First Some Thyroid 101
Your thyroid gland is the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. It secretes two all-important hormones that control major bodily functions and organs .
But with hypothyroidism, your body can have normal to low thyroxine hormone levels and elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone levels. These high TSH levels are a result of an overworked pituitary gland that is trying to elevate the hormone levels in an inadequately responsive thyroid.
Many things can put you at risk for hypothyroidism, from genetic predispositions to an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis . Fortunately, thyroid screening is a simple blood test, and thyroid trouble can often be fixed with the right prescription.
Keep reading for some of the common symptoms you may experience if an underactive thyroid is behind your weight gain.
Barriers To Weight Loss
It is frustrating to struggle to lose weight or continue to gain weight, even while taking your daily medication. There are five potential barriers that may be making weight loss difficult for you:
- Suboptimal Thyroid Treatment
Most people with hypothyroidism are treated with thyroid hormone replacement medication to restore TSH levels to what is known as reference range. A reference range is a set of values that includes an upper and lower limit of a lab test that are considered normal for a defined healthy population.
When you fall within the TSH reference range, you are euthyroid, which means your thyroid function is considered clinically normal. however, this may not mean it is optimal for you. Many people experience symptoms while in the normal range.
There are a few factors that can affect how well your treatment is working.
The timing of your medication is a key factor, since a number of foods, supplements and drugs interfere with the absorption or action of levothyroxine in the body.
Also, researchers have found that TSH levels in the upper end of the reference range are linked to increased weight and higher rates of obesity. In fact, even small increases in TSH within the normal range are associated with weight gain.
- A Decreased Metabolic Set Point
Why is it that that your friend eats more than you do, doesnt exercise nearly as much, but easily maintains a lower weight? It may be that you have a lower metabolism than she does.
- Other Thyroid Hormones
Weak Achy Or Stiff Muscles And Joints
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weak and aching muscles, joint pain and stiffness, and potentially evencarpal tunnel syndrome. This can make it feel even harder to exercise.
Ask anyone with chronic joint pain: Staying active is a massive struggle.
Although over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can relieve pain, they come with all sorts of side effects. Fortunately, there are many natural ways to reduce hypothyroidism-related joint and muscle swelling so you can get moving again.
Thyroid hormone replacement, thyroid medication , or anti-inflammatory supplements can treat the root causes of joint and muscle swelling.
When your joints and muscles feel good, physical activity and a healthier weight are easier to achieve.
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Surgery For Thyroid Disorders
Removing the thyroid gland can cure hyperthyroidism, but the procedure is only recommended if antithyroid drugs don’t work, or if there is a large goiter. Surgery may also be recommended for patients with thyroid nodules. Once the thyroid is removed, most patients require daily supplements of thyroid hormones to avoid developing hypothyroidism.
Additional Tips To Lose Weight With An Underactive Thyroid
Here are some extra pointers to help you lose weight with an underactive thyroid:
- Prioritise sleep: Alongside poor diet and exercise, short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. Good quality sleep is fundamental for weight loss.
- Thyroid support supplements: Anecdotal reports suggest supplements can give you more energy, at least for the first few months of use. But theyre likely unnecessary if you regularly eat nutritious foods.
- Use smaller plates and small spoons: Studies show the bigger the plate and the bigger the cutlery, the more calories we consume . This proven phenomenon is called the Delbouef illusion.
- Plate your meals first: Instead of putting all the prepared food at the table , plate your meal first and then sit down. You are much less likely to go for a second round.
- Drink lots of water: Keep a water bottle on hand wherever you go. Research suggests the more water we drink before meals, the fewer calories we eat overall .
- Be mindful: Mindful eating is about becoming more aware of your experiences, physical cues and feelings about food. It is based on a form of meditation called mindfulness.
About Joe Leech, Dietitian
Joe Leech is a university-qualified dietitian from Australia.
He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in exercise science, followed by a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2011.
Learn more about him on the About page.
Joe Leech, Dietitian
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Feeling Down Or Depressed
Hypothyroidism is linked to depression. The reasons for this are unclear, but it might be a mental symptom of an overall decrease in energy and health .
64% of women and 57% of men with hypothyroidism report feelings of depression. About the same percentage of men and women also experience anxiety .
In one study, thyroid hormone replacement improved depression in patients with mild hypothyroidism, compared to a placebo .
