What thyroid patients should know about Oxidative Stress

20130817_151332With a recent Italian study hypothesizing a significant correlation between T4-only levothyroxine use and lung cancer because of “oxidative stress” (possibly due to the serum peak of T4), or the same oxidative stress simply from the hypothyroidism itself, it spurs curiosity as to what oxidative stress is about and what we, as thyroid patients, can learn from this biological phenomena!

Oxidation–what the heck is that?

I have a shampoo holder that hangs from the shower nozzle, and to my dismay, it started to rust underneath the coating. (Note to self: don’t buy a hanging shampoo holder from a garage sale, even if it does look brand new). And this rust is an example of “oxidation”, i.e. when the iron comes into contact with oxygen (also via moisture), an oxidized corrosion will form called “rust”. Other examples of oxidation are the greenish patina you see on copper, the fading of paint on your house, or the brown coating you’ll see on an exposed cut apple…all due to the substance coming in contact with oxygen.

In your body, oxidation is a constant and normal chemical reaction going on every hour, every day and occurring when your cells come into contact with oxygen. It’s a required process to supply your body and all its cells with energy. Oxidation helps your body to get rid of old cells in favor of new cells. Your immune system also uses oxidation to attack and kill off pathogens.

Biologically, oxygenation describes the process of any particular molecule (which is made up of connected atoms) coming into contact with oxygen (making it an “oxygenated molecule”), resulting in the loss of an electron–a subatomic particle with a negative electric charge that surrounds any of those atoms. This oxygenated-molecule-minus-an-electron will frantically try to connect with another molecule which does NOT have this electron loss, and this constant attempt of connection produces an unstable “free radical”. And free radicals can cause all sorts of havoc.

Fortunately, a healthy and balanced body has a built-in ability to keep these unstable free radicals in check with anti-oxidant defense mechanisms…or at the very least, slow the havoc of a free radical down. Those heroes include several anti-oxidant enzymes, also called free radical scavengers, which can neutralize all those frenzied free radicals. Our body will also use nutrients in what we eat to squelch those free radicals, such as Vitamin C and E. Our bodies have the ability to repair DNA and tissue damage from free radicals, as well as zap damaged cells to death!

When Oxidation become “Oxidative Stress”

On the negative side, sometimes your body can lose the ability to take care of all the free radicals caused by the constant oxidation. (Collectively, all these free radicals are called “reactive oxygen species” (ROS).) The body then becomes overwhelmed by the excess of oxygenated free radicals, causing all sorts of damage. And this is all termed “oxidative stress”.

Alarmingly, oxidative stress can cause the loss of one of your key and internally-natural antioxidants: glutathione. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant produced by your own cells, and it neutralizes those free radicals/reactive oxygen species. It also works expertly with antioxidants vitamin C and E. And as your glutathione levels fall, a cascade of toxic deterioration and damage can also begin, from cells to tissues to organs. Scientists theorize, and studies propose, that this is what leads to conditions like:

Oxidative stress may also be negatively affecting your methylation process, such as the MTHFR enzyme.

Dr Andrew Weil explains :

Although we need oxygen to live, high concentrations of it are actually corrosive and toxic. We obtain energy by burning fuel with oxygen – that is, by combining digested food with oxygen from the air we breathe. This is a controlled metabolic process that, unfortunately, also generates dangerous byproducts. These include free radicals – electronically unstable atoms or molecules capable of stripping electrons from any other molecules they meet in an effort to achieve stability. In their wake they create even more unstable molecules that then attack their neighbors in domino-like chain reactions.

