If you’ve gained some weight over the years, you may be tempted to attribute it to your thyroid.
However, experts say it is unlikely that your thyroid is the culprit. Instead you should look to the usual suspects: diet, exercise and aging.
When the thyroid (a small gland in the front of your neck) doesn’t produce enough hormones, the condition is called hypothyroidism. This hormonal deficiency can cause many of your body’s functions to slow down, including your metabolism leading to a slight weight gain. About five out of 100 people aged 12 and older have this thyroid dysfunction.
Symptoms can include feeling depressed, fatigued, constipated and feeling cold when others are warm. They often appear slowly and progressively get worse over time, so may get overlooked or attributed to other health issues. A physical exam and a blood test can confirm a diagnosis of hypothyroidism, and determine its cause.
There’s no magic pill
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you might be looking forward to getting treatment and losing weight as a result. While an under active thyroid can be treated with medications that are highly successful at replacing your missing hormones, losing the weight you’ve put on over the years might not be so easy.
According to the American Thyroid Association, “Treatment … with thyroid hormone should result in a return of body weight to what it was before the hypothyroidism developed. However, since hypothyroidism usually develops over a long period of time and it is associated with only a small amount of weight gain, it is fairly common to find that there is no significant weight loss after successful treatment of hypothyroidism. Much of the weight gain due to hypothyroidism is accumulation [of] salt and water. When the hypothyroidism is treated, one can expect a small weight loss (usually less than 10 percent of body weight).”
“Some hypothyroid patients may be disappointed with this minimal weight loss and may be tempted to take a higher dose of their thyroid replacement hormones,” cautions Dr. Rajesh Garg, endocrinologist with the University of Miami Health System. “The side effects of doing so may be more dangerous than a few extra pounds.”
Studies have shown that “once the excess thyroid hormone is stopped, the excess weight loss is usually regained. Furthermore, there may be significant negative consequences … such as the loss of muscle protein, bone loss and heart problems. Pushing the thyroid hormone dose to cause thyroid hormone levels to be elevated is unlikely to significantly change weight and may result in other metabolic problems.”
Losing weight the right way
After your hypothyroidism is under control, you may notice that you feel better than you have in some time. By having more energy and feeling less depressed you are better prepared to tackle weight loss head-on.
Once your hormones are regulated by medication and your metabolism is functioning at a normal rate, Dr. Rajesh Garg suggests healthy changes to your diet and physical exercise to safely and effectively lose the weight gain.
These healthy habits may include reducing your intake of high energy foods, increasing cardio exercises or athletics that raise your heart rate and adding weight training exercises to help build muscle.