An under-active thyroid causes all sorts of symptoms, including unexplained weight gain. With this condition, otherwise known as hypothyroidism, weight loss becomes nearly impossible. If you’re not losing any weight despite major efforts, check out the health of your thyroid gland.
What Does Your Thyroid Gland Do?
Located in the front lower part of your neck, the thyroid is an integral part of your endocrine system. Your endocrine system is the collection of hormone-producing glands located throughout your body. It regulates metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep and mood. Problems arise with your thyroid gland due to under, and over-activity of thyroid hormones. The functioning of this gland primarily affects your weight, energy levels, mood and state of mind.
The thyroid gland produces and secretes two main hormones into the bloodstream:
T4 (Thyroxine); contains four atoms of iodine.
T3 (Triiodothyronine); contains three atoms of iodine.
The amount of these secreted hormones is controlled by another hormone: thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). This hormone is released from your pituitary gland in your brain. Studies suggest a connection between thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels in people with normal thyroid function and body weight. Even a slight increase in TSH affects weight gain (1). Hence, under-active thyroid and weight gain.
Why You Need A Healthy Thyroid
Your thyroid gland releases hormones which travel through your bloodstream and affect nearly every part of your body including your brain, muscles, skin, hair, and heart. Signs and symptoms of a dysfunction with your thyroid include:
- Weight gain
- Feeling cold
- Hair loss
- Dry hair and skin
- Heavy periods
- Weight loss
- Feeling hot (needing to remove covers during the night)
- Over-sensitivity and excitable
- Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
- Hashimoto’s disease, Graves disease
How To Overcome Weight-Loss Difficulties
To overcome weight loss difficulties due to an under-active thyroid, ask your healthcare professional for a blood test to test your thyroid hormones. In other words, find out how well your thyroid gland functions.
Thyroid Function Tests
TSH – thyroid-stimulating hormone
A high TSH result indicates hypothyroidism, and possibly an issue with your pituitary gland. Low TSH indicates hyperthyroidism. Most regular thyroid tests provide results for your TSH, but this is not enough information to accurately address the situation. Ensure you also test T4 and T3 hormones. Your doctor may shy you away from these, however, you need them for the full story on all your hormones. Be sure to get a FULL hormone panel done if getting labs drawn.
Severe iodine deficiency is one cause of hypothyroidism (2). Hypothyroidism and goiter are conditions when your body’s basic rate of activity lowers, weight is put on, lethargy and apathy increase, as well as depression.
Graves’ disease is when your thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormones, and your body burns up food much faster than usual; appetite increases, but weight loss occurs. A general over-activity, with restlessness, anxiety, and tension, present. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition, meaning the immune system essentially attacks the thyroid. The majority of the immune system resides in the gut. Some suggest up to 70%, so improving the digestive system helps tremendously(3).
Dietary Tips To Improve The Health Of Your Thyroid & Under-Active Thyroid:
- Reduce, or ideally remove refined foods, sugar, and saturated fats. They are all inflammatory to your body and not at all helpful for a healthy thyroid gland.
- Remove inflammatory foods from your diet. Try an elimination diet or visit a healthcare professional for a food allergy test.
- Improve the health of your liver and gut. Your liver and intestine convert your inactive T4 hormone into active T3, so if you have a sluggish liver and/or poor digestive health, this conversion suffers.
- Remove environmental toxins.
- Manage stress to protect your adrenals. They’re included in the endocrine system. Adrenal fatigue often impairs the health of your thyroid gland. Yoga, meditation, breath work, mindfulness, exercise, and massage are all tried and tested methods of reducing stress.
- Swimming in the sea promotes cardiovascular stress relief, and supports healthy thyroid function because sea water contains iodine. Absorbing iodine through your skin naturally increases iodine content.
Under-Active Or Hypothyroid Diet
If you suffer from an under-active thyroid or hypothyroidism, your diet holds the key to improving thyroid health. We suggest the following dietary tips for an under-active thyroid.
- Choose organic food (free of hormones). These affect the entire endocrine system! Especially your thyroid gland. If eating entirely organic is prohibitive, at least eat organic or pasture-raised meat. The goal is to eliminate growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals, and toxins.
- Fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut provide a broad spectrum of probiotics for digestive health.
- Organic chicken broth packed full of calcium, magnesium phosphate, collagen, and gelatin is one of the most beneficial foods for optimal gut health.
- Enjoy eating healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, butter, extra-virgin olive oil. Your body requires sufficient amounts of healthy fats to make hormones, so it makes sense if you wish to increase your thyroid hormones, to eat more healthy fats.
Essential Nutrients For Under Active Thyroid
Iodine is an essential nutrient required for a healthy thyroid gland. Most of the body’s available iodine is taken up and stored in the thyroid gland. Recommended daily allowance of iodine is 150 ug/day. The minimum amount to prevent goiter is 50 – 75 ug/day (5).
Foods containing iodine include: seafood, seaweed, dairy, tuna, eggs, prunes, fortified bread and iodized table salt.
Depending on the nutrient content of the soil, asparagus, spinach, rhubarb, and strawberries contain reasonable levels of iodine. Grains also contain iodine. Kelp contains high amounts of iodine shown to have multiple beneficial actions on the thyroid gland (4).
Selenium & Zinc
Zinc is found in most animal foods, especially shellfish and oysters, but also in seeds, cereals, legumes and some fruit and vegetables. Selenium, depending on the nutrient content of the soil, is found in garlic, onions, Brazil nuts and also in organ meats and seafood.
Losing Weight With An Under-Active Thyroid & Hypothyroidism
Dietary and lifestyle tips for losing weight with hypothyroidism include:
- Ditch the gluten and lactose (if you are sensitive or intolerant)
- Remove sugars and simple carbohydrates
- Increase anti-inflammatory foods including green leafy vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil, turmeric, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds
- Avoid juicing too much raw goitrogenic foods such as kale, spinach, and broccoli
- Avoid skipping meals or chronic calorie restriction
- Eat good quality protein and fats with your complex carbohydrates
- Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine
- Eat plenty of soluble and insoluble fiber
- Get quality sleep
A positive mindset is fundamental to treat this situation. Start and commit to an exercise program consisting of a mix of cardiovascular and strength training. Aim for four to five days a week; ideally, 30-60 minute sessions to speed up your metabolism and improve your mood.