Some Causes of oxidative stress

There are quite a few situations mentioned in articles and studies which can cause your body to be overly stressed from the results of oxidation and all the reactive oxygen species. They include, but are not limited to:

  • excess endurance exercising
  • excess weight lifting
  • lack of key antioxidant nutrients like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, Magnesium and other minerals
  • excess radiation or sunlight
  • smoking (huge cause of oxidative stress)
  • excessive drinking or drug use
  • over-exposure to toxins in our air, water and foods like pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals and more
  • prescription medications
  • processed foods with all their artificial dyes, additives or flavorings
  • excess physical trauma
  • Graves disease aka hyperthyroidism
  • excess copper levels from the MTHFR defect

Your thyroid condition and Oxidative Stress

In addition to all the above, there are a vast amount of documentation about the strong relationship between hypothyroidism and Oxidative Stress. In just four examples of many:

  1. Oxidative stress and enzymatic antioxidant status in patients with hypothyroidism before and after treatment : concludes that “increased ROS levels in hypothyroidism may result in a pro-oxidation environment, which in turn could result in decreased antioxidant PON1 activity, increased MDA (malondialdehyde) and NO (nitric acid) levels”. ROS stands for Reactive oxygen species, which are chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen
  2. Serum Lipids and Oxidative Stress in Hypothyroidism : found relationship between high Total Cholesterol, Triglycerides, LDL and MDA levels in hypothyroid patients with oxidative stress
  3. Oxidative Stress and Antioxidant Status in Hypo- and HyperthyroidismDespite some contradictory reports, the aforementioned results provide strong evidence that thyroid hormones induce oxidative stress in target tissues.”
  4. Oxidative stress status in hypothyroid patients. “Hypothyroidism undeniably can be risk factor for in- creased oxidative stress; can eventually lead to many other complications. Antioxidant therapy and antioxidant diet should be advised along with thyroid hormone replacement therapy to diminish further complications.”

What we might conclude as informed thyroid patients

Plenty of research studies and articles underscore that lack of optimal thyroid hormones are strongly associated with your anti-oxidative status in a negative way, meaning the lack of adequate thyroid hormones means oxidative stress. And worldwide thyroid patient reports underscore the reality of a potential, hypothyroid-induced “oxidative stress profile” with their chronic inflammation and finding themselves more frequent illnesses, besides lowered levels of important nutrients (due to hypothyroid-induced low stomach acid) which can end up contributing to oxidative stress. In other words, all too many patients have reported continued hypothyroidism while being on T4-only, or they reporting seeing symptoms of hypothyroidism creep up the longer they stay on T4-only. Continued hypothyroidism can occur if you are undertreated even on Natural Desiccated Thyroid or T3-only thanks to being held hostage to the TSH lab test (or issues with untreated low cortisol).

Conversely, informed thyroid patients could surmise that proper treatment of their hypothyroid state, in addition to their acquire low iron, low nutrient, low cortisol state, could strongly improve their anti-oxidative status in a positive way. And reported patient experience in the use of Natural Desiccated Thyroid may be underscoring this, as well. Namely, patients who switch from T4 to NDT report far better health outcomes i.e. less sicknesses, better well-being, lowered inflammation.

In the meantime, the same four Italian researchers who did the study on T4-only, lung cancer and oxidative stress may eventually provide us with more tips to counter this issue.

Ten suggested strategies for informed thyroid patients to consider to counter oxidative stress

  1. Be on a thyroid treatment which gives the best results, and thus, may play a role in lowering your oxidative stress, which reported patient experience reveals to be natural desiccated thyroid (or adding T3 to your T4 treatment, or even being on T3-only).
  2. Get a wide variety of antioxidants in foods.
  3. Optimize and balance your blood sugar levels
  4. Identify and address your food intolerances
  5. Optimize your gut health
  6. Treat your low cortisol
  7. Dr. Kharrazian recommends the following nutrients: N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), L-Glutamine, Selenium, Cordyceps, Gotu kola and Milk thistle. (Learn about each before using)
  8. Consider meditation and/or Yoga or any other stress-busting activities
  9. Find ways to laugh…and laugh….and laugh!
  10. Get plenty of sleep.

Discuss all the above with your doctor so he or she can be included in your team approach to your health and well-being. Let’s STOP THE THYROID AND OXIDATIVE STRESS MADNESS! 🙂


** Want to chat with other patients concerning this oxidative stress issue? See a list of good thyroid patients groups.

** Need a good doctor to be in partnership with you? Here are strategies to help you.

** Like to learn in book form about better thyroid treatment? Order the Bible of better thyroid treatment as learned by patients (and the publishing company, with each order of the STTM book, is giving away a FREE 4-page handout on Herbs which help thyroid patients, for a limited time!)

