There are lots of things that get blamed for weight gain—and having an underactive thyroid is one of them. Can that be the case for you? Yup. But keep reading, because there’s a lot more to know.
Mini anatomy lesson incoming: Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck. It’s directly associated with metabolism, but much more is involved. Your thyroid gland produces thyroid-stimulating hormones that affect your internal temperature, breathing, heart rate, weight, digestion, and even mood. When your thyroid produces too much or too little of these hormones, health problems can happen, including those related to weight care.
Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid gland produces lower-than-normal levels of thyroid hormones. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder. Thyroiditis, an inflammation of the gland, may also lead to an underactive thyroid.
Research has linked hypothyroidism to weight gain of between 5 to 10 pounds. It’s rare to put on a lot more weight than this, according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), and when it does happen, it may be due to an accumulation of water and salt—not just having an underactive thyroid.
Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include depleted energy levels, weight gain, puffy face, trouble tolerating the cold, constipation, heavy or irregular periods, hair loss, dry skin, brittle nails, fertility problems, difficulty sweating, joint or muscle pain, depression, and also swollen thyroid.
On the other end of the spectrum, hyperthyroidism means the thyroid gland is overactive and pumps out too-high hormone levels. According to the ATA, unintentional weight loss can happen due to a spike in metabolism as a result of those extra thyroid hormones. The condition can also up your appetite. Once treated with medication, your appetite returns to normal.
Some symptoms of hyperthyroidism include fatigue, nervousness or irritability, muscle weakness, trouble tolerating heat and sleeping, tremors, irregular heartbeat, weight loss, mood swings, frequent bowel movements, and a swollen thyroid gland (also called a goiter).
If you think you might have a thyroid condition, talk with your doctor. A combo of thyroid medication and lifestyle changes can help with weight gain linked to hypothyroidism.
So what are those lifestyle changes? A holistic approach that addresses medication, nutrition, movement, sleep, stress management, mood, and social support can benefit those diagnosed with thyroid conditions and help support your thyroid health.
In addition, research suggests that an anti-inflammatory diet high in fruits, veggies and fish, and low in animal-based foods and overly processed items, may benefit those with hypothyroidism due to Hashimoto's disease. (Think lots of whole foods, rich in vitamins and minerals.)
And it’s worth repeating: Reach out to your physician if you suspect thyroid disease. Once treated, the ATA says your likelihood of weight gain or loss is the same as those who don’t have thyroid problems.
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