was considered in the normal range. I begged and pleaded with the doctor, knowing that what might be considered "normal" was not normal for me. Something was wrong with me! I could not function and I was in nutritional ketosis which is known to provide mental clarity and energy! I had experienced that mental clarity and all the other wonderful benefits of being keto adapted prior to getting hit with the Epstein Bar virus, so I new nutritional ketosis worked for me at one time. After finally getting my endocrinologist to prescribe and combination of T4/T3 my world changed! I was a new person in 1 month! All symptoms gone! When I was tested my T3 was at the top of the range and I felt fantastic! That lasted about 3 months then I started noticing some brain fog and tiredness, though not extreme as it had been. When I was tested, my T3 was again at the bottom of the normal range. BUT the symptoms of extreme lethargy and all the other symptoms above were not there! You can read the study referenced from Dr. Stephen Finney that shares on as we are on a lower carb diet and not using glucose for fuel as we had been, our bodies need less T3 to function. In fact, we actually become more sensitive and able to use the active thyroid hormone (T3) more efficiently. Such has been the case for me!
Hypothyroid and Losing Body Fat
I wrote a post back in March 2018 before I was diagnosed with Chronic Epstein Bar virus and Hypothyroidism, called Low Carb versus Keto and my 6 week results. I shared a photo of my body after going very strict keto and the picture speaks for itself.
Below is a photo taken on the left in July 2019 and recently in November 2019. I've been very low carb, 10 total carbs or less, mostly carnivore keto on most days. I've not only been able to maintain my weight, but I am losing body fat, even though the number on the scale is exactly the same. Keto Works!
Can you do Keto with Hypothyroidism?
It was a very difficult year in 2018 while trying to write and complete my new cookbook, Naturally Keto and dealing with all the exhausting symptoms until my medication was regulated to properly dose me. But it made me create an incredible allergy friendly cookbook that I believe will help so many people on their health journey. I had to remove dairy which was super difficult as I loved it so much. I pray to one day be able to go back to some dairy without any symptoms occurring, but for now this is what I need to do. My own husband finally decided to get on board over this last year and has lost 60 pounds! It took him 15 years of watching me eat low carb then keto that finally triggered a desire for better health. I wrote a whole chapter in my cookbook on tips to dealing with that. There is hope even for those reluctant spouses.
Today is my 48th Birthday!! I feel better now than I did 10 years ago! I believe the ketogenic diet saved me for having debilitating symptoms all these years. Although I believe my hypothyroidism began in 2005 after the birth of my third child, with the help of a low carb then ketogenic diet I have been able to function and live well for 13 years being undiagnosed and unmedicated.
Up until 2018, when my symptoms did become so severe, that is when I became my own advocate and chose to believe in myself to get some answers for my health. While thyroid medication isn't always needed for everyone dealing with hypothyroidism, some of us need more than just following a ketogenic diet. I certainly don't feel it's a form of defeat in that the ketogenic diet doesn't work for someone with hypothyroidism. I believe many suffering don't even know they are hypothyroid because a doctor has only tested your TSH and told you, you are fine! It is my goal with this post, to give you hope that the issues you might be suffering with are not all in your head, something I had believed from my primary care doctor for YEARS!
My advice is to just get some testing done to rule out all those things first before you go forward with anything else. I don't want to feel mediocre. I will never be happy feeling just ok. Don't ever settle for, "sorry, it's your age, you're getting older, deal with it." I have a right and you have a right to feel the best you can!
Best wishes to you as you continue on your health journey!
- Does your thyroid need dietary carbohydrates?
- Is Keto bad for your thyroid?
- Properly Test for Hypothyroid
Disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only. The information provided is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult a qualified physician for medical advice, and always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding your health and nutrition program.