The Truth About Your Thyroid and Your Weight
Just above your collarbone, a small, butterfly-shaped gland called the thyroid gland makes important hormones that exert a lot of control over many activities of your body. For instance, the rate at which your heart beats and the rate at which you burn calories are controlled by your thyroid. The gland—which like the pituitary and adrenal glands, is an endocrine gland—also controls how much you sweat.
When all works perfectly, you don't pay much attention to this tiny gland. But when if functions erratically, problems ensue—especially with weight. Depending on the disorder, you may experience weight gain, or loss.
Thyroid disorders are very common and affect millions of Americans. There are two main thyroid disorders:
When your thyroid is sluggish, a condition called hypothyroidism, your metabolic rate slows and you don't burn as many calories. Additional symptoms include:
- Feeling cold
- A slow heart rate
- Dry skin
- Low energy
- Possible weight gain
When the gland is overactive, you've got hyperthyroidism (and you are burning calories faster than normal). Symptoms include:
- Feeling hot
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble sleeping
- Possible weight loss
Treating Thyroid Disorders
If a blood test reveals that your thyroid is working too slowly, you'll take a pill each day to regulate the gland, says Mario Skugor, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic. Hypothyroidism is easier to treat than hyperthyroidism, he explains, since it can be controlled by a medication that is simple to take and is exactly what a healthy thyroid would secrete into the bloodstream.
For an overactive thyroid, treatment will depend on the reason for the hyperthyroidism, which ranges from Graves' disease (an autoimmune disease that causes the thyroid to enlarge) to thyroiditis (an inflammation of the thyroid gland). Medicine may be tried first, but in many cases, radioactive iodine is used to destroy the thyroid gland, or it is surgically removed.
Does Treating a Slow Thyroid Help Combat Weight Gain?
"In real life, it's not that simple," Skugor says. If you do have a thyroid condition, he says, you will also have many other symptoms—weight gain is just one of them.
While it's tempting to hope the thyroid is the reason for your weight gain, it's not the first thing doctors look for, Skugor says. Getting older invariably means putting on some unwanted pounds as your metabolism slows down. "Between the ages of 25 and 50, just about everyone gains some weight," Skugor says.
To combat those excess pounds, chances are you'll have to stoke your metabolism the old fashioned way—with plenty of aerobic exercise as well as core-strengthening exercises.
"Thyroid Diseases." MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health.
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