Hypothyroidism and Weight Loss

By: 
Dr. Christopher McGowan
octubre 5, 2022

The American Thyroid Association estimates that 20 million Americans have some kind of thyroid condition, but most people (around 60%) probably aren’t even aware they have a thyroid health problem. Because of the important role the thyroid gland plays in many aspects of our physiology, thyroid disorders and disease can be the source of numerous symptoms and complications. Though many people don’t realize it, a thyroid dysfunction like hypothyroidism can even have an impact on metabolism and the ability to lose weight.  

What Does the Thyroid Gland Do?     

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that straddles the trachea in the lower front area of the neck. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland is responsible for sending messages throughout the body via hormones. After being triggered by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland, the thyroid secretes hormones directly into the bloodstream and are carried around the body by the circulatory system. The hormones released by the thyroid are important in regulating a wide variety of body functions: 

  • Triiodothyronine (T3): Triiodothyronine is the active part of the two main components of thyroid hormone. One of its main functions is to regulate metabolism and the way the body converts food into energy. It also plays a role in regulating heart function, digestive function, muscles, the maintenance of bones, and the development of the brain.  
  • Thyroxine (T4): Thyroxine is considered a precursor of thyroid hormone because it is mostly inactive when initially secreted by the thyroid gland. Enzymes in the liver then convert thyroxine into triiodothyronine; in fact, nearly 80% of triiodothyronine in the bloodstream comes from converted thyroxine. T3 and T4 work together this way and are thus collectively referred to as thyroid hormone. 
  • Calcitonin: Though it isn’t involved in the same type of regulatory activity as T3 and T4, the thyroid gland also secretes an additional hormone called calcitonin. This hormone is primarily involved in regulating the body’s calcium content. 

Thyroid Gland Dysfunction

At a foundational level, the influence of thyroid function on metabolism affects the speed with which cells function. With a healthy thyroid gland that is functioning normally, the body is in balance and we are blissfully unaware of all the cellular activity. Sometimes, though, the thyroid starts producing too much hormone and causes cells to work faster than normal; this is called hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), and it is a condition associated with increased heart rate, faster bowel motility, and a variety of other symptoms. If the thyroid produces too little hormone, on the other hand, cells slow down; this is called hypothyroidism. 

What is Hypothyroidism?

Also known as underactive thyroid disease, hypothyroidism occurs whenever the thyroid gland stops producing a sufficient amount of hormone. When there isn’t enough thyroid hormone in the bloodstream, the metabolism and other body processes slow down and can lead to a variety of signs and symptoms: 

  • slower heart rate
  • fatigue
  • constipation or dyspepsia
  • sensitivity to cold
  • depression
  • shortness of breath
  • memory problems
  • muscle aches or weakness
  • dry hair and skin 
  • hair loss
  • hoarse voice
  • joint pain or stiffness
  • changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle 
  • swelling in the limbs or face 
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • higher cholesterol 

Hypothyroidism and Weight Gain

One other common symptom of hypothyroidism is unexplained weight gain or a difficulty in losing weight. As noted above, insufficient thyroid hormone causes the metabolism to slow down. More specifically, the amount of energy the body uses at rest—represented by basal metabolic rate (BMR)—is lessened. In terms of body weight, this means that the same number of calories that once allowed to maintain a particular weight is too high for the body’s needs; over time, then, this surplus in calories will be stored as body fat. 

Generally speaking, the amount of weight gained is higher in people who have a more severe form of hypothyroidism. Yet research shows that the severity of hypothyroidism only has a modest impact on basal metabolic rate. There is also little evidence that significant weight gain can be explained by any problem with thyroid hormone levels. Moreover, not all of the unexplained weight gain is due to increases in body fat deposits; the majority of the excess weight gain is actually due to accumulation of salt and water.  

Losing Weight with Hypothyroidism  

The bottom line is that hypothyroidism can contribute to weight gain, but it isn’t the only factor at work. If you think you might have a thyroid problem, however, the first step is to get diagnosed by your doctor or an endocrinologist. The standard treatment for hypothyroidism is a thyroid-replacement medication like levothyroxine (Synthroid). Thyroid medication will make up for the deficiency in thyroid hormone and return metabolic activity to a normal range. While the metabolic imbalance can be corrected with medication, other steps and lifestyle changes will be required to actually lose weight that has been gained: 

  • Foods to avoid: Foods that are high in sugar and other refined carbohydrates can increase blood sugar levels and ultimately make it harder to lose weight. Limiting these kinds of carbs in your diet can help you lose weight as well as lower the risk for a variety of diseases and disorders. 
  • Foods to emphasize: Focus on eating fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains. The high nutritional value and fiber content will help you feel full more quickly and for a longer duration; this can help change your eating habits over time and be in a caloric deficit
  • Get enough sleep: In recent years, more and more research has shown that a lack of sleep is associated with weight gain, obesity, and many obesity-related conditions. Getting sufficient sleep can help you lose weight and maintain your desired weight. 
  • Drink less alcohol: Though it may not always seem like it, alcohol can have deceptively high calorie counts that can keep you from being in a caloric deficit. Limiting alcohol can help you lose weight and avoid a whole series of alcohol-related health problems.  
  • Increase physical activity: One of the most important factors in metabolic balance is your regular level of physical activity. As long as your basal metabolic rate and physical activity levels use more energy than the calories you consume, you’ll lose weight. You can start with simply moving around more during the day or going for a walk, but eventually you should aim for the CDC-recommended 150 minutes of cardio activity each week.  

Sustainable Weight Loss Solutions

Hypothyroidism and other thyroid issues may be factors to consider in your weight loss journey, but they’re only one part of the equation. The truth is, though, that trying to develop a healthy diet and getting regular exercise aren’t usually enough to achieve long-term weight loss. At True You, we are passionate about providing alternative weight loss solutions so that you can finally find the freedom you’ve been waiting for. If you would like to learn more about our non-surgical weight loss procedures and how they can make a huge difference, please contact us today to solicitar una consulta

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan
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