By Body Ecology & Donna Gates (

If you are tempted to think that removing sugars and refined, processed grains from the diet is just another aspect of fad dieting, think again.

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 a 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.

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

Excessive carbohydrate consumption, whether in the form of white sugar or whole grain foods, is responsible for a wide spectrum of health disorders.

Having trouble dragging yourself out of bed in the morning? Gaining weight for no reason at all? It’s possible that a low carb diet may have imbalanced your thyroid hormones and triggered something called hibernation syndrome.

Grains and grain-based foods are capable of damaging the lining of the digestive system, which over the long haul can contribute to imbalances in the immune system. When eaten in large quantities (think USDA food pyramid), these foods 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.

Major changes in carbohydrate consumption can 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 you 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.

What to Remember Most About This Article:

Is a low carb diet really all it’s cracked up to be? Sometimes, after successfully losing weight and correcting hormonal imbalances on a low carbohydrate diet, you may experience weight gain, fatigue, or even hair thinning. These symptoms could be signs of hypothyroidism, also known as an underactive thyroid.

Eating too many carbohydrates can cause serious health issues to feed disease-causing microorganisms in the digestive tract and even trigger 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. Pay attention to food ratios and eat more starchy vegetables and grains, based on the Principle of 80/20.


  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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