Another study of young women with mild hypothyroidism showed increased feelings of depression, which were also connected to decreased satisfaction with their sex lives (
Feeling depressed is a good reason to talk to a physician or therapist. They may be able to help you cope, regardless of whether the depression is caused by thyroid problems or something else.
Summary: Hypothyroidism can cause depression and anxiety. These conditions are shown to improve with thyroid hormone replacement.
How The Thyroid Works
Just as the thyroid gland communicates with other organs through the hormone it produces, the pituitary gland in the brain communicates with the thyroid through a hormone it makesthyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH. When the pituitary senses that thyroid hormone levels are too low, it releases more TSH to coax the thyroid into action. When the thyroid is nudged by TSH, it produces thyroid hormonea large proportion of which is thyroxine and a smaller proportion triiodothyronine . The T4 is eventually converted into T3, the active form that is taken up by receptors in body cells.
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Constipation Is A Symptom Of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is a defined as a disorder of the endocrine system wherein the butterfly-shaped gland doesnt produce a sufficient amount of thyroid hormone for proper function.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism vary and they depend on the severity of your condition. Many people dont even know they are hypothyroid because symptoms develop over the years, they dont pop up unexpectedly. Plus, signs of hypothyroidism are similar to those of other conditions thus making it more difficult for people to understand whats going on.
One of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism is constipation. Others include weight gain, fatigue, low libido, abnormal menstrual cycle, memory loss, depression, hair loss, dry and pale skin, dry hair, cold intolerance, muscle cramps, and irritability.
Constipation being a symptom of hypothyroidism isnt the only link between two conditions. Lets inspect this relationship more thoroughly.
Do You Have An Overactive Thyroid
Millions of people have an overactive thyroid gland. Many don’t know it. This condition, known as hyperthyroidism, occurs more often in women than in men. Since the thyroid gland controls the body’s metabolism, an overactive thyroid puts the body into overdrive.
The symptoms of an overactive thyroid can be subtle and suggest any number of other health problems, ranging from a bowel problem to heart disease or a mental health issue. Some of the signs and symptoms of an overactive thyroid include:
- Heat intolerance. A sped-up metabolism leads to an increase in body temperature.
- Exhaustion. A body perpetually in overdrive tires out more quickly.
- Emotional changes. Fatigue coupled with an overstimulated central nervous system can lead to a variety of emotional changes. Anxiety intermixed with depression, as well insomnia or irritability, are not uncommon.
- Perspiration and thirst. As your body temperature rises, your sweat glands tend to overwork, and you feel the need to continually replenish fluids.
- Constant hunger. As your body uses up energy, it tends to cry out for more. Some people have an insatiable appetite.
- Unexplained weight loss. Even though you may eat constantly, you could lose weight, usually between 5 and 10 poundseven more in extreme cases.
- Racing heart. You may notice your heart racing out of the blue. This can occur when you are exerting yourself or when you are relaxing. You may find your pulse is much faster than normal.
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The Thyroid Function Test
As mentioned earlier, the amount of thyroid hormone in the blood is regulated by the pituitary gland. When levels of T4 drop, the pituitary gland responds by increasing the amount of TSH, which in turn stimulates the thyroid to produce more T4.
So an underactive thyroid can either be indicated by a high reading of TSH, or low levels of T4, or both. Standard NHS thyroid function tests measure both of these. Occasionally, T3 is measured but this isnt generally considered necessary.
When it comes to treatment of thyroid deficiency, most doctors are satisfied that giving T4 in the form of levothyroxine sodium is perfectly effective, says Dr Morrison. However, some practitioners argue that T3 is stronger and works more quickly, and recommend it for those few patients who dont appear to respond to T4 alone.
The relative merits of T4 and T3 have been debated and studied, but the view of the NHS is that there is no convincing evidence for the need of T3, rather than T4.
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Vi Increase Your Iodine Intake
Eat seaweed or kelp as they are rich in iodine. If you cannot get these foods, use iodized salt, but make sure you watch the quantity you consume.
The body requires iodine to make thyroid hormone, and therefore, insufficient iodine may consequently cause the thyroid system to malfunction. The thyroid may enlarge and cause goiter or develop underactive thyroid.
If this is the primary cause of your thyroid complications, then you need to include adequate amounts of iodine in your diet. Sea vegetables are a great source of iodine. Other alternatives include eggs, seafood, meat, and dairy.
If the levels of iodine in your body are fair, do not take too much of it, which is possible if you eat seaweed, kelp, kale or spinach.
