How A Thyroid Problem Leads To Weight Gain

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

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.

How The Thyroid Regulates 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.

An Underactive Thyroid And Weight Gain

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.

Treatment For Hypothyroidism

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.

Tips For Avoiding Weight Gain Due To Thyroid Problems

In addition to medication to treat an underactive thyroid condition, there are other ways to prevent weight gain.

  • Increase fiber filled foods: Eating foods high in fiber helps you feel full fast. If you feel full quickly, you’re likely to eat less, which helps prevent weight gain. Fiber rich foods include whole grain cereals, beans and oatmeal. Most vegetables are also good sources of fiber.
  • Eat lean protein: Eating a little lean protein at most meals can also help control weight gain. Similar to eating fiber rich foods, foods high in protein can help you feel full. Protein also helps build muscle and burn calories. Good choices include turkey, fish, Greek yogurt and eggs.
  • Increase metabolism through exercise: Exercise is one of the best ways to increase metabolism. Not only do you burn calories while you are working out, but metabolism stays higher for a few hours after a workout as your body recovers.
  • Weight train: Adding weight training to your workout routine is an excellent way to increase basic metabolic rate. Muscle burns more calories even at rest. As you increase your muscle mass, you also increase your metabolism.

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.


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