At the base of the neck lies a tiny, two-inch gland that plays a huge role in the function of your heart, brain, liver, kidney and skin. This is your thyroid―one of the most important glands in your body, and, when it malfunctions, you may experience numerous symptoms that can be serious but easily misidentified, leading to improper treatments and even more problems.
One common (and vexing!) problem that can arise from ongoing thyroid dysfunction is persistent difficulty in managing to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
An Overview of Thyroid Dysfunction
As many as 30 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disease, with some forms being considered an autoimmune disorder.
If your thyroid is not functioning properly, it can create too little thyroid hormone, which causes the body’s systems to slow down (hypothyroidism). On the other hand, it can produce too much thyroid hormone, which causes the body’s systems to speed up (hyperthyroidism).
A malfunctioning thyroid may lead to a number of thyroid diseases that can be very serious. These include Graves’ disease, which is triggered by a process in the body’s immune system that normally protects us from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. In Graves’ disease, thyrotropin receptor antibodies energize the cells, pushing them into overdrive. The antibodies bind to receptors in thyroid cells, which overproduce hormones, causing hyperthyroidism.
People with excessive thyroid hormone production may experience a racing heartbeat, hand tremors, trouble sleeping, weight loss, muscle weakness, neuropsychiatric symptoms and heat intolerance.
In hyperthyroid patients, antithyroid drugs can be used to temporarily decrease the levels of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), the two hormones produced by the thyroid. This approach may be used as an initial treatment for up to two years to see if it resolves the condition. It is also used short-term with Graves’ hyperthyroidism patients undergoing thyroid surgery or radioiodine. These drugs are also used to treat hyperthyroidism in pregnant women.
Graves’ disease predominantly strikes women, as does Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis), an autoimmune disorder that unleashes antibodies against the thyroid, causing chronic inflammation. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can be insidious, as it manifests no unique symptoms. Over time, if it remains untreated, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can produce a goiter, or enlarged thyroid gland, followed by symptoms associated with hypothyroidism. It is also a common culprit behind weight gain.
There are a number of risk factors for thyroid disease. They encompass:
- Other autoimmune disorders
- Radiation treatment around the thyroid area
- Family history
- Hormonal changes
- Being female (most thyroid conditions happen to women
Common Symptoms of Thyroid Dysfunction
Some symptoms of hyperthyroidism include nervousness; irritability; increased sweating; racing heart; hand tremors; anxiety; difficulty sleeping; thinning skin; fine, brittle hair; and muscle weakness—especially in the upper arms and thighs. Menstrual flow may lighten for women and menstrual periods may occur less often.
Younger people with hyperthyroidism may appear to be thin, often scrawny, and have a lot of energy―always on the go. However, as they age, the increased metabolic rate takes a toll on the body, and older people with hyperthyroidism appear to be tired all the time.
More likely though, as humans age, especially women, they suffer from hypothyroidism, which is basically the opposite of hyperthyroidism. Those with an underfunctioning thyroid gain weight more easily and it’s harder for them to take it off. Even those eating a balanced and healthy diet find they still put on weight. Those extra pounds not only slow them down―they may have serious health consequences.
According to the Mayo Clinic, early symptoms of hypothyroidism may go unnoticed, particularly weight gain and fatigue. But as you continue to age and experience a slower metabolism, you may notice:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Muscle aches
- Tenderness and stiffness
- General pain
- Stiffness or swelling in your joints
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Depression and impaired memory
Does Your Thyroid Contribute to Weight Gain?
The relationship between body weight, thyroid disease, and metabolic rate is complex and determines the amount of oxygen your body uses over a specific amount of time. Your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is taken while your body is at rest.
This number tells you how many calories your body burns daily just to keep all systems running when you aren’t doing anything other than being perfectly still. Just keeping you alive (i.e., breathing, your heart pumping blood, your organs and your glands doing their work, etc.) uses around 75 percent of the calories you consume. Everything you do beyond that bare minimum burns more calories, even the routine things—i.e., getting out of bed, making breakfast, going to work. Add recreational activities, exercise, work, etc. and you burn more calories.
As we well know, if you eat more calories than your body needs, you will gain weight. And that’s for healthy people with normal thyroid function. Patients whose thyroid glands are not producing enough hormones—those with hypothyroidism—have low BMRs, and those with overactive thyroid glands, or hyperthyroidism, have high BMRs. While most physicians no longer use BMR to diagnose a thyroid problem, your basal metabolic rate can be part of determining why you are experiencing weight gain or you are losing weight.