** Check out this neat video by Tyler DeWitt explaining the difference between an atom and a molecule.

** For a very technical description of free radicals, check out the “Radical” Wikipedia article.

** See a list of diseases and conditions caused by oxidative stress on the Oxidative Stress Resource website. . http://www.oxidativestressresource.org/


Important notes: All the information on this website is copyrighted. STTM is an information-only site based on what many patients worldwide have reported in their treatment and wisdom over the years. This is not to be taken as personal medical advice, nor to replace a relationship with your doctor. By reading this information-only website, you take full responsibility for what you choose to do with this website's information or outcomes. See the Disclaimer and Terms of Use.

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16 Responses to “What thyroid patients should know about Oxidative Stress”

  1. Ellie Howell

    I am 59 and have been on thyroxine since I was 23. I have auto immune disease. As well as underactive thyroid, I have vitiligo, type 1 diabetes, sarcoedosis, fibrosis of the lungs, erytheamanodosum. I have had my gall bladder removed, a hystorectomy and part of my bowel removed. I am also asthmatic. Is this all down to thyroid problems please? X

    • Janie Bowthorpe

      Ellie, sorry you have to many issues to deal with. 🙁 We can never say to anyone for sure that all their problems are associated with a poor treatment due to thyroxine. For example, my husband and his family have nearly all had to have their gall bladders removed and it seems to be more a genetic cause than a thyroid cause. But we can relay that patients on T4-only have seen issues which got worse over time thanks to a poor treatment, and conversely, which improved due to a better treatment.

  2. Stella

    I am SO confused. I read from other posts about changing meds and T this and T that. I have had hypothyroidism since 1987 and have been on levothyroxine (currently at 100MCG). My hair still falls out – even to the point where I don’t have company over any more because I’m afraid I’ll embarrass myself. When I wash my hair and dry it I have two hands-full of hair and I keep a vacuum cleaner in my bathroom. I am told by my general practice doctor that I should be tested each year and I do that, but still feel like I’m not where I should be. Not whining, but how do I go about getting second opinions and from whom? Any advice is appreciate. Stella

  3. Melissa

    Gabrielle, yes symptoms of adrenal fatigue will go away with fever and illness. This is b/c the body raises its cortisol output to very high levels, and stays there, bringing blood sugar with it.

  4. Samuel

    Hello, I just started being treated for latent hypothyroidism 2 months ago and I’m very concerned now after finding out that thyroid hormones raise oxidative stress!
    I don’t know what to do now.

    I am male, 30 years old and was being diagnosed with latent hypothyroidism and got different opinions from different doctors.
    Some said I don’t need to do anything, another doctor said that because my TSH is at 4 I need to treat it.
    He did an ultrasound and said my thyroid has little contrast and is too small (9ml).
    He told me that in his opinion most patients require 100mcg T4 + 50mcg T3. This is a really high dose in my opinion.
    He told me to slowly increase the dose week by week in small steps first only with T4 and then later add T3 until I read the target dose mentioned above. I am currently at 100mcg T4 + 30mcg T3 which
    I take in the morning in 1 single dose. The doctor told me I don’t have to divide the T3 in multiple doses and that I can take it at once.
    I cannot really say that I feel any positive effects. I only lost weight but other than that I do not feel any better.
    I’m very worried now that this dose could be dangerous for my health. The last thing I want is additionall oxidative stress. Especially when I take
    all the T3 at once in the morning will this not make the risk of getting in a temporary state of hypothyroidism much worse and this way also raise
    the risk of oxidative stress?

    I’d be very thankful for input. I don’t know what to think about the dose which my doctor suggests. Is this a common dose? And I also don’t know if taking 50mcg T3 in the morning as a single dose is good. Will this not cause a huge peak and lead to hyperthyroid states? I’m very confused now. 🙁

    • Janie

      Hi Samuel. The study found a correlation between T4-only use and lung cancer, yes, but they don’t know if it’s just from the T4 treatment (which you are not doing since you have added T3), or if it’s just due to hypothyroidism. But either way, by being on both, you are on a far better treatment for your hypothyroidism than being on just T4, say a lot of patient experiences. And patients have found Natural Desiccated Thyroid to be even better…and we surmise, far more cancer-protective than being on T4-only, the latter which leaves all too many with continued hypothyroidism, and thus, a lowered immune system. Adding T3 to T4, or being on NDT, on the other hand, better treats hypothyroidism, and thus, less oxidative stress hopefully.

