Do you regularly feel tired or fatigued? Do you get brain fog, chills, hair loss and unexplained weight gain? Do you suffer from dry skin and a puffy face?
If so, your thyroid gland could be to blame.
What’s the thyroid gland (and what does it do)?
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the neck. If you put two fingers on either side of your Adam’s apple and swallow, you’ll be able to feel your thyroid gland sliding underneath your fingers.
It may be relatively small, but the thyroid gland plays a huge role in our body, influencing the function of many of the body’s most important organs (including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin).
The thyroid’s job is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormones help the body use energy and stay warm, and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should.
Also known as underactive thyroid disease, hypothyroidism is a common disorder where the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a form of thyroid inflammation caused by your own immune system.
When thyroid hormone levels are too low, the body’s cells can’t get enough and its processes start slowing down.
This can lead to a wide variety of symptoms, such as:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Heavier than normal (or irregular) menstrual periods
- Muscle aches, tenderness or stiffness
- Impaired memory
It can be easy to miss the symptoms of hypothyroidism (or simply write them off as signs that you’re getting old). However, if you start exhibiting any or a combination of the above symptoms, you may want to visit a doctor and see if hypothyroidism might be the cause.
(You can also do a simple neck check self-exam to help you with early detection.)
*Left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to a number of health problems such as goiter, an increased risk of heart disease, myxedema, infertility and mental health issues. It’s always best to seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
Hypothyroidism and Weight Gain
Your metabolism, weight and thyroid have a pretty complicated relationship.
Kelly Austin, a naturopathic doctor specializing in hormone disorders, explains: “It’s difficult for someone with hypothyroidism to lose or maintain a healthy weight because T3, the active thyroid hormone, is low.”
T3 is a powerful hormone that regulates the body’s metabolism. When this hormone is low, metabolism starts to slow down, causing the body to store more calories as fat – which leads to weight gain.
Hypothyroidism can also make a person feel tired and achy – meaning that moving around and exercising is often the last thing on their mind. This lack of activity may reduce their metabolism even further, and cause people to overeat to fight the fatigue – which just makes them pack on even more pounds over time.
How To Manage Hypothyroidism Naturally
If you are a thyroid patient trying to lose weight, you may have noticed that it can be a challenge. The good news: with proper treatment and some simple lifestyle and dietary changes, dealing with hypothyroid weight gain isn’t impossible.
“Losing weight is never easy,” says endocrinologist Leonor Corsino, MD, “but people who have their hypothyroidism well-controlled shouldn’t struggle to lose weight more than anyone else.”
Here are some simple strategies to help you manage your hypothyroidism and boost your chances of weight loss success:
1. Manage your stress
Stress is one of the major factors for hypothyroidism. It can slow down your metabolism and cause stress-related adrenal imbalance, leading to weight gain.
Do what you can to support your body and thyroid health by reducing and managing your stress levels. For instance, you could take some time each day to meditate or relax, work on hobbies, do deep breathing exercises or simply be outside.
2. Exercise regularly
Exercise helps increase your metabolism and burn calories, prevents excess weight gain and boosts your energy levels. According to the Neuroendocrinology Letters, it also increases blood flow and stimulates the thyroid hormone (especially at higher intensity levels of exercise).
Most fitness experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. You could try working out with online exercise videos, do some yoga or aerobics, or go for a walk at a nearby park. If you’re not used to exercising, start slow and work your way up.
3. Eat a balanced diet
For those with hypothyroidism, it’s important to have balanced, healthy meals at regular intervals to help lose weight. Gregory B. Dodell, MD, an endocrinologist in New York City, says that you can bolster thyroid function with a well-balanced diet that includes lots of produce and protein, among other healthy foods.
Some hypothyroidism-friendly foods which you should include more of in your diet are fatty fish, coconut oil, whole grains, fruit and vegetables.
On the flip side, you’ll want to avoid or eat less of certain foods which aren’t recommended for those with thyroid conditions – such as soy, gluten, dairy, fatty and fried foods, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods.
4. Avoid fad diets
It can be tempting to hop aboard the diet-go-round, but those who suffer from hypothyroidism should stay away from fad diets, which can cause “yo-yo” weight fluctuations and throw off your metabolic rate.
While these diet trends may temporarily help you to quickly shed some excess pounds, you’ll most likely gain it all back (and maybe more) once you start eating regularly again.
5. Get more selenium
Selenium is a nutrient which is crucial for the function and overall health of your thyroid. It plays a key role in distributing and regulating the correct amount of thyroid hormones in your tissues, blood and thyroid gland.
Selenium is also a necessary component of the enzymes that remove iodine molecules from T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone), helping to convert it into T3. Additionally, it’s well-known for its antioxidant properties, which protect the thyroid gland’s tissues from oxidative stress.
Your body does not produce selenium naturally – it must be obtained through food or supplements. Some excellent sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, shellfish, oysters, mussels, shrimps, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and halibut.
6. Get sufficient sleep
While sufficient sleep is important for anyone attempting to lose weight, it is particularly vital for those who suffer from hypothyroidism. Sleep deprivation affects hormones that control appetite (in particular, cravings for simple carbohydrates and junk food). It also reduces levels of the hormone glucagon, which helps release fat from your cells – the less sleep you get, the less fat is released.
So make sure that you allow yourself to get at least 7-9 hours of uninterrupted rest each night. Try setting an earlier bedtime, creating an environment that is conducive to sleep, and taking helpful supplements like Magnesium or LUNA Natural Sleep Aid.
7. Support your liver
Hypothyroidism can mess with liver function, and fewer thyroid hormones become active.
Support your liver with an anti-inflammatory diet, liver-supporting foods and supplements, such as Super Algae and milk thistle.