Your Underactive Thyroid and Weight Gain
Hi, I’m Dr. Marie Starling
At The Healing Center Denver, we help people like you reach their full potential by being your Denver Functional Medicine Specialist.
I specialize in adjunctive care for internal disorders, autoimmune conditions, IBS, thyroid symptoms, diabetes, adrenal fatigue and other complex health issues.
Have you noticed sudden weight gain with a decrease in energy and motivation? Do you feel like you’re going through your day in a haze of brain fog witnessing your life rather than experiencing it? You might be suffering from symptoms of thyroid dysfunction. At The Healing Center, Dr. Marie Starling and her functional medicine doctors take a whole body approach to healing thyroid disorders.
The thyroid is like the transmission of a car; it’s responsible for regulating the amount of power mobilizing the cells. Essentially, it controls the metabolism in every cell of the body. And like a transmission, the thyroid can get stuck – in a gear that’s too high or too low. When this happens, an overactive or underactive thyroid completely throws a person off.
Here, we’ll cover the symptoms of hypothyroidism, including weight gain and fatigue, and explain alternative treatment to hypothyroidism.
Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Problems
- Hair loss
- Unexplained weight gain
- Brain fog
- Low libido
- Mood imbalances
- Cold hands and feet
- Muscle and joint pain
- Dry skin and hair
- Ridges in nails
- Constipation or diarrhea
How Does the Thyroid Work?
The hypothalamus, which is located in the brain, produces TRH (thyrotropin releasing hormone). This stimulates the pituitary located at the base of the brain to produce TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Both these pathways require neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine to run. TSH then stimulates the thyroid to make four kinds of thyroid hormones known as T4, FT4 (Free T4), T3, and FT3 (Free T3).About 93% of thyroid hormones made within the body are T4, which is a storage form of thyroid hormone and it cannot act on metabolism. The remaining 7% of hormones made by the thyroid are T3, which is also an inactive form and cannot affect metabolism on its own but is easily converted into Free T3 in the tissue.Free T3, which T4 and T3 must convert to, is the only bioavailable active form of thyroid hormone that binds the receptor and influences metabolism. Free T3 is the catalyst for energy production in every cell and is converted from T4 and T3 primarily in the liver, gut, and peripheral tissue. Issues arise when T4 and T3 do not convert to Free T3.
What Are the Most Common Patterns of Thyroid Problems?
So, what happens when the thyroid is not responding to hormones, not producing the right amount of hormones or those hormones do not convert? We look for patterns of thyroid dysfunction to help us identify if an issue is occurring.
Low production pattern at the level of the thyroid
A test for anti-thyroid antibodies might reveal that the immune system is out-of-wack. The presence of both thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies and anti-thyroglobulin antibodies (TgAb) indicates that the body sees the thyroid tissue as the “enemy” and the immune system is attempting to attack it. These antibodies signal that a person is dealing with autoimmune thyroiditis and a treatment structured around reducing inflammation and addressing autoimmunity would be those most effective approach. If a person is experiencing symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, then she should test for both of these antibodies. Additionally, certain tests may expose a thyroid issue.
- Low TSH (below 1.8 without elevated T4 levels)
- Low iodine
- High chlorine or bromine exposure (replaces iodine and makes ineffective T4)
- Low selenium
- High TSH (levels above 3.0 might indicate that the body is low on thyroid hormones and trying to make more)
Under-production of TSH
When TSH is low at the level of the pituitary we might see a pattern of low serotonin or dopamine neurotransmitters. The levels of these neurotransmitters may show that TSH secretion is being suppressed and the thyroid is not functioning properly.
Brain-based inflammation affecting the hypothalamus
Inflammation is a natural response for the body, but when there’s too much then it causes the blood brain barrier to become more permeable and creates inflammation in the brain. Inflammation in the hypothalamus of the brain could mean the thyroid is causing an inflammatory immune response. Here are several patterns that might indicate inflammation affecting the hypothalamus:
- History of concussion
- Systemic brain inflammation or brain fog
- Antibodies to nervous tissues such as Multiple Sclerosis
Under-conversion of T4 to T3
In functional medicine, we look at the body as a whole. Conventional doctors who identify a thyroid issue may simply prescribe T4, which is most common, or T3. But when hormones aren’t converting adding more into the body ultimately won’t correct the issue. Instead, we have to look at where else conversion of T4 and T3 in the body could be affected.
- T3 and T4 conversion happens in the liver (40%), gut (25%), and peripheral tissue (35%), so issues in any of these areas can impede conversion.
- Elevated estrogen
- Adrenal stress
Hashimoto’s and Hyperthyroidism
Commonly, we see Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that often disguises itself as hypothyroidism. In this scenario, the immune system attacks the tissue of the thyroid. Correspondingly, 97% of people with hypothyroidism actually have Hashimoto’s, but the diagnosis requires an antibody test.Unaware that they have Hashimoto’s, many people falsely blame their symptoms on hypothyroidism.A correct diagnosis for Hashimoto’s opens the door for creating a treatment program that addresses the immune system imbalance and prevents or reverses the progression of the disease.
The Relationship Between Hypothyroidism and Weight Gain
Because the thyroid regulates the metabolic process, the relationship between thyroid activity and body weight is inextricable. People with a sluggish thyroid experience unexplained weight gain and struggle to lose weight. But why does this happen? Because a dysfunctional thyroid starts a domino effect of hormonal issues associated with metabolic regulation.
Why Am I Always Tired?
An underactive thyroid could be the source of your fatigue. Weight gain caused by hypothyroidism is usually accompanied by a feeling of unescapable tiredness. A person might get more than the recommended eight hours of sleep, but after getting themselves ready in the morning, feel debilitating exhaustion.A dysfunctional thyroid throws off the hormonal processes in the body causing extreme fatigue.
Your Thyroid and Depression
Do you find yourself feeling sad for no reason? I addition to weight gain and fatigue, thyroid problems may be the source of a person’s depression. A dysfunctional thyroid disrupts the hormonal process and depression can be indicative of an underactive thyroid.
Natural Cures for Hypothyroidism
The functional medicine approach to healing the thyroid gets to the many roots of the issue and restores function which maximizes the body’s ability to work. According to The Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), “Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership.”Contrariwise to the conventional allopathic approach, which treats the symptoms of disease, functional medicine sees symptoms as clues to their underlying causes and aims to treat the root cause of disease.
Functional medicine doctors know that inflammation is the stimulus for most disease. A host of factors within a person’s control trigger inflammation, such as the food she eats, stress, and environment. Identifying these triggers is essential for preventing and reversing disease.
In functional medicine we assess:
Diet. Lab tests and an elimination diet plus food challenge may show if foods are triggering thyroid problems.
Nutrient deficiency. Healthy thyroid function depends on essential nutrients and low levels of these nutrients may contribute to an underactive thyroid.
Overt and stealth pathogens. An overlooked infection will weaken the immune system and cause inflammation potentially affecting thyroid function.
Environmental toxins. The presence of environmental toxins such as mold, exposure to heavy metals, pesticides, other immune-suppressing pollutants weaken the immune system leaving a person susceptible to infection and inflammation.
Viscous loops of the body. Issues like blood sugar, including hypoglycemia or diabetes, and low hormone levels may cause unnecessary stress on the endocrine system confusing the feedback loop between the adrenals and the pituitary gland.
Nervous system function. A nervous system stuck in high alert will have a negative impact on the parasympathetic nervous system and affect almost all functions of the body. Likewise, dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system and its relationship to hypothyroid issues is significant.