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Is Your Low Carb Diet Causing Thyroid Issues?

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Is a low carb diet really all it's cracked up to be? While many people find that they can successfully lose weight and kick hormonal imbalances to the curb on a very low carbohydrate diet, sometimes after an initial period of success, the weight comes back. Or fatigue sets in. The outer edges of the eyebrows may even begin thin. These may be signs of an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism.


Having trouble dragging yourself out of bed in the morning? Gaining weight for no reason at all? If a low carb diet has imbalanced your thyroid hormones, try integrating grain-like seeds, starchy vegetables, and fermented vegetables into your diet, made with the Veggie Culture Starter.

Hibernation syndrome sounds like what you might expect: It is identified by weight gain, the desire to sleep, and cold extremities.

There is a reason why hypothyroid symptoms may pop up several months after abruptly changing the diet from carb-heavy to carb-empty.

How Low Carb Thyroid Problems Occur

Many grains and grain-based foods (not to be confused with the recommended Body Ecology grain-like seeds, which are not true grains) are capable of damaging the lining of the digestive system. Over the long haul, this can contribute to imbalances in the immune system.

When eaten in large quantities (think USDA Food Pyramid), these grains can also do things like:

  • Feed disease-causing bugs, such as yeasts, fungi, parasites, and bacteria.
  • Play a role in micronutrient and mineral deficiency.
  • Generate insulin resistance and block hormone receptors.
  • Contribute to a wide range of inflammatory disorders.
  • Accelerate aging at a molecular level.

When you go on a very low carbohydrate diet, you remove all grains, as well as most fruits and starchy vegetables. Removing the damaging refined grains can explain the initial weight loss and health boosts often seen on a low carb diet. But major changes in carbohydrate consumption can also affect thyroid hormones.

According to Dr. Cate Shanahan, an abrupt elimination of sugars and carbohydrates can actually stimulate what is known as hibernation syndrome.1,2 Hibernation syndrome sounds like what you might expect: It is identified by weight gain, the desire to sleep, and cold extremities. The biochemical marker for hibernation syndrome does not show up on a normal thyroid panel, which is a lab test that looks at levels of TSH and the thyroid hormone T4.

In the case of hibernation syndrome, only when a complete thyroid panel is done does reverse T3 (otherwise known as rT3) come up as abnormally high.

At this point, your physician may prescribe you medication to raise levels of thyroid hormone T3. Or, you may even find that adding carbohydrates back into your diet causes a natural decline in rT3, the biomarker that, when elevated, signals hibernation syndrome.

The trick to reducing carbohydrate intake to the level that you are comfortable with is all about speed. In other words, if you know that a very low carbohydrate diet is what you need to feel great, then support this change and your body by moving slowly. This can be done by following the Body Ecology Diet along with our Principle of Step-by-Step, which encourages you to make small, consistent changes that support your body's foundation of optimal health.

The Body Ecology Difference: Understanding the Low Carb Compromise

If you have recently cut carbohydrates out of your diet and find that you are experiencing what looks like hypothyroidism, you may want to:

  • Look at what you are eating and your food ratios.
  • Include more starchy vegetables and grain-like seeds in your diet, while following the Principle of 80/20.

Following the Body Ecology Principles when eating your starchy vegetables and grain-like seeds is one of the best ways to nourish a healthy thyroid. The Principles of 80/20 and Food Combining, which remind us to eat 80 percent land and ocean vegetables with 20 percent protein or grain-like seeds (not both) at each meal, can make the difference in a typical low carb diet that often leads to thyroid issues. You can also support your thyroid by combining starchy vegetables and grain-like seeds with fermented foods.

The Body Ecology Diet recommends limiting all forms of sugar, which includes most true grains, and increasing the consumption of healthy fats. Irregularities in thyroid function typically do not arise on The Body Ecology Diet — mainly because a change from a diet that is rich in grains, grain-based products, and sugars to one that is filled with vegetables, grain-like seeds, fermented vegetables, and probiotic beverages is a gradual shift, following our specific principles.

Properly prepared grain-like seeds, which have been soaked 8–24 hours, are nutrient-rich and can enhance overall health. These are:

  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Quinoa

Following the BED Principles is a safe and helpful way to balance hormones, lose weight, support immune function, and control infection. Even in special circumstances, like in the case of a 30-day low carb detox designed to relieve the toxic burden on the body so that it can heal, the Body Ecology Principles, fermented foods, and the right mineral support can keep the thyroid in balance. Slowly cutting out and reintroducing carbohydrates and sugars within a short detox period will not have the same disruptive effect on the thyroid as a long-term low carb diet.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

Sometimes, after initially losing weight and correcting hormonal imbalances on a low carbohydrate diet, you may experience weight gain, fatigue, or even hair thinning a few months later. These symptoms could be signs of hypothyroidism, also known as an underactive thyroid.

Eating too many carbohydrates and grain-based foods can cause serious health issues, feeding disease-causing microorganisms in the digestive tract and even triggering inflammation. But cutting carbohydrates out of the diet completely can affect thyroid hormones and cause hibernation syndrome — resulting in weight gain, drowsiness, and cold extremities.

To reduce carbohydrates effectively, it is important to cut them out of the diet slowly by following the Body Ecology Principles. One of the easiest ways to do this is by paying attention to food ratios and including more BE-friendly starchy vegetables and grain-like seeds in your diet, based on the Body Ecology Principle of 80/20. You can also nourish your thyroid with fermented foods, probiotic beverages, and daily mineral support.

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  1. Shanahan, Catherine. Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food. Lawai: Big Box Books, 2009.
  2. J. Kohrle, et al. Thyronamines- Past, Present, and Future. Endocrine Reviews February 2011; 32 (1): 64 – 80.

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  • terry jr

    I recently went onto a low carb diet
    i cut our bread spuds chips and had smoothies in the morning instead of
    my usual egg and bacon sandwiches and a lot of supplements
    after two weeks I was a mess
    my memory died a death - I just couldnt function
    Im still on the diet but am adjusting as I became so concerned about my lack of
    I now suspect I have worms and as they are not feeding on the carbs any more the foggy memory
    is a side effect

  • VC

    Those suffering from hypothyroid should not consume millet. It is a goitergenic food. I've tried millet, and can attest to the fact from personal experience that it does indeed impact the thyroid.
    Conversely, quinoa is a wonderful addition to the diet; I always feel great when I eat it regularly.

  • valjeann

    The eyebrows will grow back with the body ecology diet. The B-vitamins found in cultured products enable the body grow the desirable hair back. Be diligent!

  • Kevin

    Thanks so much for this article. Listen to your body and avoid diet dogma. Beware of any diet that can actually trigger euthyroid sick syndrome. Radically lowering your carbs (even gradually over time) can decrease your metabolism, lowering your body temperature, weakening your bodies immunity etc. All of this can actually contribute to creating an environment where bad microbiota can thrive, potentially exacerbating the problems this diet hopes to heal. Eating too many non starchy vegetables or raw leafy greens when you are in such a carb depleted state is not an effective strategy, as more energy is expended in digesting the veggies than is gained from them and you just dig a deeper hole for yourself, depriving your body of needed energy. I appreciate the intentions behind the Body Ecology Diet, the focus on fermented foods, kefirs and probiotics and healthy fats is awesome... but please people... do not fear the carbs. Best wishes to all!

  • Tina

    The above mentioned symptoms (at least two: end of eyebrow loss and return of body fat around the middle abdomin) are exactly what has occured to my body on the low processed carb eating lifestyle. Will the eyebrows return? I know that the weight can come back off with a return to my exercise regime.

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