24 Mar Thyroid Issues and How it Affects Weight
It’s been known for a long time that there is a complex relationship between thyroid disease, body weight and metabolism. According to the American Thyroid Association, The thyroid hormone regulates metabolism in humans. Metabolism is determined by measuring the amount of oxygen used by the body over a specific amount of time. If the measurement is made at rest, it is known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Measurement of the BMR was one of the earliest tests used to assess a patient’s thyroid status. Patients whose thyroid glands were not working were found to have low BMRs, and those with overactive thyroid glands had high BMRs. Later studies linked these observations with measurements of thyroid hormone levels and showed that low thyroid hormone levels were associated with low BMRs and high thyroid hormone levels were associated with BMRs. Most physicians no longer use BMR due to the complexity in doing the test and because the BMR is subject to many other influences other than the thyroid state.
Differences in BMRs are associated with changes in energy balance. Energy balance reflects the difference between the amount of calories one eats and the amount of calories the body uses. Changes in thyroid hormone levels, which lead to changes in BMR, should also cause changes in energy balance and similar changes in body weight. However, BMRs are not the whole story relating weight and thyroid. Because patients with an underactive thyroid tend to have a very low basal metabolic rate, one of the most noticeable symptoms of hypothyroidism is weight gain and difficulty losing extra weight. (Sometimes an overactive thyroid can mimic an underactive thyroid by causing weight gain, although this is less common). A minority of women with hypothyroidism don’t gain weight. The difference arises from their individual biochemistry, the quality of the calories they consume, and how they use those calories.
Often the “metabolic burn” continues to fall as calories are reduced when dieting. That’s why some women with low thyroid can have weight gain even when they severely restrict calories. In order to fix your metabolism, you have to understand your entire health picture, not just your thyroid.
The Thyroid in Women
More women than men suffer from hypothyroidism, and many more women than men with thyroid issues have problems with weight gain. Most thyroid problems occur within the gland itself and often don’t reveal themselves until a broader pattern of hormonal imbalance develops. That’s why thyroid issues, menopause, and weight gain often appear together.
Why do women experience low thyroid and weight gain with such frequency? The reasons are many, but primarily:
- Women spend much of their lives dieting, usually in a yo-yo cycle of feasting and then fasting. This undermines your metabolism and decreases your metabolic rate, a compounding factor for the thyroid, especially during perimenopause.
- Women tend to internalize stress, which affects their adrenal, brain, and thyroid function, resulting in increased cravings for sweets and simple carbs to provide instant energy and feel good hormones.
- Women experience monthly hormonal fluctuations that affect their biochemistry.
What you can do about hypothyroidism and weight gain
The first thing to do if you are experiencing stubborn weight gain is to talk to your doctor. She or he may ask for a thyroid test or measure TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone).
Supplemental nutrients such as selenium can be used with a regular meal plan that balances a proper ratio of protein to carbohydrates and increases metabolic functioning. In some cases, a low-dose thyroid replacement hormone is also needed.
If you need more information, reach out to Dr. Marvin. He is a board certified surgeon who specializes in Bariatric procedures. To learn more, or to make an appointment please call the office at 713-993-7124.