It is an established and accepted fact that there is a complex relationship between our body’s metabolism, body weight and thyroid. This is the reason why some people blame their weight gain or weight loss problem to their thyroid. Some people say they are fat because they have a thyroid problem. However, is your thyroid really to blame for your weight problems?
Anyone who suspects that their thyroid function is affecting their health or lifestyle should consult their doctor for diagnosis, advice and treatment if required.
Thyroid and Metabolism
The thyroid hormone plays a crucial role in the regulation of our metabolism. An individual’s metabolism, or more specifically, metabolic rate, can be measured by the amount of oxygen used by their body over a specific period of time. If the measurement is being done while a person is at rest it is called the Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR.
Measuring a person’s BMR was once one of the initial tests done in order to assess the status of the thyroid, as there is a strong correlation between BMR results and thyroid activity. Those whose thyroid glands were found to be not functioning actively were found to have low BMR readings.
Conversely, those individuals with overactive thyroid glands were also found to have high BMRs. Most doctors are no longer using these observations due to the fact that measuring an individual’s BMR is a complex process.
‘Hyperthyroidism’ and Weight Loss
Since the BMR of people with hyperthyroidism is elevated, it is almost inevitable that they will lose weight and struggle to gain weight. The speed of weight loss over a period of time will also depend on the severity of the overactive thyroid. This means that if the thyroid is extremely overactive, the person’s BMR will also increase resulting in increased caloric requirements for them to be able to maintain an optimal weight for their height and body type.
If the person does not increase their caloric intake to be able to counter the extra calories being burned by their body, they will very likely continue to lose more weight.
There are of course other factors responsible for regulating our appetite, activity and metabolism and they all work in a very complex manner. The thyroid hormone is just one part of this complex system.
‘Hypothyroidism’ and Weight Gain
Weight gain can be generally observed in individuals who have hypothyroidism and this can be substantiated by lower BMR readings.
The reduction in a person’s metabolic rate caused by hypothyroidism is often less dramatic than the rapid increase in the metabolic rate of someone with hyperthyroidism. However, unless the problems of an underactive thyroid gland are addressed by diet, medication, surgery or a combination of all three, unwanted weight gain will usually continue to occur.
When an individual with hypothyroidism initially gains weight it is not always caused by excessive fat accumulation, but more usually by the accumulation of water and salt in the body. Unfortunately low metabolic rate in combination with the subsequent weight increase often leads to less physical activity. This then compounds the issue by leading to further weight gain and the negative weight gain cycle continues.