Diabetes and thyroid disorders both involve hormonal changes. Researchers are currently unsure why, but growing evidence suggests a link between diabetes and thyroid disorders.
Thyroid disorders and diabetes are two of the
This article will discuss the relationship between diabetes and thyroid disorders.
Experts refer to both diabetes and thyroid disorders as endocrine disorders. This term refers to medical conditions in which the endocrine system, which produces hormones, does not function correctly. These conditions can have several potential causes, and because they affect hormones, they can lead to a wide range of symptoms.
The endocrine system
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the front of the neck. It produces hormones, such as thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which help regulate body processes — such as metabolism, mood, breathing, and heart rate.
In some cases, the thyroid may overproduce hormones, causing a condition known as hyperthyroidism, or underproduce hormones, a condition known as hypothyroidism.
Autoimmune conditions can often result in the development of these thyroid disorders. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease are common causes of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, respectively.
The pancreas is a gland in the abdomen that plays a role in the digestive system. It produces insulin, a hormone that helps blood sugar, or glucose, enter cells, providing the cells and body with essential energy. Without enough insulin, a person may develop diabetes.
Diabetes is a group of conditions that affects the body’s ability to process blood glucose. There are multiple types of diabetes, with type 1 and type 2 being the most common.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreas, reducing insulin production. In type 2, many variables, such as lifestyle factors, genes, and insulin resistance, may contribute to the development of the condition.
The thyroid secretes hormones that regulate a person’s metabolism. An imbalance in these hormones can affect a person’s blood sugar in
Excess thyroid hormone increases lipolysis and secretion of both insulin and glucagon, and the sum of these effects deteriorates glucose metabolism, which can cause glucose intolerance and diabetes.
Glucagon is a hormone that the pancreas
According to a 2016 review, an excess of glucagon is the key factor in the development of diabetes.
Insulin resistance may occur due to hyperthyroidism because of an increase in fatty free acids in the bloodstream. In body fat, the thyroid hormone stimulates a process called lipolysis, which involves the breakdown of body fat into serum-free fatty acids.
Research suggests there is a link between the levels of serum-free fatty acids and diabetes because these fatty acids can hinder insulin secretion and cause insulin resistance.
A 2017 review found a link between insulin resistance and even small increases in the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which tends to be high in hypothyroidism.
Because hypothyroidism can slow metabolism, insulin stays in the bloodstream longer. This suggests that a person with diabetes and hypothyroidism may require a lower dose of insulin for their treatment.
Some forms of thyroid disorders are autoimmune diseases. Research suggests that there is a close association between the autoimmune response that causes type 1 diabetes and autoimmune-induced thyroid dysfunction (AITD).
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, or the interaction of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands, may be another possible link between diabetes and the thyroid. These glands secrete hormones into the blood and help manage reactions to stress by regulating levels of the hormone cortisol.
Too much cortisol can increase a person’s glucose levels by stimulating the liver to increase new glucose formation, causing a state of insulin resistance and a decrease in insulin secretion.
As such, problems with the HPA axis can lead to abnormal blood sugar levels and affect the body’s response to insulin.
In many cases, it may not be possible to prevent diabetes or thyroid disorders. At present, there is no guaranteed way to prevent an autoimmune disease from developing. However, a person may be able to prevent or delay the onset of conditions that do not have genetic causes.
For example, it is possible to
To help manage diabetes, a person can create a diabetes self-care plan, which
- achieving A1C targets and managing blood pressure and cholesterol
- not smoking or quitting if a person does smoke
- following a meal plan
- getting regular exercise
- taking medication, such as insulin
- checking blood glucose levels regularly
- working closely with a diabetes healthcare team
The treatment for thyroid disorders will depend on whether the thyroid gland is under- or overactive. While there is currently no cure for hypothyroidism, a person can manage it with medication. By taking T4 replacements, a person can increase their T4 and return their TSH to a healthy level.
Some treatment options are available to help a person manage their hyperthyroidism, including:
- antithyroid drugs
- radioactive iodine
Additionally, a doctor may advise screening individuals currently living with one of these conditions for the other condition. For example, some evidence suggests it may be beneficial to screen people living with
Anyone who suspects they might have diabetes or a thyroid dysfunction should contact a doctor.
Common symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, fatigue, and increased thirst and hunger. Symptoms of hypothyroidism can include having dry skin and feeling cold and tired. For hyperthyroidism, symptoms may include irritability, sweating, and a thinning of the skin.
A person should also contact a doctor if they are already living with either diabetes or a thyroid disorder and suspect they might also have the other condition.
Data from a
Evidence suggests close links between thyroid disorders and diabetes. Thyroid dysfunction can affect a person’s insulin and blood sugar levels, which can contribute to the development of diabetes.
Both under- and overactive thyroids are more common in people with diabetes than in the general population. A person concerned about either condition should contact a doctor.