Perhaps the most common health concern in America is obesity. It is estimated that nearly one third of the U.S. population is considered obese with approximately two-thirds being overweight. This has led to the promotion of numerous diet and exercise plans that suit a broad spectrum of individuals. However, those with reduced thyroid function, or hypothyroidism, may not benefit from typical weight loss strategies.
To combat excess weight while living with a thyroid condition it is essential to understand the impact of the thyroid on weight regulation and employ appropriate thyroid-supporting techniques.
The Thyroid’s Influence on Weight
Studies suggest that nearly all overweight individuals suffer from some degree of metabolic and endocrinological dysfunction. Because the thyroid is a central part of these systems, it is important to have a better understanding of how it affects weight regulation.
The thyroid influences many important functions including, but not limited to metabolism, cravings, and fat storage. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that those with a thyroid disorder frequently have difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.
Hypothyroidism is a condition caused by a slowing of thyroid function. This results in various issues including weight gain, difficulty losing weight, depression, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and more – get the full list of thyroid disease symptoms here.
Perhaps the most impactful way that the thyroid influences weight gain and retention is through metabolic regulation. The metabolism is responsible for burning calories and converting them into energy. As metabolic function decreases, so too does the body’s energy level and ability to lose weight. In the case of hypothyroidism, there is a lack of thyroid hormone. This deficiency causes nearly all bodily function, including the metabolism to slow. This sluggishness promotes weight gain and makes it more difficult to lose weight.
The Components of Hypothyroidism
The thyroid is a multifaceted system that interacts with nearly the entire body. Because of this there are many different reasons why it may begin to dysfunction. The following dysfunctions are some of the most common causes of hypothyroidism and subsequent weight regulation issues:
Thyroid Hormone Deficit
T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone and is responsible for activating numerous bodily processes. If the thyroid does not have the resources available to produce thyroid hormones such as T3, the entire body can suffer and slow down. This promotes weight gain and aggressive retention of calories in the form of fat.
Poor conversion of T4 to T3
T3 is converted from the storage form of thyroid hormone, T4. Therefore, poor conversion of T4 to T3 can result in a T3 deficit. This causes the entire body, including the metabolism, to slow down. Alternatively, T4 may be over-converted into Reverse T3, the T3-inhibiting form of thyroid hormone, which can also impede metabolism and overall function.
Inhibited Hormone Transport
Poor transport of thyroid hormones can disrupt thyroid function thereby contributing to weight gain and retention. Inhibited transport can cause tests to appear normal despite significant thyroid dysfunction. This is because levels of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream do not indicate if the hormones are properly received or utilized.
Restoring Thyroid Function
The typical approaches to weight loss such as exercising more and eating less are often not enough for hypothyroid patients. To achieve healthy and sustainable weight loss, those with hypothyroidism must first resolve their thyroid dysfunction. The following measures can be used to support thyroid function while also promoting effective lasting weight loss.
Optimize Treatment through Accurate Testing
Even if a thyroid patient is already being treated for their condition it is possible that their medication is not optimized – find out why levothyroxine doesn’t work for most people. It is common for doctors to use TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) testing as the only metric for assessing thyroid function. Unfortunately, this is inadequate and does not account for dysfunction such as poor conversion and inhibited transport. To get an accurate assessment of thyroid function other factors such as circulating T4, T3, and Reverse T3 must be tested. Additionally, substances such as Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin and thyroid antibodies should be assessed. These tests help doctors prescribe an optimal treatment for the patient’s thyroidal needs.
Reduce Stress and Sleep More
Stress is a major disruptor of metabolic function and can lead to weight gain, overeating, and fatigue. This is heightened in thyroid patients as stress can also disrupt hormone activity. Engaging in stress relieving practices such as yoga, meditation, and gardening can help reduce the impact of stress on hormone activity. Sleep deprivation is a primary contributor of stress and can also impede hormone activity, specifically production and conversation of T4 to T3. Poor sleep also triggers the release of hormones that promote cravings and fat storage. Sleeping for at least eight hours per night is an essential component of effective weight loss.
Adopt a Thyroid-Centric Diet
It is common for thyroid patients to be chronic dieters, which can actually impede weight loss. Studies show that chronic dieters typically have a basal metabolic rate 20-40 percent lower than average. Chronic dieting can also disrupt T4 to T3 conversion. Studies show that chronic dieters often have up to a 50% decrease in active T3 levels. This significantly impedes metabolic function and weight loss. An appropriate thyroid diet should focus less on caloric restriction and more on cutting sugars, eliminating processed foods, staying hydrated, and avoiding allergens and inflammatory foods.
- Consider eliminating white bread, pasta, packaged or processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and processed dairy.
- Try to eat more whole foods, organic proteins (chicken, pork etc.), healthy fats, vegetables, and moderate amounts of fruit.
A Healthy Weight is Within Reach
The thyroid is a major component of many bodily functions. Perhaps one of its greatest roles involves weight regulation. Thyroid dysfunction in the form of poor production, conversion, or transport can contribute to greater weight gain and retention. Those suffering from hypothyroidism are unlikely to make much progress in their weight loss goals unless they resolve underlying thyroid issues. Implementing thyroid-supporting activities such as optimizing treatment through effective testing, reducing stress, getting adequate sleep, and following a thyroid-centric diet can positively influence weight regulation. Achieve your weight loss goals by supporting your thyroid.
To learn even more about thyroid function and proper thyroid support, read our Thyroid 101 e-book!
1. How Accurate is TSH Testing? The National Academy of Hypothyroidism. https://www.nahypothyroidism.org/how-accurate-is-tsh-testing/
2. Thyroid Hormone Transport. The National Academy of Hypothyroidism. https://www.nahypothyroidism.org/thyroid-hormone-transport/
3. Living with Hypothyroidism. VeryWell. https://www.verywellhealth.com/living-with-hypothyroidism-3231599
4. Small Differences in Thyroid Function May Be Important for Body Mass Index and the Occurrence of Obesity in the Population. Nils Knudsen, Peter Laurberg, Lone B. Rasmussen, Inge Bülow, Hans Perrild, Lars Ovesen, Torben Jorgensen. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/90/7/4019/2837271
5. Adaptation of energy metabolism of overweight women to low energy intake, studied with whole-body calorimeters. Jo de Boer, AJ van Es, LC Roovers, JM van Raaij and JG Hautvast. https://www.holtorfmed.com/download/thyroid-fatigue-and-weight-loss/Reduced_Metabolic_Rate_with_Dieting.pdf