Thyroid and Obesity: Lesser Known Facts
Dr. Geeta Aurangabadkar

Dr. Geeta Aurangabadkar

Mar 20Thyroid

Thyroid and Obesity: Lesser Known Facts

What is the function of Thyroid glands?

The thyroid gland is located at the front of the neck just below the larynx. It is butterfly-shaped and consists of two lobes located either side of the windpipe (trachea). A normal thyroid gland is not usually outwardly visible or able to be felt if finger pressure is applied to the neck.

The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body's metabolic rate, control heart, muscle and digestive function, brain development and bone maintenance. Its correct functioning depends on a good supply of iodine from the diet. Cells producing thyroid hormones are very specialised in extracting and absorbing iodine from the blood and make it into the thyroid hormones called T4 and T3.

Normally, the thyroid gland produces the exact amount of hormones needed to keep your body’s metabolism running and in balance. The hormones secreted by the pituitary gland, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) stay constant in your blood circulation, but their levels may increase or decrease when T4 levels in the blood are changing. This hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid feedback loop keeps the levels of T4 in your blood stable and reacts to small changes immediately. T4 is one of the 2 major hormones produced by the thyroid gland.

The amount of Thyroid hormone production is controlled by a master control hormone called TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). TSH comes from a special gland called pituitary in your brain. The pituitary gland senses the level of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream, just as the thermostat in your living room senses the temperature. When the thyroid hormone levels are low for some reason, the ‘thermostat’ senses this and the pituitary starts producing more TSH in order to stimulate thyroid to make more T4.

However, there are several disorders associated with the thyroid gland with most problems concerning the production of thyroid hormones. Either the thyroid gland produces too much hormone (called hyperthyroidism) or your thyroid doesn't produce enough hormone (called hypothyroidism), resulting in your body using energy faster or slower than it should.

If left untreated, it can lead to obesity, infertility, joint pain and heart diseases.

Causes of Hypothyroidism

  • Family history/Genetically transmitted
  • Thyroid gland producing lesser/more hormones than necessary
  • Iodine deficiency
  • Age-related
  • Unhealthy lifestyle

It has been found that women are more prone to hypothyroidism. If you have a family history of hypothyroidism, then, you are highly likely to have it.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Symptoms for hypothyroidism include :

  • Weight gain
  • Slower heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent and stronger menstrual periods
  • Forgetfulness
  • Dry skin and hair loss
  • Hoarse voice
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Puffy face
  • Depression
  • Elevates blood cholesterol level
  • Besides, hypothyroidism is often accompanied by an enlargement of the thyroid gland known as goitre.
  • Treatment

Hypothyroid is diagnosed following a blood test that checks the level of TSH, T3 and T4. Standard treatment for hypothyroidism involves daily use of the synthetic thyroid hormone(Levothyroxine). This oral medication restores adequate hormone levels, reversing the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. If the case is severe, surgery may be required to remove the dysfunctional thyroid glands.

You will start to feel better soon after you start treatment. The medication gradually lowers cholesterol levels elevated by the disease and may reverse any weight gain. The treatment with thyroxine tablets is usually lifelong. Regular visits to the doctor is required to keep a tab on your thyroid level. Bi-montly check ups will help the doctor determine your treatment. Your dosage will be decreased or increased as per your TSH report.

The relation between Hypothyroidism and Obesity

It has been observed that people with hypothyroidism gain weight. Weight gain and fatigue are the usual symptoms for diagnosing hypothyroidism. Studies have shown that a significant amount of weight loss is not observed in people after the intake of thyroxine hormones. Contrary to popular belief, ”treatment of hypothyroidism results in only modest weight loss and that too not necessarily in all patients.”

Obesity is one of the primary reasons for hypothyroidism. Leptin, the satiety hormone that tells the brain when to stop eating is very high in obese people. This makes them prone to acquire hypothyroidism.

This shows that hypothyroidism was never the cause of obesity, but rather it was an effect of obesity. The fat deposition in your body slows down the metabolism rate, making the thyroid gland unable to produce the required amount. Without proper control of your diet and lifestyle, an obese person with hypothyroidism cannot get back in shape. The thyroxine supplements do help, but its effects are minimum.

Is Hypothyroidism reversible with weight loss?

An obese person who has hypothyroidism gets more obese. The real culprit that needs to be tackled here is obesity. Hypothyroidism is a reversible disease just like diabetes. Thyroid function can revert to normal after weight loss induced either by bariatric surgery or by a balanced diet.

The key is to stick to proper diets, exercise regimes and intake of thyroxine tablets. As you lose the extra calories, the thyroid function will revert to normal.

Bottom Line

To blame hypothyroidism for our weight gain is not enough. We need to understand that obesity can be the reason for hypothyroidism. By following the below regime, we can battle obesity and hypothyroidism with a single stone :

  • Set realistic weight loss goals
  • Check your thyroid levels every 2 months
  • Seek the help of a dietitian
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Trim your unhealthy lifestyle
  • Practise breathing and meditation
  • Eat on time
  • Avoid stress eating
  • Take thyroxine tablets as per your prescription

Hypothyroidism is manageable with proper care. This information is for general awareness. Please contact your doctor if you feel you have hypothyroidism and get the correct treatment. Avoid self-medication and self -diagnosis.

Disclaimer : This information is provided for educational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare practitioners before undertaking any changes in your diet or adding supplements.

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