The thyroid is an endocrine gland, which produces essential hormones. The hormones secreted by the thyroid help keep the body functioning properly. For instance, thyroid hormones play a role in regulating bone growth and body heat. The hormones also help regulate metabolism. In some cases, problems can develop with the thyroid, which can lead to various symptoms including weight gain. Although a thyroid problem can lead to weight gain, there things you can do to maintain a healthy weight.
The thyroid is a small gland located in the front of your neck. Although the gland is small, it is responsible for keeping all the tissues, cells and organs of the body functioning correctly. The hormones secreted by the thyroid also control the rate at which cells use nutrients for energy. This process is known as metabolism.
The thyroid hormones control basic metabolic rate, which is the amount of energy you need to maintain basic body functions at rest. Those functions include breathing, brain function, maintaining body temperature and cell growth.
Usually, the thyroid secretes the right balance of hormones to keep your metabolism working efficiently, which helps regulate weight. In some cases, problems develop with the thyroid and hormones levels get out of whack. When excess thyroid hormones are produced, the condition is known as an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism. When the opposite happens, the thyroid is considered underactive, and not enough hormones are produced.
Typically, a thyroid problem that leads to weight gain is due to an underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism. According to the University of Colorado Hospital, Hashimoto’s Disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s Disease causes damage to the thyroid, which decreases the production of hormones including triiodothyronine and thyroxine. The thyroid can also become damaged due to thyroid surgery or from a side effect of certain medications.
When the thyroid is damaged, and hormone production is decreased, your metabolic rate can decrease. This means you burn calories at a slower rate. If calorie intake is not decreased, weight gain will often occur. The amount of weight gain will vary depending on the severity of the hypothyroidism. Some people only have mild decreases in hormone production, while others can have a significant decrease. Although weight gain is often a symptom of an underactive thyroid, excessive weight gain does not usually occur, according to the American Thyroid Association.
It is also important to understand, not all weight gain associated with an underactive thyroid is only due to an increase in body fat. All body functions are affected when the thyroid is not functioning properly, which can also lead to salt and fluid retention. Some added weight is often water weight.
The usual treatment for an underactive thyroid is medication. Most people with hypothyroidism are prescribed levothyroxine, which is a synthetic thyroid hormone. The medication takes the place of naturally occurs thyroid hormones. The medication is taken orally and is usually needed lifelong. According to the Mayo Clinic, weight gain due to hypothyroidism may be reduced after the medication starts working.
The dosage of medication may need to be adjusted periodically based on thyroid stimulating hormone produced by the body. Medication will also need to be adjusted if side effects, such as insomnia, heart palpations or increased appetite develop.
In addition to medication to treat an underactive thyroid condition, there are other ways to prevent weight gain.
It’s clear there is a connection between an underactive thyroid and weight gain. Although weight gain attributed to hypothyroidism is usually not massive, watching the numbers on the scale increase can still be distressing. Recognizing symptoms and getting proper treatment as soon as possible will likely minimize weight gain associated with an underactive thyroid. Additionally, living a health lifestyle, which includes eating lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein along with exercise, also helps decrease weight gain.