Thyroid Health and Weight Gain

scalefootEach year, countless women come to us expressing frustration because they are gaining a few pounds every few month and are unable to stop it. They’ve tried dieting, exercising, and eating healthier—all to no avail.

The answer we give many of these women is that, as it turns out, weight gain isn’t always your fault. The solution may lie in hormones, not calories.

Of course, the first thing to consider when trying to get rid of those excess pounds is to examine your lifestyle and determine if other factors may be causing weight gain. Fatty foods and lack of exercise are good places to start looking.

But if you are experiencing unexplained fluctuations in your weight, which alterations in diet and exercise do not seem to affect, then you may have a thyroid disorder.

What the Thyroid does

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that is responsible for more than its fair share. Hormones secreted by the thyroid help regulate your heart, maintain healthy skin, and support your metabolism, among other things. This last job is where weight gain comes in.

Thyroid Disorders

In addition to unexplained weight loss, an underperforming thyroid — hypothyroidism — can make you have low energy, dry skin, achy joints, and trigger depression.

In contrast, an overperforming thyroid — hyperthyroidism — is known to cause rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), increased appetite, anxiety, tremors, sweating, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and other symptoms.

About 80% of people who suffer from a thyroid disorder have hypothyroidism, and an estimated 14 million Americans are undiagnosed. Women are much more likely to develop hypothyroidism, especially if they are:

  • Pregnant
  • Menopausal
  • Experiencing PMS
  • Chronically stressed

However, men, children, and people over the age of 60 in particular, are also susceptible to disorders of the thyroid.

Hypothyroidism and the Metabolism

One of the most obvious symptoms of reduced thyroid functions is unexplained weight gain. Since the thyroid gland and the metabolism are so intricately linked, when one body system becomes sluggish the other does also.

The metabolism is the amount of energy (calories) your body expends to sustain itself — eating, drinking, sleeping, moving, etc. Basically, anything you do requires energy, and the amount of energy is takes to do it is controlled by the metabolism. Muscles require more energy to maintain than fat, which is why people who are in shape have higher metabolisms than those who aren’t.

However, when a sluggish thyroid gland provides the metabolism with a lower than normal ratio of necessary hormones, the body can be slow to burn off calories. This results in weight gain. Even if you eat the same diet and continue to be active, hypothyroidism can cause you to gain weight.

If you are experiencing unexplained weight fluctuations, then talk to one of our Gainesville endocrinologists about receiving a non-invasive thyroid assessment today.