Is your thyroid effecting your health? Our thyroid plays a significant role in our health, and as such, its an important area of women's health to explore.
In thyroid health, dysfunction can occur when the thyroid is either underactive (hypothyroidism) or overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). The most common being hypothyroidism, with women 7 to 10 times more likely to have this type of thyroid condition (of those who have a thyroid condition).
What are symptoms of hypothyroidism?
Yet, how many other conditions have these symptoms? (Or isn't this often every day's woman's life?). But because of this, women can go years without a diagnosis as these are all signs that your thyroid may be in need of support.
Without diagnosis, many can feel emotions of confusion and self-blame, as what they are trying to achieve with their health isn't happening, and this can be from trying to achieve weight loss to a women's fertility.
So, how does the thyroid affect weight?
The thyroid hormones play a major part in metabolism – this is your bodies process of turning food into energy. So, if your thyroid hormone levels are low, like in hypothyroidism, your metabolism will then slow down.
Everybody has a specific amount of energy that they needed to perform basic functions to sustain life – we call this a basal metabolic rate (BMR). This number is different for everyone and sadly is greatly impacted by having hypo or hyperthyroidism.
People with hypothyroidism tend to have a lower basal metabolic rate – which is often associated with some weight gain as you are requiring less energy to perform the basic functions we talked about before (1-3). On the other hand, people with hyperthyroidism tend to have a higher basal metabolic rate – which is associated with weight loss as they require more energy to maintain their current body weight (1-3).
This all being said it is not just the effect of your thyroid hormones on BMR that plays a role in your weight (1-3). There are many other factors involved - other hormones, food intake and energy expenditure – which all play a role in the weight gain seen in hypothyroidism ( 1-3).
Studies are now indicating the increase in weight may not be from fat, but also from a fluid build-up from the effects of an underactive thyroid on your kidney function (3).
So, what can be done?
So, the first priority is to get the hypothyroidism under control – with your thyroid levels and medications being addressed.
No weight changes are not just going to happen before all of that occurs.
The next really important step is to focus on reducing "stress" to the body, by providing it with all the key nutrients the body needs. The thyroid needs many nutrients from our food to produce hormones. We don't want to create extra pressure on the thyroid, by "short changing" it from a nutrient poor diet.
My tips on how to manage your hypothyroidism:
Food is a key part of the puzzle: Our bodies need the best nutrition that we can give them so we need to make sure that we pay attention to what foods can support or inhibit your thyroid. We want to try to include rich sources of iodine, selenium, zinc, vitamin D and B12, magnesium and iron.4-12
Be active: Incorporating exercise into your routine can actually help to reduce thyroid symptoms like mood problems, trouble sleeping and weight gain. Remember to start slowly, especially if you are new to exercise or have severe symptoms. In no way is it worth risking hurting yourself by doing too much too quickly.
Sleep: It is common in people with hypothyroidism to have trouble falling asleep or not being able to stay asleep long enough to feel fully rested. Now, it won’t be easy but there a few things we can try in order to get a better night’s sleep - finding a comfortable place to sleep, establishing a regular sleeping schedule, creating a wind down routine and trying to limit alcohol, caffeine and heavy meals close to bedtime.
Make yourself a priority and practice self-care: Stress can have a really negative impact on the immune system, so if you are really stressed it can make the symptoms of hypothyroidism worse. Give yourself opportunities to relax and allocate yourself time every day to do things that you enjoy.
Don’t be discouraged and remember to be kind to yourself: I know that often we like to blame ourselves or feel like we are doing something wrong especially when you feel like you are doing everything right and you’re not seeing the results that you want to see. It will take a while to see results so focus on other indicators of progress such as your clothes fitting slightly differently, being in a better mood, sleeping better and having more energy.
Listen to your body: Be mindful of what your body is telling you – learn to pay attention to the signals that your body is giving you and adjust based on those signs.
So, what foods do are AWESOME to include?
There is a number of nutrients that are essential to the health of your thyroid and people with hypothyroidism are more likely to develop certain nutrient deficiencies compared to the general population (4-12).
Nutrient and its food sources:
Iodine is an essential mineral that is needed to make thyroid hormones. We can find it in foods like seaweed, fish, table salts labelled as “iodized”, dairy, eggs, and chicken.
Selenium can be found in everyday staples like brazil nuts, seafood and eggs.
Zinc can be found in foods like red meat, seafood, milk products, poultry and eggs. Some plant foods like legumes and whole grains are also really good sources of zinc, but they also contain a substance that can bind to zinc, which then lowers its absorption.
Vitamin D can be found in dairy and soy products as well as leady greens. However, we actually get most of our vitamin D from the sun, so to get enough we want to try to get around 10 to 30 minutes most days of the week.
Vitamin B12 can be found in fish, liver, red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and some breakfast cereals.
Magnesium can mostly be found in plant foods like legumes, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, and fortified cereals. It is also found in fish, poultry, and beef.
Iron rich foods include meat, poultry, seafood, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds, legumes, and some vegetables. We absorb iron much better in meat products due to the type of iron it includes.
What happens once it is treated?
So, if you’ve gone to your doctor and they’ve put you on medication to help stabilise your thyroid hormone levels, there’s a few things that you might want to keep in mind.
Since most of the weight gain in hypothyroidism is due to an accumulation of salt and water, when once is treated you can usually expect a small loss of weight (1-3). This being said, your body weight is only returned to what it was before the hypothyroidism developed (1-3).
Since weight gain may have many different causes and can develop over a long period of time, it is actually fairly common to find that there is not a large amount of weight loss after the successful treatment of hypothyroidism (1-3). If all of your other symptoms resolve themselves after treatment apart from your weight, then most likely this weight gain was no solely caused by your thyroid (1-3)
The good news is that once hypothyroidism has been treated and your hormone levels are back within the normal ranges, your ability to gain or lose weight is the same as those who do not have thyroid problems (1-3).
The Takeaway Message
The priority in this journey is to firstly get your thyroid hormone levels under control, whether that be through medications or other methods, as sadly, weight changes are not just going to happen before this occurs.
At the moment there is no specific diet for people with hypothyroidism – but adopting a healthy, balanced diet can help to manage the health of your thyroid as well as your symptoms.
If you are eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and protein, then you shouldn’t need to supplement with any vitamins or minerals. This being said we do want to try to prioritise foods that are rich in iodine, selenium, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B12, magnesium and iron.
If you have been trying to lose weight and nothing you seem to do is working, then please reach out. I work with clients over time periods of 8 weeks, so we can make real sustainable changes.