  5. HypoMe

    Hi Janie. T. Man Pharma in Thailand has an NDT called T.R. Do you has any info on it? Can’t find much re composition, reviews on it on the Web. Thanks.

  6. Lynn D

    Is this another test from the Dr? Is it the 1 saw online after looking up oxaidative stress test, get 2 tests for ~$20.00.?
    Also tried the adrenal test ordered online and it uses Koenisberg solution, and shows amount of chloride or salt in urine. Mine seems to be high even if dont use salt. (went back on today as low BP and is very hot and start sweating around 5pm).
    Any feedback on how good these other tests maybe?

  7. DrMorsillo

    Seems like oxidative stress plays a large role in almost any thyroid pathology. At our Naturopathic clinic (www.drmorsillo.com) we find that the use of intravenous glutathione can help to significantly reverse oxidative stress, but the cause of this process must be addressed simultaneously.

  8. Lianda

    I’ve read and recommended your book. I’m diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, and despite increasing treatment with Armour thyroid, over a year, my A.M. temps won’t go up! Yoga, balanced diet (including carbs- but no gluten)- nothing makes a difference. Now what?

  9. Gabriele

    Dear Janie,

    first of all, thanks for writing such an inspirational and informative book like “Stop the Thyroid Madness” which I devoured in 2 days.

    If possible, I would like to have your opinion about this which seems to be uncovered in your book.

    I’ve been in ketosis for almost an year now and have been experiencing hypothyroidism and high cholesterol (only TC is “relatively” high at 313 while TG=50 and HDL=87). I started with a paleo low-carb diet and then shifted to a very low carb diet (the only carb I ate for 7 months was half of an avocado a day which is actually a fat more than a carb). This helped me a lot to fight my SIBO but at the same time my thyroid levels dropped (before this, when consuming a kind of SAD diet, I still had some hypothyroid symptoms but my lab tests were “OK”, even according to your book).
    Only recently, the thyroid markers worsened (only according to a great endocrinologist, not from the conventional medicine). My problem was with the conversion from T4 to T3 (and tired adrenal glands). So I first supplemented with T3 only to balance rT3 and FT3 and then (after 3 months) I used desiccated thyroid. During the first 3 months I added back into my diet some carbs (sweet potatoes).

    I see that several low-carbers find their FT3 to lower without any hypothyroid symptoms. It seems to be a good sign, meaning your engine needs less fuel to burn. But in my case, FT3 wasn’t the only marker to be out of track plus fatigue, dry skin, digestive problems, insomnia and so on.

    Now, that my thyroid is OK, I’m back into ketosis. I would like to know what are your thoughts about this. I mean, do you think what happened to me will happen again if staying in ketosis due to some “genetic” reasons or is there any way to prevent hypothyroidism while staying in nutritional ketosis (low-carb & high fat diet)? Are there any other patients with similar story? I have done a lot on research on this topic, but it seems there’s no a definite word on this.

    Thanks a lot,
    Gabriele from Italy

    • Janie

      Gabriele, I have seen MANY patients go hypo due to a very low carb diet. i.e. to preserve energy due to your low carb intake, your body can greatly lower it’s production of thyroid hormones. That in turn can push cholesterol way high, by the way. I’ve heard that a solution is to do a once-a-week carb-eating cheat.

      • Gabriele

        Thanks for your quick reply. I have another question if you don’t mind.

        Why, whenever I have fever all my hypothyroid and adrenal fatigue symptoms disappear? Does any of your readers experience the same?


  10. Dr Pullen

    The whole oxidative status concerns, with everything from proposed high oxidation foods, vitamin therapy, and now ? thyroid treatment choices seems to me to be a problem-de-jour issue, but as always I guess time will tell. It will be interesting to see if these concerns bear out, or are just a fashionable worry of this year.


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