If you’re cutting back on calories, working out and still having trouble losing weight, chances are your thyroid’s to blame. This little gland, located just below the Adam’s apple, plays a huge role in your body’s hormones, your metabolism and, yep, you got it, your weight.
Now there are two types of thyroid issues you can have: Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. A sluggish metabolism and difficulty losing weight typically points to the former, so let’s cover that today. Stay tuned for a post on hyperthyroidism later on down the line.
What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism, put simply, is an underactive thyroid. It is marked by low thyroid levels (particularly of T4, the primary hormone secreted by the gland.)
When low thyroid function is present, it upsets the delicate balance of hormones in your body, causing a slew of unwanted symptoms like heart disease, infertility, joint pain and weight gain. Fortunately, these symptoms (and the root cause of them) are not difficult to get under control. Doctors usually recommend a few dietary changes and a daily prescription to manage the disease.
Diagnosis is easy, too. In most cases, people already have a sneaking suspicion an issue is at work – especially if they’ve attempted to lose weight or have gained significant amounts without much change in lifestyle. Doctors can usually confirm with a simple blood test done on site.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
Though the description of the disease is fairly clear-cut, exactly what causes hypothyroidism is not. In fact, there can be any number of reasons a person could develop (or even be born with) a sluggish, underactive thyroid. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to determine exactly which one reason is to blame.
Typically, hypothyroidism is caused by one or more of the following issues:
- An autoimmune disease – People who have autoimmune disorders – wherein their bodies attack their own tissues and cells – are much more at risk for hypothyroidism than others. Common autoimmune disease include rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and lupus. If you haven’t been diagnosed with an autoimmune issue, you probably don’t have to worry about this one, but typically symptoms include Inflammation, allergies, rashes and regular illnesses.
- Congenital defect – Some children are simply born with a poorly functioning – or even non-existent – thyroid gland. This may be due to genetics, or it could be because of development issues within the womb. To prevent this from becoming an issue after birth, most states require thyroid screening on all newborns.
- Treatments / surgery to thyroid – Undergoing treatment for hyperthyroidism or having thyroid surgery can both interrupt hormone production and cause a sluggish thyroid. This is only a risk if you’ve been diagnosed (and treated for) a hyperactive thyroid or you’ve had cancer or some other disease of the thyroid gland.
- Iodine deficiency – The mineral iodine plays a huge role in your thyroid’s ability to function. This mineral is found in seafood, seaweed and in many types of table salt. If you have too little iodine, it can make your thyroid overactive. If you have too much, it can easily lead to hypothyroidism in no time.
- Certain medications – Some medications can adversely affect your thyroid, causes it to slow down its secretion and offset your hormonal balance. Lithium, which is commonly used to treat anxiety and psychiatric issues, is one such medication. Many say birth control pills can also have the same effect.
- Pregnancy – The hormonal changes during pregnancy often lead to hypothyroidism – an issue that can carry on even after childbirth. We’ll talk more about this issue later on in this post.
These are the most common causes of hypothyroidism, but in the rare case, a pituitary gland problem can be to blame. This is typically because of a benign tumor somewhere on the gland.
Worried you might have hypothyroidism after reading all that? While nothing can confirm it except a blood test and a consult with your doctor, there are a few common red flags you can look for that might indicate an issue.
Check out the common symptoms (by gender) below, and see if you need to make an appointment with your family doctor today.
Hypothyroidism Symptoms in Women
- Sadness and depression – Your hormones are closely tied to your mood, so if you’re feeling blue and in the dumps often, it could be a sign of a thyroid problem at work.
- Constipation – It might sounds random, but when your thyroid is slow, it also slows down your digestion, causing constipation, gas and stomach issues.
- Lethargy – Tired all the time? Just can’t pull yourself out of bed, even after 10 hours of sleep? This is a sure-fire sign of a sluggish thyroid.
- Sudden weight gain – You should never gain weight if you haven’t changed your eating, exercise or lifestyle habits at all. If you do, consider it a red flag, and get checked out by your doc ASAP.
- Heart palpitations – Ever feel a little flutter in your chest? It’s not just pre-date butterflies. It could be imbalanced hormones and a sluggish thyroid to blame.
- Hair loss and brittle nails – It’s one thing to have dry hair and brittle nails in the dead of winter, but all year long? That’s likely an underactive thyroid. Dry, itchy skin is also a major sign.
- Low libido – Many studies link a low sexual drive to hypothyroidism, too, so if you’re not feeling frisky in the bedroom anymore, you may want to have your hormones checked out – and stat.
- Forgetfulness – Having trouble remembering things? Focusing? Concentrating on a task? This are telltale signs of hypothyroidism (and they’re probably pretty frustrating, too!)
- Heavy or abnormal periods – Menstrual periods are a result of the fluctuating hormones throughout a woman’s cycle. When those are off, it can cause long periods, increased cramps and pain, and even halt periods altogether. The thyroid may be just one of the issues at work.
