High cholesterol is one of the many common co- symptoms that occurs with hypothyroidism. Elevated cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis or “clogged arteries”, putting a person at risk for coronary artery disease, stroke and heart attack. Statin drugs are commonly prescribed to reduce cholesterol levels, but they come with risk for other side effects, such as muscle pain, liver damage, or neurological effects. So it makes sense to consider alternative, natural approaches to help maintain normal cholesterol levels.
A recent small study was conducted in India, where hypothyroidism is quite prevalent, to determine if a consistent yoga program could help address high cholesterol and hypothyroidism. Twenty-two women were selected to participate. All had high cholesterol, high TSH (a test indicating low thyroid hormone), low thyroid, and all took thyroid medication. The women participated in an intense yoga practice for one hour daily for six months, which included sun salutations, meditation, breathing practices, and a variety of yoga postures. After six months, it was shown that their total cholesterol and triglycerides decreased significantly, and their HDL (beneficial cholesterol) increased significantly. TSH levels decreased slightly, but not significantly, and seven of the 22 women were able to lower their thyroid medication doses!
The benefits to the thyroid were modest, but it makes sense that yoga would be beneficial because it effectively alleviates stress, which directly and indirectly impacts thyroid function. We have learned from past research that chronic stress causes increased adrenal cortisol secretion, which can eventually compromise adrenal function by impeding the HPA or hypothalamic- pituitary- adrenal axis. High stress and high cortisol levels can reduce T4 to T3 conversion.
Stress has also been shown to impact thyroid function directly, by impairing T4- T3 conversion and decreasing thyroid receptors in the brain.
This small but interesting study indicates that yoga may be part of an effective plan for managing stress, balancing thyroid hormones and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. It would be very interesting to research yoga’s impact on all hormones after practicing it for a longer period of time. The advantage of using yoga as part of a healthy lifestyle is that it goes to the root cause of so many health issues and can stop their progression. This study hints that yoga would be a wise recommendation for most Americans, who tend to live fast-paced, non-stop lifestyles and need to stop and take a deep breath.