THYROID DYSFUNCTION AND WEIGHT

The Thyroid gland is your body’s thermostat. It has a powerful influence on your metabolism and just about every function of your body.

Experts estimate that 40% of us could be suffering from Thyroid Imbalance. And up to half of those could be at a ‘sub-clinical’ level that blood tests would not diagnose as imbalanced but is affecting their life. This makes 20% of us possibly suffering from Thyroid problems that we do not know about and/or get no help for. If you suspect you may be part of this group try the questionnaire posted here.

9 out of 10 cases of thyroid imbalance are Hypo-Thyroidism i.e. underactive thyroid. The signs include :

  • low energy levels
  • slow steady weight gain
  • feeling cold
  • constipation
  • coarse hair or skin

Being ‘Hypo’ often feels like mild depression, with memory and general thinking impaired. In fact up to 50% of mentally ill people are Hypo and bringing their thyroid back into balance helps improved their emotional balance as well. Another worrying clinical sign is increased LDL cholesterol levels (the bad sort) which can lead to atherosclerosis.

 

Thyroid and Fat Burning

The problem with cholesterol is due to the effect that low thyroid function has on fat metabolism, which is also the main reason it causes weight gain. Thyroid hormones stimulate the engines of our cells (Mitochondria) to break down fatty acids (the building blocks of fat) using oxygen. Otherwise known as aerobic energy production. When we produce less thyroid hormones we burn less fatty acids, causing us to retain them as fat AND have lower energy levels, causing us to do even less activity.. burn even less energy and accumulate more fat. Sound like a vicious circle? It is. 

If you feel tired even though you are putting a decent quantity of healthy food in your mouth and you have some of the other signs then you may have impaired function. It feels like you haven’t got enough fuel, so you eat more but it doesn’t work because “the problem isn’t with fuel supply; it’s with fuel use”.

You may have been told that increased thyroid output will automatically cause you to lose weight. This is not strictly true; reduced thyroid output will most likely cause you to gain weight (and block you losing it), but repairing it will not necessarily solve the problem. It’s a one way street. So the best thing you can do is not travel down it! I.e. Try not to exhaust your thyroid and try not to put on too much weight in the first place.

 

Hormonal Matrix

Your hormonal system is a complicated matrix with many elements, if one changes the others adjust to compensate. If your thyroid is functioning poorly the adrenal glands step in to carry some of the workload of energy production. It releases cortisol to try to mobilise your energy reserves. However high cortisol levels cause other problems including increased blood sugar, causing insulin secretion and fat storage. If the adrenals are being constantly stimulated they will also burn out. 

50% of people suffering from hypo-thyroidism also have adrenal fatigue, which in turn places stress on other hormonal systems. It has similar symptoms and can be difficult to differentiate:

  • Fatigue on waking up that improves as the day passes
  • Low energy / Apathy / Lethargy
  • Sunken eyes
  • Feeling cold
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Increased fat storage
  • Low blood pressure
  • Poor sleep
  • Poor healing of wounds
  • Weakened bones (Ostopenia)

 

There is also a strong connection between a woman's Oestrogen and Thyroid hormone levels. The higher the Oestrogen level the lower the Thyroid hormone level, potentially contributing to imbalance and weight gain. 

 

When you are overweight and trying to pull your body back into line you need to consider all the potential hormonal factors: Thyroid, Adrenals, Insulin, Oestrogen and Growth Hormone. 

 

Testing

 

If you do suspect your thyroid function is impaired the first thing you should do is go to your doctor and ask to be tested. There are a variety of levels of test that can be performed, they are chosen by cost so make sure you ask for the most thorough. You must also listen to your body and explain the symptoms you are experiencing to your doctor as blood tests are not the only way to measure thyroid function.

A simple test you can do at home is take your basal body temperature every morning on waking by putting a thermometer under your armpit. If your temp is consistently below 98.2 you may be ‘hypo’.

See the next blog “Thyroid supportive lifestyle for fat loss

References:

  1. (1) Thyroid Balance: Traditional and alternative methods for treating thyroid disorders; Rothfield, G.S., & Romaine, D.S. (2003)
  2. (2) Poliquin, C.; Biosignature Modulation Manual; 2010
James Hardy