Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain hormones. It’s estimated that nearly 5 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 may be living with hypothyroidism. Below, Dr. Harshit Shah, an endocrinologist with Dignity Health Medical Group - Bakersfield, explains how hypothyroidism can impact weight gain.
"While the condition may not cause any noticeable symptoms at first, it can lead to other health problems if left untreated – including weight gain," says Dr. Shah. "In fact, the majority of patients I see in my practice who are diagnosed with hypothyroidism are experiencing unwanted weight gain."
Hypothyroidism causes a decreased body metabolism or BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), which is what leads to weight gain. The weight gain is often greater in those individuals with more severe hypothyroidism.
The cause of this weight is complex and not always related to excess fat accumulation. Most of the extra weight gained is due to excess accumulation of salt and water.
Massive weight gain is rarely associated with hypothyroidism. In general, 5-10 pounds of body weight may be attributable to thyroid, depending on the severity of the disease. Since much of the weight gain is from salt and water, one can expect a small (5-10% of body weight) weight loss once the hypothyroidism is addressed.
"However, because hypothyroidism usually develops over a long period of time, it is fairly common to find that there is no significant weight loss after successful treatment of hypothyroidism," says Dr. Shah. "Once hypothyroidism is treated and thyroid hormone levels have returned to normal range, the ability to gain or lose weight is the same as in individuals who do not have thyroid disease."
The first step for addressing weight gain related to hypothyroidism is to take thyroid medications as directed. Thyroid hormone should be taken on empty stomach first thing in the morning with water. Take it by itself and wait at least one hour before eating something or taking any other medications.
Dr. Shah also recommends patients follow general weight loss and wellness guidelines:
- Exercise regularly. This is a great way to boost metabolism, build muscle and strengthen bones. Start with brisk walking
- Eat a healthy diet. Cut down on added sugar, refined grains, processed foods, sugar beverages. Eat more vegetables and whole foods.
- Curb your stress and get enough sleep.
"Be aware that taking thyroid hormones as a weight loss tool rather than to treat a thyroid disorder can create problems," warns Dr. Shah. "While some studies have shown that excess thyroid hormone treatment can help produce weight loss, once the hormone is stopped, the excess weight loss is regained." Also, it could cause you to lose muscle protein in addition to fat. It can also lead to multiple other metabolic problems, heart problems and osteoporosis.
If weight gain is your only symptom, it is unlikely that it is due to your thyroid. Other causes should be explored with your physician.
Dr. Harshit Shah specializes in Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism. He is currently accepting new patients at his office located at 9500 Stockdale Hwy, Suite 201 in Bakersfield. Please visit www.DHMF.org/Bakersfield or call 661.865.5494 to learn more.