Can I Blame My Weight on My Thyroid?

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Your thyroid gland weighs less than an ounce, yet has the power to affect weight gain by an average of 20 to 30 pounds if it’s not working properly.

Your thyroid is a small gland in the front of your neck just below your Adam’s apple.  When it’s working as it should, your thyroid releases hormones that play a huge role in how your body uses energy, and in how your organs function. Because your thyroid controls your metabolism (among other things) it can also have an effect on your weight.

“The thyroid’s function is to regulate the metabolism of the body — how fast or slow things go,” says Kimberly Bethel, MD, of Trotwood Physician Center. “It affects everything from the top of the head all the way down to the toes. And we know it affects a person’s weight. If you are a fast metabolizer you will burn more calories, or if you are a slow metabolizer, you’re going to gain weight.” 

Thyroid function is often the first thing a physician checks when a patient is experiencing unexplained weight gain or loss, because improper hormone production affects so much more than a person’s size. Thankfully, the disease is treatable, although not curable.

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Unexplained Weight Gain

If your thyroid is underactive, it isn’t producing enough hormones, and your metabolism will be slower than normal. This condition is called hypothyroidism. That means your body won’t burn calories as quickly as it should. Slowly, over time, your underactive thyroid will lead to weight gain — anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds or more. Most of the extra weight is due to water and salt.

Because an underactive thyroid can be tricky to diagnose, you should talk to your doctor if you are gaining weight for no apparent reason. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism are feeling sluggish, increased sensitivity to cold, muscle weakness, dry skin and constipation. 

Once you’re treated for an underactive thyroid, your weight should return to normal and you won’t be able to blame your thyroid for any extra rolls of fat. Could it be too many donuts or mocha frappés?

Unexplained Weight Loss

If your thyroid is overactive, it’s producing too much hormone and your metabolism will be faster than normal. This condition is called hyperthyroidism. That means your body burns calories faster than it should. Although you might be happy about this if you’re hoping to lose some weight, it’s not ideal for your overall health. Hyperthyroidism also causes heart palpitations, irritability, difficulty sleeping and diarrhea.  

Because hyperthyroidism also increases your appetite, it can cause you to eat more, so there’s a chance you could have the disease and not lose weight. 

Once hyperthyroidism is treated and your thyroid hormone levels return to normal, your ability to gain or lose weight will be the same as someone without thyroid problems. 

If you are a fast metabolizer you will burn more calories, or if you are a slow metabolizer, you’re going to gain weight.

Dr. Bethel further explains how thyroid disease affects weight. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

What is the link between a person’s thyroid and their weight?

Thyroid is one of the six hormones that affect weight gain. What it does, it regulates how fast you burn food. If you are hypothyroid, where your thyroid level is low, then you're not going to burn the calories. You're going to hold onto those calories. If you're hyperthyroid, where your thyroid gland is overactive, then you're going to run through those calories, and you actually will lose weight. It's a very important link.


She also explains how treatment for thyroid disease can help your weight return to normal. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

How can treatment for thyroid disease help a person’s weight return to normal?

Thyroid disease can affect a person's weight by regulating how fast they burn calories, or how slow they burn calories. It all works toward speeding up if it's overactive, or under active, it can slow everything down, so it makes them gain weight uncontrollably. Treatment for an under active thyroid will greatly increase their metabolism, burn off calories, lose the extra weight, and also prevent them from gaining future weight. It's a very important hormone to have checked.

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