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Ever heard anyone say: “ My thyroid is making it difficult for me to lose weight?’

You are probably curious to know how the thyroid gland affects your weight. The thyroid gland has a profound impact on metabolism and might be a daunting challenge when it comes to weight gain and weight loss. Although an unhealthy thyroid is almost always associated with weight issues, it could also increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Since symptoms usually go unnoticed, people with high blood cholesterol should go for thyroid function tests.

Why is the Thyroid Gland so Important?

The thyroid gland is a 2-inch butterfly-shaped organ located at the front of the neck right below the voice box (larynx). Though the thyroid is small, it is one of the “master controllers” of almost every major metabolic function in the body. The thyroid hormones control the way the body uses energy from carbohydrates, fat, and protein, a process known as metabolism and therefore directly affects weight management. The thyroid hormones also regulate respiration, body temperature, brain development, cholesterol levels, the heart and nervous system, blood calcium levels, menstrual cycles, skin integrity, and more. When the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, a condition known as Hypothyroidism, metabolism slows down and result in weight gain.

What causes Hypothyroidism?

The following may result in hypothyroidism:

  1. Hashimoto’s disease: this is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, it is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid causing inflammation and reducing its ability to produce thyroid hormones.
  2. Thyroiditis: swelling or inflammation of the thyroid gland which causes leaking of the hormones. Although Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common, other types include subacute, postpartum, and silent thyroiditis.
  3. Congenital hypothyroidism: Some babies are born with an underdeveloped thyroid gland which may result in mental retardation and growth failure if not well managed.
  4. Surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid: some people who have surgically removed part or all thyroid may experience hypothyroidism.
  5. Radiation treatment: The treatment of certain disease conditions such as cancer may also affect the thyroid gland.
  6. Medications: Some drugs may interfere with the production of thyroid hormones.

Other Symptoms of Hypothyroidism 

Aside from weight gain, other symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • tiredness, fatigue, lethargy
  • depression and losing interest in normal activities
  • forgetfulness
  • dry hair and skin
  • puffy face
  • slow heart rate
  • intolerance to cold
  • constipation
  • brittle nails
  • muscle cramping
  • changes in the menstrual cycle
  • Goiter or fullness in the throat (specific to Hashimoto’s disease)

 

These symptoms however develop slowly and may go unnoticed especially in the early stage. untreated hypothyroidism may lead to myxedema coma, an extreme form of hypothyroidism in which the body’s functions slow to the point that it becomes life-threatening and usually require immediate medical treatment.

How do I know if my Thyroid is Underactive?

Many symptoms of Hypothyroidism can be confused with symptoms of other diseases, so hypothyroidism usually cannot be diagnosed based on symptoms alone. If you notice one or more symptoms of Hypothyroidism, your health care provider will likely suggest you do some tests which may include TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) test, T4 test, and/or Thyroid autoantibody to confirm the diagnosis.

Can Hypothyroidism be treated?

Absolutely!  Hypothyroidism can be treated with synthetic thyroxine, a medication that is identical to the Thyroid hormone T4. Once your health care provider places you on a stable dose, symptoms of hypothyroidism will be completely controlled.

Can I still Lose Weight with Hypothyroidism?

If you are diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, you might struggle with weight loss until your thyroid hormone levels are stabilized. While on medical treatment, your dietitian can help you focus on healthful behaviors to achieve your desired weight. Knowing the right type of dietary choices, the foods allowed and the foods to avoid makes it easy to lose weight.  Your dietitian can also ensure you stay within your nutrients and caloric needs.

Foods to avoid or limit include:

  • refined carbohydrates and caffeine
  • energy bars and genetically modified organisms (GMO) foods
  • gluten-containing foods, such as wheat, bran, and  rye
  • cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale.
  • Soy and millet

Foods to include:

  • Whole grains
  • Legumes, eggs (especially egg white), nuts, nut butter
  • Oily fish, flaxseeds, extra virgin olive oil, and avocados will help balance your blood lipids.
  • Reintroduce healthy bacteria (probiotics)
  • Consider some important nutrients like iodine found in seaweed, iodized salt and fish, zinc, selenium found in brazil nut, tuna, lobster, crab, vitamin B12 found in sardines, salmon, organ meats such as liver, muscle meat, and dairy

In addition, following a strict exercise regimen with your eating pattern is important. People with hypothyroidism would benefit from lifting weights and dumbbells, and strength training.

Can Certain supplements Interfere with Medications?

It is recommended that calcium supplements and thyroid medications be spaced by at least four hours. This is because Calcium supplements interfere with the proper absorption of thyroid medications. Also, other supplements such as coffee, fiber supplements, chromium picolinate, and flavonoids supplements may suppress thyroid functions and should be spaced by 3-4hours while on thyroid medications.

Summary

Losing weight with an underactive thyroid may be very challenging but becomes easier with proper medical and dietary management. Focus on your healthy food choices and stress-relieving exercises, Also, consult a registered dietitian if for individualized dietary counseling as part of your medical management if you are struggling to keep the weight off!

 

References

  1. Beers MH, Berkow R eds. Merck Manual. 17th ed. Merck Research Laboratories. Whitehouse Station, NJ. 1999.
  2. Teas J, et al. Seaweed and soy: companion foods in Asian cuisine and their effects on thyroid function in American women. J Med Food 2007;10:90-100.
  3. Canaris GJ, Manowitz NR, Mayor G, Ridgway EC. The Colorado thyroid disease prevalence study. Arch Intern Med. 2000;160(4):526-534.
  4. Biondi B, Klein I. Hypothyroidism as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Endocrine. 2004;24(1):1-13.
  5. Duntas LH, Brenta G. The effect of thyroid disorders on lipid levels and metabolism. Med Clin North Am. 2012;96(2):269-281.
  6. Dean S. Medical nutrition therapy for thyroid and related disorders. In: Mahan KL, Escott-Stump S, eds. Krause’s Food, Nutrition, & Diet Therapy. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2008: 711-724.
  7. https://www.medicinenet.com/cancer_101_pictures_slideshow/article.htm
  8. National Institute of Health (2013). Hypothyroidism: National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service.https://www.niddk.nih.gov/-/media/Files/Endocrine-Diseases/Hypothyroidism_508.pdf

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