Many women who have hypothyroidism gain weight and have difficulties to shred these stubborn pounds despite taking thyroid medication, diet modifications and regular exercise. The main reason why hypothyroid patients cannot lose weight is due to uncorrected or undertreated hormonal imbalances.
At hypothyroidism, metabolism slows down all body functions. Many patients who take thyroid medication and have normal lab test results still can experience hypothyroid symptoms including difficulties to lose weight.
In fact, there are more than 20 thyroid defects that lead to hypothyroidism, however only 6 of them will show up on the TSH blood tests that most doctors order. Many of these thyroid defects are caused by hormonal imbalances, dysbiosis, poor diet, high cortisol and vitamin deficiencies and can also be present in patients with Hashimoto’s disease making this autoimmune condition worse.
Furthermore, doctors rely on the reference ranges provided by the labs instead of the “functional ranges” which are intended to support optimal thyroid health. Unfortunately, the majority of doctors do not try to investigate what are the causes of hypothyroidism or thyroid dysfunction and just give a prescription for Synthroid and/or antidepressants instead. However, most of these defects cannot be corrected by thyroid medication alone and leave a lot of thyroid patients with numerous symptoms and unhappy with their weight.
Hormones are stronger than diet and no matter how well you eat and how hard you exercise you won’t lose weight without balancing your hormones.
In addition to hypothyroidism, women can have one or more of other 3 most common hormonal imbalances that determine whether or not you will be successful in losing weight:
1. Many women with hypothyroidism have estrogen and progesterone imbalance which is called estrogen dominance. This condition can be caused by not only excess of estrogen (estradiol) but also by low levels of progesterone
- High estrogen leads to elevation of thyroid-binding globulin (TGB) that results in decreased production of thyroid hormones and suppressed thyroid function.
- Excessive estrogen increases thyroid autoimmunity contributing to Hashimoto’s disease which is one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism.
- Progesterone deficiency down-regulates TPO activity and overall metabolism leading to low thyroid hormones when the levels of TSH, T4 and T3 are normal.
Estrogen dominance causes weight gain and makes it difficult if not impossible to lose weight. When estrogen dominance is corrected many women do not need thyroid medication or are able to decrease their dose and have success in their weight loss efforts.
You can order a special test for Thyroid Binding Globulin (TGB) at True Health Labs that can reveal if your weight gain is caused by estrogen dominance and suppressed thyroid function due to female hormonal imbalances. In this case by balancing estrogen with sufficient progesterone hormonal balance and thyroid function will be restored and the person can lose weight.
2. Cortisol imbalances. Normally functioning adrenal glands secret balanced amounts of steroid hormones and cortisol. One of cortisol’s main functions is to stimulate the release (and storage) of glucose from the liver, fats from the adipose tissue and amino acids in the skeletal muscles for the energy production when the body needs it. To keep balance you don’t want cortisol levels to rise too high or fall too low.
Depending on the degree and types of adrenal imbalance profound changes can occur in carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system and sex drive. The body tries to compensate for overstressed or underfunctioning adrenals by adjusting all bodily functions.
One of cortisol’s important functions is to stabilize the blood sugar. When it becomes impaired at the times of chronic stress it can lead to blood sugar problems. High stress equivalents high cortisol and high blood sugar levels that result in catabolic effects on muscles, brain and tissues and promotes storage of body fat.
Chronic stress causes an increase in the appetite making you feel hungry almost all of the time and triggers cravings for certain foods especially sugars and carbohydrates. The result of stress induced appetite is an accumulation of abdominal body fat which is also highly associated with the development of blood sugar imbalances (dysglycemia) such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), metabolic syndrome X, diabetes and also heart disease, cancer, impaired immune response and affects thyroid in many different ways.
Cortisol acts in synergy with thyroid hormone at the receptor-gene level. It makes thyroid work more efficiently: every cell in the body has receptors for both cortisol and thyroid and nearly every cellular process requires optimal functioning of thyroid.
High cortisol tends to suppress immune system, lower TSH hormone secretion, inhibit the conversion of inactive thyroid hormone T4 into its active T3 form, increase reverse T3 levels and block thyroid hormone receptors. When cortisol is low due to adrenal exhaustion, thyroid hormones are less efficient at doing its job of increasing energy and metabolic activity and slow down all body’s functions including the thyroid gland.