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Nail Splitting & Hypothyroidism
One other thing you can see here in this image is the splitting at the tips of the nails. This is also very very common in people with a hypothyroid condition.
Look at your fingernails and see if you have these types of findings. If you do, follow up with your doctor and have your thyroid fully evaluated.
Xi Take Note Of Goitrogens
Goitrogens are known to tamper with the proper functioning of the thyroid system. They include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, rutabaga, kohlrabi, kales, spinach, turnips, strawberries, soybeans, radishes, and peanuts.
It does not mean that you should quit these foods for good. Cooking these foods inactivate the goitrogenic. Also, consuming watercress and radishes in small amounts wont affect your thyroid function.
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Can You Be Thin And Have Underactive Thyroid
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Vii Include Ginger In Your Meals
Drink ginger tea or put it into your food as a condiment to improve your thyroid function. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. It contains high levels of potassium, magnesium, and zinc.
It can normalize functions of the thyroid system. To treat hypothyroidism, prepare a gingery broth, put it into your meals or brew it with honey.
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What Are Signs And Symptoms Of Hypothyroidism
Symptoms of hypothyroidism may be subtle such as slowed mental or physical activity, and some people may have no symptoms.
Common symptoms and signs of hypothyroidism may include the following:
- Numbness and tingling and nerve entrapment syndromes
- Blurred vision
Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism can show up in the hands and nails. Hypothyroidism can cause dermatologic findings such as nail infection, vertical white ridges on the nails, nail splitting, brittle nails, slow nail growth, and nails lifting up.
Other signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism may include the following:
- Slowed speech and movements
- Yellowing skin and eyes
- Pale skin
- Decreased systolic blood pressure and increased diastolic blood pressure
- Slow heart rate
- Excess fluid around the heart
- Abdominal distention, fluid in the abdominal cavity
- Pitting edema of lower extremities
- Below normal reflexes with delayed relaxation, loss of coordination, or both
Symptoms that are more specific to Hashimoto thyroiditis include
- feeling of fullness in the throat
- painless thyroid enlargement
Symptoms of myxedema coma include the following:
- Altered mental status
- Nonpitting edema
Lack Of Interest In Romance And Sex
If you notice your urge for sex and romance has gradually diminished, then this may be a sign of underactive thyroid. Underactive thyroid releases small amounts of hormones, and it is the hormones that give you sexual desires.
But, there may be other factors that are connected to underactive thyroids such as body aches, weight gain, fatigue or even external factors such as the weather, games and so forth.
However, if you suddenly lose interest in romance and sex and you cannot explain why, visit your health care provider.
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What Is An Underactive Thyroid
First up, it helps to swot up on what the thyroid is, and what its role is in the body. Essentially, the thyroid is a gland that sits at the front of your neck and straddles the wind pipe. Its primary function is to keep your cells active, which is done by secreting carefully balanced levels of the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine into the blood. Together, T3 and T4 influence the speed at which your cells operate.
“Hypothyroidism is a slow burner it is often misdiagnosed as depression”
If the balance of these hormones goes awry, the thyroid is referred to as being either underactive or overactive . Note, hypothyroidism is different to Hashimotos, when the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland, although the two do often occur together.
Favorite Hypothyroidism Online Support Network
Run by people with hypothyroidism like you, Thyroid Nation is more than simply a thyroid blog. Here, youll learn about thyroid disease management tips, but also connect with peers and comment on their stories. You even have an opportunity to share you own story on the Thyroid Thrivers page. Hypothyroidism can make you feel down, so its important to reach out and socialize you certainly arent alone in your struggles, as the pages Thrivers demonstrate.
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Causes: Pituitary Gland Problems
Thyroid disease may begin in the pituitary gland. The pituitary is located at the base of your brain. It controls the functions of many other glands in the body, including the thyroid. This gland produces TSH, which signals the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones.
If there is a problem with your pituitary and not enough TSH is produced, thyroid problems can result. Inflammation of the thyroid and taking certain medications can also cause low thyroid hormone levels.
Don’t Let Your Thyroid Bring You Down
Just because your thyroid is down doesnt mean you should feel down too. Suffering from hypothyroidism can bring difficulty in living a normal, healthy life. Not only do you have health issues and medications to worry about, you also have to battle with weight gain. Still, there is always hope when you look for it hard enough.
Losing weight may be a lot harder for you, but if you begin to care for yourself, manage your symptoms and acquire the right mindset, weight loss will be a welcome reward.
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