Hypothyroidism Symptoms in Men
- High blood pressure – High blood pressure can be a big indicator of a thyroid issue, especially if it doesn’t get better with medication, dietary changes or exercise. High cholesterol can also be a sign.
- Pain in the neck (literally!) – Having pain in the front of your neck or a lump in your throat? Since this is where your thyroid is, there’s a good chance it’s to blame for your discomfort.
- Changes in taste and smell – Suddenly hate avocados when you used to love them? Can’t stand the smell of bananas? Big changes in taste and smell are often signals of an underactive thyroid, and you’ll want to get them checked out.
- Muscle pain – If you’re feeling pain or soreness for no apparent reason, your hormones may be to blame. Numbness and muscle tightening are also red flags.
- Hoarseness – Have a hoarse voice? Don’t sound the same as you used to? Your thyroid could be impacting your vocal chords. A blood test and a physical evaluation can confirm.
- Thinning hair – In addition to hair loss, thinning hair is usually a sign of a thyroid issue, too. If you’re young, healthy and not graying, thinning hair should never be a problem!
It’s important to note that if hypothyroidism isn’t treated promptly, these symptoms will become more prevalent and severe. While you might only have one or two now, in a few years, you could be riddled with five, 10 or even all of them. If you suspect you may be suffering from an underactive thyroid, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.
The primary hypothyroidism treatment prescribed by doctors is a medication called Levothyroxine – a synthetic thyroid hormone that essentially makes up for the hormones your body doesn’t naturally secrete itself. Usually this medication is sold as Levothroid or Synthroid.
These medications are simply a once-a-day pill, usually in very small doses. Most people report seeing the effects within just one to two weeks. They feel less fatigued, have lower blood pressure and even have an easier time losing weight.
In addition to Levothyroxine, there are also a number of natural remedies for hypothyroidism. Some of these include meditation, stress reduction and sometimes, even consuming extracts from the thyroid glands of pigs. But the most popular hypothyroidism natural treatment option? That’d be a dietary change. Keep reading to learn more about what a hypothyroidism diet should entail.
One of the best natural remedies for hypothyroidism is simply a dietary change. Specifically, you’ll want to avoid anything particularly salty or high in iodine, as too much of this mineral can cause your thyroid to be sluggish. Other problematic foods include soy (soybeans, soy milk, soy by-products), gluten, bad fats (coconut and olive oil are OK!), excess sugar and caffeine.
What to eat? Your best bet with hypothyroidism is to up your protein intake, as this helps transport your thyroid hormones properly throughout the body. Nuts, lean chicken and turkey, eggs, fish and quinoa are all great protein-filled options.
You also want to focus on getting plenty of nutrients, particularly vitamin D, iron, omega-3s, zinc, B vitamins and selenium. To do this, simply work more fresh fruits and veggies into your diet on a daily basis. You can even start juicing, creating nutritious, delicious smoothies to drink with breakfast and lunch. (Check out my free eBook on Juicing Yourself Thin for help!)
How to Lose Weight with Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism and weight loss might sound counterintuitive, but it actually is possible to slim down with a sluggish thyroid. It just takes a little bit more effort. First, you need to see your doctor to confirm a hypothyroidism diagnosis. They will likely put you on Levothyroxine, which will help regulate your hormones and get your body back in balance. It will also help put you in a good place to jumpstart your weight loss.
Next, you’ll need to make dietary changes and work in daily exercise just like anyone else looking to lose weight would. Make sure you keep in mind your body’s specific differences though, and don’t do anything that could disrupt your hormones or make your thyroid issues worse. Remember, stress releases hormones, so doing anything too strenuous or out of the ordinary at the gym could upset your body’s delicate balance. Try to gradually work up to more high-impact activities, and let your body naturally adjust to the changes.
For more help losing weight with hypothyroidism, be sure to download my free eBook, “How to Lose Weight in 5 Days.”
Hypothyroidism and Pregnancy
Hypothyroidism is unhealthy for anyone, but it’s particularly dangerous during pregnancy. You see, hypothyroidism in pregnancy doesn’t just impact the soon-to-be-mother; it also puts the unborn child at increased risk, too, and it’s important you take action to prevent it, treat it and prepare for it as best you can.
Hypothyroidism actually increases the chances of miscarriage, low birth weight and pre-term birth, and it can even lead to learning disabilities later on life. But why is it so dangerous during pregnancy? Well, think of it like this: If a woman has hypothyroidism, she already has issues with hormonal balance. Once she gets pregnant, her body is flooded with even more hormones – throwing her levels more out of whack and, many times, slowing down her thyroid function even more.
Fortunately, thyroid medications like Levothyroxine are perfectly safe to take during pregnancy, and they can help to regulate a woman’s hormones during this important time. It’s also crucial that doctors monitor a woman’s thyroid levels throughout the pregnancy, so medications can be adjusted as changes occur. If these steps are taken, hypothyroidism can be completely controlled during all three trimesters, and no adverse effects will come of it.
Remember to share this article with all your friends and family, so that they can also learn all they need to know about hypothyroidism and how to treat it naturally.
Together we can make this world a happier, healthier world!