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Could Your Thyroid be Making You Fat?

If you're experiencing physical changes you can't seem to explain, like weight gain, the answer could be your thyroid. Learn the symptoms to look for and discuss with your doctor.

Lately, it seems like you're exhausted all the time, you've been gaining weight no matter how much you stick to your diet and now you're seeing way too much hair in the shower drain. What's going on? Is it stress, symptoms of menopause or something else?

These are some of the symptoms of a thyroid disorder, something that affects 10 million women every year. A small, butterfly-shaped gland situated near your throat at the base of your neck, your thyroid produces two basic hormones that control your metabolism. When the thyroid malfunctions, a lot of things can go haywire. The two most common thyroid disorders are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, and it’s the hypo-thyroidism that can lead to low energy levels and weight gain.

Hypothyroidism means your thyroid stops making sufficient hormones or becomes underactive. The most common cause in the United States is Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks and damages the thyroid. But there are other causes. For example, in chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia, thyroid function can be altered leading to low thyroid hormone levels.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Symptoms often develop slowly over time, sometimes taking several years to fully manifest. You may start out feeling sluggish and tired and then gradually develop other symptoms including:

  • Weight gain and puffiness
  • Increasing fatigue
  • Unusual sensitivity to cold
  • Muscle weakness
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Excessive menstrual bleeding
  • Depression

Additionally, women with hypothyroidism often have higher levels of LDL, or detrimental cholesterol, increasing their risk of heart disease.

Diagnosing Hypothyroidism
Since symptoms may come on slowly and be intermittent, diagnosis of thyroid disorders is difficult, and quite often missed. Sadly, some doctors are quick to profile women, and may dismiss symptoms of hypothyroidism as simple weight gain, stress and menopausal effects.

If you suspect you may have a thyroid disorder, make a list of your symptoms and insist your doctor perform the required tests. At the very least, a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and free T4 level should be measured. Others may be needed if the results are unclear. Sometimes the lab results may be normal, yet the symptoms appear to be classic for hypothyroidism. This means you may have the controversial condition of "sluggish thyroid," which may progress to overt hypothyroidism over time. Your doctor may recommend a trial of thyroid hormone replacement in this case, but the risks vs. benefits of doing this should be carefully discussed.

Treatment for Hypothyroidism
There are conventional as well as alternative treatments for restoring hormone levels and supporting healthy thyroid function. Conventional treatments consist mainly of thyroid hormone replacement, which may be synthetic or natural. Alternative treatments use a variety of approaches including herbal remedies, dietary supplements, lifestyle changes and special exercises to support thyroid function.

Here are some options to consider, but please understand it depends on your exact situation:

  • Avoid soy and Brasicca vegetables such as cabbage, turnips, broccoli and cauliflower, or cook them well. These can inhibit absorption of iodine from your diet.
  • Ensure that you have six to seven servings of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet.
  • Make sure you're getting at least 150 mcg of iodine in your daily diet. This can be from cold water ocean fish, seaweed, iodized salt or supplements. 
  • Adequate vitamin A, zinc and selenium help support thyroid function.
  • Take a look at your prescription medications. Some fairly common ones like expectorants can influence thyroid metabolism. Check with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • There is some medical evidence that yoga, exercise and Traditional Chinese  Medicine (TCM) herbals may help support healthy thyroid function.

You should discuss the various options with your doctor to determine which is best for your particular condition.



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