Hypothyroidism and body weight

Nutrition team

What is Hypothyroidism?

The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland located just under the Adam's apple in the throat. It secretes hormones into the bloodstream that control the body's metabolism, the rate at which the body burns calories for energy.

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the body lacks sufficient thyroid hormones, tri-iodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Since the main purpose of thyroid hormone is to control the body's metabolism, people with this condition will have symptoms associated with a slow metabolism.

Underactive thyroid is also a major cause of a common painful musculoskeletal condition known as fibromyalgia.

How does it develop?

There are two common causes of hypothyroidism. The first is a result of inflammation of the thyroid gland, which leaves a large percentage of the cells of the thyroid damaged and incapable of producing sufficient hormone. The most common cause of thyroid gland failure is called autoimmune thyroiditis (also called Hashimoto's thyroiditis), a form of thyroid inflammation caused by the patient's own immune system.

The second major cause is the after effects of medical treatments. The treatment of many thyroid conditions requires surgical removal of some or all of the thyroid gland. If the total mass of thyroid producing cells left within the body are not enough to meet the needs of the body, the patient will develop hypothyroidism.

Similarly, goiters (enlarged thyroid gland associated with over production of hormones) and some other thyroid conditions can be treated with radioactive iodine therapy. The aim of the radioactive iodine therapy (for benign conditions) is to kill a portion of the thyroid to prevent goiters from growing larger, or from producing too much hormone (hyperthyroidism). Occasionally, too many cells are damaged so the patient often becomes hypothyroid a year or two later.

There are also several other rare causes of hypothyroidism, one of them being thyroid gland which is not making enough hormone because of a problem in the pituitary gland. If the pituitary does not produce enough Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) then the thyroid simply does not have the "signal" to make hormones.

What are the symptoms?

As well as causing weight gain, or making it difficult to lose weight, the symptoms of hypothyroidism also include:

- Fatigue
- Weakness
- Coarse, dry hair
- Dry, rough pale skin
- Hair loss
- Feeling cold when others don’t
- Constipation
- Depression
- Irritability
- Memory loss
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Decreased sex drive

The severity of these symptoms will vary from individual to individual and not everyone will suffer from every symptom

Who is at risk?

You are at risk if:

- You're female
- You have a family member with a thyroid problem
- You have another pituitary or endocrine disease
- You or a family member have another autoimmune disease
- You've been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- You've been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia
- You're over 60
- You've just had a baby
- You're near menopause or menopausal
- You're a smoker
- You've been exposed to radiation
- You've been treated with lithium
- You eat too many soy foods
- You've been exposed to certain chemicals (i.e., perchlorate, fluoride)

How is it diagnosed?

Hypothyroidism can often be diagnosed with a simple blood test, called a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test.

How is it treated?

Hypothyroidism is treated by taking a pill once a day. Doctors usually prescribe the synthetic T4 hormone levothyroxine to treat hypothyroidism. Some doctors also add synthetic T3 (liothyronine).

What is the nutritional solution?

Since hypothyroidism slows down the metabolism, suffers are likely to experience weight gain during the initial phases of the disease. The additional pounds may be a combination of fat gain and water retention.

Once an individual with hypothyroidism is taking thyroid hormones replacement medications, weight gain should no longer continue. However, the patient will then be faced with the prospect of losing those extra pounds. There is no magic solution unfortunately, and this is done in the normal way – by reducing calorie and fat intake and by increasing physical activity.

There are some goitrogenic foods that can act like an antithyroid drug in disabling the thyroid function. They prevent the thyroid from using available iodine, so it's best to avoid eating these foods in large amounts if you are taking thyroid hormone replacement. It is made worse if you use a lot of salt because that causes the thyroid to swell.

It is thought that the enzymes involved in the formation of goitrogenic materials in plants can be destroyed by cooking, so cook these foods thoroughly if you do want to eat them: • Brussels sprouts, turnips, cauliflower, cabbage and kale • almonds, peanuts and walnuts • sweet corn and millet • soya – this combined with a high fibre diet causes too much thyroid hormone and iodine to be excreted from the body

If you do suffer from any of the symptoms described above make sure to consult your GP. If you have suffered from hypothyroidism in the past, or still suffer, do not lose heart. You may have to accept a slightly slower rate of loss, but you are still just as capable as any one else of losing weight.

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Thanks to tescodiets.com who have provided this article.