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Weight gain may be due to thyroid imbalance

Various celebrities have often shared their challenges with low energy and weight maintenance due to thyroid imbalances. While most associate thyroid issues only with weight gain, the thyroid gland manages more than just our metabolism. It helps our bodies combat stress, create and utilize energy, balance body temperature, modulate heart rhythm, regulate digestion, and more. According to the American Thyroid Association, about 20 million Americans are affected by some form of thyroid disease, and 60 percent of them are unaware of it.

THYROID GLAND 101

The thyroid gland coordinates multiple body systems and essentially governs how fast or slow they should move. It is a butterfly-shaped gland situated in the lower part of your throat.

Its process actually starts in the brain when a hormone called Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is released to signal the thyroid to produce its own hormones. This is the hormone that is most commonly tested by doctors as a screening for thyroid issues.

TSH stimulates the thyroid to produce the hormones T4 and T3. Sixty percent of our thyroid hormone is in the form of T4, and with the help of enzymes, it is converted to the super-active T3 hormone. With this activation, your body is better able to turn blood sugar and fat into usable energy by various organ systems.

By having multiple hormones in play, your body is better able to regulate the actions of these hormones. When T3 and T4 levels are high, they will signal the brain to stop producing TSH. When T3 and T4 levels are low, they will signal the brain to secrete more TSH.

With an excess or deficiency of any of these hormones, the signaling mechanisms are imbalanced. Many are easily confused because a high TSH value is correlated with a low or underactive thyroid function (hypothyroidism), and a low TSH is correlated with a high or overactive thyroid function (hyperthyroidism).

LOW THYROID (HYPOTHYROIDISM) SYMPTOMS

  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss and dry skin
  • Blood pressure problems
  • Trouble with concentration (brain fog)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Poor memory
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Infertility
  • Heart palpitations

HIGH THYROID (HYPERTHYROIDISM) SYMPTOMS

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nervousness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Infertility
  • Osteoporosis

TESTING YOUR THYROID

When testing the thyroid, it is important to look beyond the TSH to the T4 and T3 levels because this gives a more holistic picture of your thyroid function. A simple blood test can evaluate thyroid function, but laboratories give an estimated range and not necessarily an optimal range. This information should be considered along with health history, symptoms, and physical exam.

SUPPORTIVE THERAPIES

The most common treatment for underactive thyroid is hormone replacement therapy. This simply gives your body the hormones it may not be building on its own. Most often with hormone replacement therapy, T4 is given alone, but studies show that 5–15 percent of people do not improve on T4 alone. For many patients, I find they do better on a combination of T4 and T3. Even with hormone replacement, there are other natural approaches to supporting healthy thyroid function.

ELEVATE YOUR NUTRITION

The enzymes that help your thyroid to produce the necessary hormones are all nutrient dependent. If your nutrient levels are not optimal, it can stop the enzymes from doing their job. These enzymes work best with minerals like zinc, chromium, selenium, and B vitamins like B12 and folate.

Soy, in part, consists of isoflavones, and this compound can mimic the effects of estrogen. Consuming soy milk, tofu, and tempeh in high quantities can negatively affect thyroid function.

REVISIT YOUR MEDICATIONS

Thyroid health can be affected by medications, including beta-blockers (those that end in –olol), birth control pills, and estrogen replacement therapies.

BLOOD SUGAR BALANCE

If you have elevated insulin levels, prediabetes, or diabetes, you may be at a higher risk of thyroid imbalance. As mentioned, your thyroid gland helps your cells to burn sugar. With elevated insulin levels, your body is more inclined to store sugar as fat rather than appropriately burn it. A low-sugar diet with chromium, an excellent mineral that supports healthy blood sugar balance, can be supportive on many levels.

MANAGE YOUR STRESS

The thyroid, adrenal glands, and ovaries/testes all work in concert. They support each other to combat stress, and when they are optimally functioning, they support metabolism, fertility, mood, digestion, cardiovascular function, and more. It is best to look at hormones as an entire system instead of compartmentalizing these issues. Working with your health care professional can help you put the seemingly unrelated pieces of the puzzle together.

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Thalia Farshchian is a naturopathic doctor at Discover Health. E-mail: drthalia@discoverhealthmd.com