People who have adrenal fatigue, frequently have erratic or abnormal blood sugar levels in a form of hypoglycemia. In fact, those who have functional hypoglycemia are usually suffering from decreased adrenal function and have sub-optimally low cortisol levels. Hypoglycemic diet can help improve adrenal function and Hashimoto‘s by balancing blood sugar levels.
There is a higher tendency to experience allergies, arthritis, pain, PMS and decreased immune response if a women has a low adrenal function. Low cortisol levels can cause fatigue, low energy and sugar cravings that are often confused with hypothyroid symptoms and remain undiagnosed.
3. Insulin resistance is also very common in hypothyroid patients and is frequently caused by poor eating habits, skipping meals, diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugars and impaired adrenal function.
Furthermore, people with low thyroid function are prone to develop insulin resistance because hypothyroidism slows down the metabolism affecting how the body processes carbohydrates and proteins possibly by delaying the insulin secretion.
Large amounts of glucose or sugar are poisonous to the human body because it makes us addicted to sugar and induces an oxidative stress which is harmful to the brain, gut, blood vessels and kidneys. After you eat carbohydrates it converts into glucose and releases into the blood stream causing the pancreas to produce insulin necessary for balancing the blood sugar. Insulin brings the glucose to the cells where it is either utilized for energy production or stored as fat in form of triglycerides in the adipose cells.
If the person continues to eat carbohydrates and sugars in large amounts with time it diminish the body’s ability to deal with excess of sugar by cells becoming more resistant to insulin. As the body stores glucose the excess of sugar turns into fat deposits (lipogenesis) and leads to weight gain.
2 mechanisms how high blood sugar can contribute to hypothyroidism:
- High testosterone and elevated estrogen are associated with insulin resistance and PCOS that can lead to hypothyroidism. The up-regulation of 5’deiodinase enzyme activity promotes conversion of too much T4 into T3. The excess of T3 makes the cell lose sensitivity to thyroid hormone and become resistant preventing the active hormone to enter into the cells.
- Dysglycemia is imbalance in the body’s sugar metabolism and energy production mechanisms and is a common cause of low progesterone. Suboptimal levels of progesterone lower TPO activity which results in a decreased production of thyroid hormones and hypothyroidism.
Blood sugar irregularities are the number one factor that contributes to weight gain and degenerative disease development such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Correct evaluation and management of blood sugar issues often helps with weight loss and correction of other hormonal imbalances including related hypothyroidism.
According to Dr. Bryan Walsh, ND the author of Fat Is Not Your Fault educational program, hypoglycemia followed by insulin resistance are stages on the way to the development of type 2 diabetes. The good news is that hypoglycemia and diabetes are reversible in the most cases by using a special diet, natural compounds and certain supplements. Dr. G.Levy, MD has a step-by-step program how to reverse diabetes type 1 and type 2 using natural approach.
Many people develop sugar addiction and feel that they are dependent on chocolate, sugary drinks and foods, however they do not get relief by craving sweets. This type of behaviour has physiological reasons and can be broken with a special diet such as Hypoglycemic Diet or a Sugar Detox program. Stabilizing blood sugar levels in these patients is the key to restoring a balance and to achieve a long lasting weight loss.
In the following video Dr. Walsh explains how to use standard blood chemistry to evaluate your blood sugar imbalance and why these tests are not always helpful to determine if you have hypoglycemia or other blood sugar issues.
Insulin resistance, estrogen dominance, cortisol imbalances and thyroid issues are only 4 out of top 10 medical reasons why you may not be losing weight. You can learn from Dr. Walsh how to identify and correct all factors that prevent you from losing weight here
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Why do I still have thyroid symptoms when my Lab tests are normal? by D. Kharrazian, Morgan James Publishing, 2009
The cortisol connection: Why stress makes you fat and ruins your health – and what you can do about it by Dr. Shawn Talbott, Hunter Hause, 2007
The cortisol connection diet: The breakthrough program to control stress and lose weight by Dr. Shawn Talbott, Hunter Hause, 2004
Adrenal fatigue: The 21st century stress syndrome by Dr. James L. Wilson, Smart Publications, 2001