Hypothyroidism and Glycogen Deficiency

Have you ever really questioned why people are so afraid of sugar?

Well besides all the anti-sugar propaganda designed to scare you out of your mind! So much so you literally run the opposite direction at any site of a “carbohydrate”?

We are up against a very interesting catch 22 here.

You see…our society is so afraid of sugar we avoid it like the plague and the timing could not be any worse.

Our country, let me rephrase that, our world, is in the midst of a huge hypothyroid epidemic.

So whats the catch?

People suffering with hypothyroidism are sensitive to sugar and at the same time, people suffering with hypothyroidism are going to require sugar to heal.

Where do we go from here?

Lets start by taking a good look at the role of carbohydrates in thyroid health. From here we will begin to understand the real importance of carbohydrates and that not all carbohydrates are the same.

Second, we have to accept the hard truth. Shifting to an increased carbohydrate intake over night just because carbohydrates ARE good, is a quick trip to rapid weight gain.

Third, you gotta ditch the low carb, Paleo mentality. Yes, maybe it helps you maintain weight and/or helps you lose weight, but it is not without sacrifice.

Whether you meet your threshold in 1 year, 2, 10 or sometimes even 20, practicing habits that include the elimination of 1 or more macro nutrient not only exacerbate thyroid issues, they compound them by placing a greater demand on the adrenals! In the end not only is your thyroid not functioning, your adrenals are shot and your entire body is in chaos.

So what role does sugar play in thyroid health?

A LOT!! Lets try and make some sense out of all of this…

To begin, lets keep in mind the body requires 3 key ingredients in order to produce energy at the cell level.

  • thyroid hormone (T3)
  • oxygen
  • glucose (sugar)

When these three ingredients are present in the right amounts at the right time we produce the greatest amount of energy and use the least amount of energy to do so.

In a healthy body the liver is very efficient at storing glycogen as are the muscles and brain. The body uses this stored glycogen between meals and while we sleep to assist in keeping our blood sugar from falling too low (one of the greatest stresses to the human body).

Maintaining normal blood sugar levels and preventing a hypoglycemic state is essential to the support of cellular metabolism, thyroid function and to keeping your stress hormones under control.

In a hypothyroid state the body loses its ability to store and release glycogen, which leads to glycogen deficiencies, therefore quickly developing blood sugar issues like hypoglycemia and reducing thyroid conversion in the liver.

The amount of glucose in liver cells regulates the enzyme that converts T4 to T3.

In a fasting state the livers glycogen stores will provide glucose to maintain T3 production. When the glycogen is depleted the body resorts to the release of fatty acids from the tissues, which further interrupt the use of glucose and lead to greater suppression of the thyroid gland.

When your liver cannot use T3 it can directly affect your glycogen reserves in the following ways:

  • The liver is unable to store and release glycogen
  • You are unable to regulate your blood sugar
  • Your muscles, brain and organs become easily fatigued

Every cell in the body requires sugar in the form of glucose to produce energy and survive and they receive it as glycogen.

In a survival attempt to compensate for the lack of glycogen and regulate blood sugar, the body will signal the adrenals to overproduce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Adrenaline stimulates the liver to release stored glycogen but because in hypothyroidism stored glycogen reserves are inadequate the constant surges of adrenaline further deplete an already depleted liver placing an added burden on the liver making it even more difficult to regulate your blood sugar.

When the body is completely depleted of any and all glycogen, cortisol takes over. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone and although it is essential to our survival in times of need, when the body does not have the proper resources to fuel the organs, the brain and the muscles it begins working to break down healthy muscle tissue in order to convert that protein into sugar to feed the cells. So essentially your body begins to eat itself!

And the cycle continues….and oh what a vicious cycle it is!

Whether you practice a low carbohydrate diet, skip meals, over exercise, under eat, and have poor stress management skills the long term effects of inadequate energy input will lead to the condition of thyroid hormone resistance (hypothyroidism).

The longer and more adapted the body is in this state the more difficult it will be to reintroduce carbohydrates without experiencing a period of glucose intolerance. Hence, all the “low carb” talk.

Carbohydrates are essential to healing and omitting them from the diet will only continue to exacerbate an already faulty metabolism and possibly place you at risk for other health conditions including type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer.

The strategy behind restoring glycogen reserves

You must use your food to do for you what you are unable to do for yourself.

  1. Food frequency is king!

If your liver requires thyroid hormone to store and release glycogen and without glycogen you are unable to regulate your blood sugar, then it makes sense to feed your body metabolic digestible carbohydrates frequently and in small amounts throughout the day.

A common concern we hear quite frequently: “I feel awful on a low carb diet…” OR “I’m deathly afraid of gaining weight!”

Please realize this is for all the reasons discussed above. Your body has lost its ability to efficiently metabolize carbohydrates because of the hypothyroid state your body is in. Thyroid hormones have a HUGE impact on glucose metabolism.

When introducing carbohydrates you MUST GO SLOW! Everyone has a different tolerance and must be determined individually.

If you are interested in learning more about how to safely add carbohydrates back into your diet, click here.

  1. Manage your stress. The body cannot heal in chaos.

Remember stress and the effects of stress on the body directly affect the function of the thyroid and the livers ability to store glycogen.

Your nutrition is going to play a key role in helping you accomplish this goal but the bottom line is no diet alone is going to trump poor habits and decision-making.

  1. Exercise smarter not harder.

Exercise is a stress. It can be a good stress or a bad stress.

For a body already in an energy deficit (low thyroid function) due to low and/or depleted glycogen reserves exercise is a recipe for disaster!

Does this mean you have to stop exercising?

Not at all.

It just means you may have to make some modifications for a period of time to assist in reducing the over all burden, induce better recovery and rebuild and restore your exercise resiliency.

  1. Breathe

When our cells are “breathing” properly (thyroid + glucose + oxygen) they are making large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and ATP energy.

The efficiency of this system provides a continuous release of oxygen allowing for continued cellular respiration within our cells, organs and tissues.

When our cells are not breathing properly this leads to sharp decreases in CO2 production and decreased oxygen (O2) production.

Low levels of O2 interrupt cellular respiration shifting the cells energy production away from CO2 and towards producing lactic acid.

Lactic acid is a huge metabolic burden, inflammatory and causes the liver to use up stored glycogen. The very thing we are trying to correct!

Learning to breathe properly can have a significant effect on CO2 production by helping to down regulate the sympathetic nervous system therefore inhibiting stress and inflammation, making oxygen more available to the tissues and promoting efficient use of glucose.


When you give the body what it needs it is not forced to compensate by stealing from Peter to pay Paul.

In a hypothyroid state the resources to produce energy are deficient placing the body into a vicious cycle of stress and inflammation.

To restore balance it is essential to slowly begin to build back up glycogen reserves with the proper nutrition while taking steps to reduce the stress causing the deficiencies in the first place.

Just in taking the time to tune into your nutrition you are provided an opportunity to tune in to your life, your body, how you feel, what you need, what affects you positively, what affects you negatively, and from there you can slowly begin to create something more supportive for and to you in your life.

Trust us, we do it every day with people all over the world.

Yes, it takes time but once you got it, you got it! You can finally get back to life and the more important stuff like being fully present with your family, enjoying a hobby or pastime, having energy at the end of the day to enjoy a hobby or favorite pastime :), building the business you’ve always dreamed of or whatever it may be for you.

P.S. Please feel free to share a  comment below. We would love to hear from you! 

Josh and Jeanne

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