If your thyroid is underactive, and if you don’t get it treated or don’t get it treated correctly, weight loss can be almost impossible, despite diet and exercise.
Because hypothyroidism can also make you tired, achy, and less likely to exercise, weight gain is even more probable. And, when you’re tired and stressed out, your body craves more sugary foods and carbs, which also contribute to weight gain. If hypothyroidism isn’t treated quickly and properly, it can become a vicious cycle. While hypothyroidism itself may contribute to a weight gain of 10 or 20 pounds, the life-altering effects of a malfunctioning thyroid can double or even triple that amount.
When Thyroid Dysfunction Leads to Excessive Weight Loss
When a thyroid is overactive, an individual’s BMR increases. That means the person is likely to lose an unhealthy amount of weight if he or she doesn’t increase calorie consumption. Rapid or excessive weight loss puts increased demands on the body and its organs and glands. People who lose too much weight often experience gallstones and are at risk for dehydration, malnutrition and electrolyte imbalances.
Other side effects of rapid and excessive weight loss include:
- Menstrual irregularities
- Hair loss
- Muscle loss
Diagnosis and Treatment of Thyroid Dysfunction
While all this sounds difficult, the good news is, a simple blood test can determine if your thyroid is causing the discomfort that is plaguing your daily life. Blood is drawn to test for levels of thyroid stimulating hormones, or TSH, which are produced by the pituitary gland. TSH tells the thyroid how much thyroxine (T3) and triiodothyronine (T4) to produce. Those two hormones in the proper amounts are essential to regulate and maintain the body’s metabolic rate, heart and digestive functions, muscle control, brain function and bone development.
If the blood test shows a high level of TSH, it usually means the thyroid is not making enough T3 and T4. If it shows a low TSH level, the thyroid may be producing too much of the two hormones.
“Burning out” is a typical treatment for hyperthyroidism. It includes a radioactive iodine pill and potentially an antithyroid medication. While radioactive treatment can stop hyperthyroidism, it also impairs the thyroid’s ability to produce enough hormones, resulting in hypothyroidism, which is often treated with daily intake of replacement thyroid hormones. The generic name for this medication is levothyroxine. You may know it as Synthroid, Levoxyl, and Tirosint.
Finding Support With BodyLogicMD Hormone Replacement Therapy
There is no cookie-cutter dosage or treatment plan when it comes to thyroid hormone replacement therapy. How the body absorbs the hormones varies, along with the amount of hormones needed to help the body function properly. Your treatment plan needs to be designed for you as an individual.
That’s where BodyLogicMD can help you. Taking care of your thyroid and adjusting thyroid function is more than just taking a daily medication. It’s also about regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Within the BodyLogicMD network, doctors take an approach to treating thyroid disorders that is more thorough than is common in traditional medicine. Your physician will review all test results and consider all options to help you maintain optimal hormone levels
Comprehensive lab testing is the beginning of the process with a BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner. This testing looks at the levels of your thyroid antibodies, as well as TSH, T3, and T4 levels. A full lifestyle review is also part of the process. This information helps your physician craft a hormone therapy treatment plan specific to your needs. Nutrition and lifestyle recommendations can also be tailored precisely to your history and needs.
In addition to traditional treatments, thyroid disorder treatments may include iodine supplements, thyroid hormones, and even desiccated thyroid hormone from animals. But there’s more. You will also receive guidance on diet and exercise. You may learn how to alleviate stress. You may receive recommendations for nutritional supplements that pave the way toward vastly improved overall health and help avoid chronic disease.
The expert physicians of BodyLogicMD take a comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment of thyroid conditions and other hormonal conditions, which can be complex. For example, not only your thyroid hormones are in play. For example, estrogen and progesterone imbalances are common in women with thyroid problems. Your BodyLogicMD physician, who is highly trained in natural hormone therapy, can prescribe a customized bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) program to restore all your hormones to ideal balance and help you lose weight, if needed.
It is important to note that, whatever healthcare route you choose, any thyroid treatment needs to be done under the supervision of a physician. It’s vital to understand that failure to treat your condition appropriately can lead to serious health consequences.
The health professionals at BodyLogicMD have one goal in mind―to give you the care and knowledge you need to live a better, more fulfilling and healthier life.