Is Your Thyroid the Reason Why You Can't Lose Weight?

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If you are one of the millions of Americans trying to lose weight—but not succeeding—you may think you're just not exercising enough, or you're eating too many carbohydrates or too much fat, or you need to eat an extremely low-calorie diet. The reality is, some of us can practically stop eating, and exercise around the clock, and we still don't lose weight.

If you complain to your doctor, you may be told you're lazy, you're eating too much, that you need more willpower, or that it's hormones or age.

What they're not telling you, however, is that you might have a thyroid problem—a dysfunction in the small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that is crucial to your metabolism.

While some doctors erroneously dismiss thyroid disease as just another excuse for being overweight, the reality is that for millions of overweight people, thyroid disease is a very real reason behind weight problems.

Recent studies have estimated that as many as 60 million people have an underactive thyroid. The majority of thyroid patients in the U.S. are undiagnosed and untreated. At the same time, more than half of all Americans are overweight.

This brings up a critical question: How many of the undiagnosed thyroid patients are also struggling with weight gain, or an inability to lose weight?

The reality is, many people—women in particular—are struggling with a weight problem but facing more of an uphill battle than everyone else because they are dealing with an underlying and unknown thyroid condition—one that is both undiagnosed and untreated.

Are you one of them?

Could You Be Hypothyroid?

When you are hypothyroid, your thyroid is underactive and is not producing enough thyroid hormone. Your metabolism slows down, as do body processes from digestion to hair growth to thinking.

The following is a list of risk factors, signs, and symptoms of an underactive thyroid:

  • Gender—both men and women can develop thyroid problems, but women are far more likely
  • A personal or family history of thyroid problems
  • A personal or family history of autoimmune disease (i.e., rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, vitiligo, multiple sclerosis, lupus, or other conditions)
  • Former or current smoker
  • Allergies or sensitivity to gluten, or diagnosed celiac disease
  • Exposure to radiation, by living near or downwind from a nuclear plant, or through particular medical treatments (i.e., treatment for Hodgkins disease, nasal radium therapy, radiation to tonsils and neck area), or proximity to the area downwind of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986
  • Treatment with lithium or amiodarone
  • Taking supplemental iodine, kelp, bladderwrack, and/or bugleweed
  • Living in an area (i.e., the Midwestern "Goiter Belt") where there is low iodine in the soil
  • Iodine deficiency
  • Exposure to certain chemicals (i.e., perchlorate, pesticides) via your water, food, or employment
  • Excessive exposure to metals, such as mercury, and toxins such as environmental estrogens and pesticides
  • Excessive exposure to fluoride
  • Overconsumption of soy
  • Overconsumption of raw "goitrogenic" foods—Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, cauliflower, African cassava, millet, cabbage, and kale
  • Age over 60
  • Being in a period of hormonal change, such as pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause, menopause
  • Serious trauma to the neck, such as whiplash from a car accident or a broken neck

If you are having weight problems that don't respond to diet and exercise, discuss this list of risk factors with your doctor to aid in getting proper thyroid testingdiagnosis, and treatment.

The following is a list of possible signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism:

  • Extreme exhaustion and fatigue
  • Depression, moodiness, sadness
  • Sensitivity to cold, cold hands, cold feet
  • Inappropriate weight gain, or difficulty losing weight despite changes in diet and exercise
  • Dry, tangled and/or coarse hair
  • Hair loss, especially from the outer part of the eyebrows
  • Dry and/or brittle nails
  • Muscle and joint pains and aches
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome, or tendonitis in arms and legs
  • Painful soles of the feet (plantar fascitis)
  • Abnormally swollen or puffy face, eyes, arms or legs
  • Abnormally low sex drive
  • Unexplained infertility, or recurrent miscarriages with no obvious explanation
  • Heavier than normal menstrual periods, periods that are longer than before, or that come more frequently
  • Fuzzy thinking, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering
  • Constipation
  • Full or sensitive feeling in the neck, enlargement or lump in the neck
  • Raspy, hoarse voice
  • Heart palpitations
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Worsening allergies, itching, prickly hot skin, rashes, and hives (urticaria)
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Slow pulse
  • Unusually low blood pressure

A Word from Verywell

If you have any risk factors, signs or symptoms of hypothyroidism, your next step should be thorough thyroid testing and clinical evaluation with your health care practitioner.

You may also want to read Losing Weight with Hypothyroidism: How an Underactive Thyroid Can Affect Weight Loss, and check out the Thyroid Diet/Weight Loss Information Center for more guidance and information.

Sources:

Ehrlund A, Mejhert N, Björk C, et al. Transcriptional Dynamics During Human Adipogenesis and its Link to Adipose Morphology and Distribution. Diabetes. 2016 Nov 1. pii: db160631.

Hainer V, Zamrazilová H, Aldhoon Hainerová I. Are the thyroid hormones and thyrotropin associated with cardiometabolic risks and insulin resistance even in euthyroid subjects? Vnitr Lek. 2016 Fall;62(Suppl 3):63-67. Czech.

Iacobellis, G., Cristina Ribaudo, M., Zappaterreno, A., et al. Relationship of thyroid function with body mass index, leptin, insulin sensitivity and adiponectin in euthyroid obese women. Clinical endocrinology, 2005. 62(4), 487-491.

Müller MJ, Enderle J, Bosy-Westphal A. Changes in Energy Expenditure with Weight Gain and Weight Loss in Humans. Curr Obes Rep. 2016 Dec;5(4):413-423.

Thon M, Hosoi T, Ozawa K. Possible Integrative Actions of Leptin and Insulin Signaling in the Hypothalamus Targeting Energy Homeostasis. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2016 Oct 20;7:138.

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