Almost two billion adults throughout the world are overweight1, each of them at a significantly increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. While some people are able to lose weight in a relatively short period of time, others tend to find it more difficult to shed excess pounds that they have gained.
This can be concerning and often leads to a person following one diet after the next – many of these diets often referred to as “fad” diets, requires a significant restriction in calories and can ultimately lead to problems like malnutrition.
When weight loss seems like a difficult challenge, it is important to consider underlying issues in the human body that may contribute to excessive weight gain and, of course, difficulty reducing body weight.
Hashimoto’s disease is an example of a condition that can cause weight gain and make a journey toward a healthier body weight seemingly impossible. With adequate knowledge of the condition, appropriate treatment, and an effective weight loss strategy that takes the condition into account, weight loss is certainly possible.
What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s disease is a term used to refer to an autoimmune disease that affects the human body. Autoimmune diseases are known to alter the way that the immune system works, ultimately causing the immune system to attack cells that are healthy, mistaking them for pathogenic substances. Hashimoto's disease often has these symptoms.
In patients with Hashimoto’s disease, the immune system starts to attack healthy cells in the Thyroid gland2. In some cases, Hashimoto’s disease is also referred to as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or autoimmune thyroiditis.
The Purpose Of The Thyroid Gland
The Thyroid gland sits in the neck and is also called the glandula thyreoidea. Its specific location is underneath the voice box in the front region of the neck. The gland features a shape that is often said to resemble a butterfly – it is divided into two lobes, each leading to the left or right side of the neck. There is a small amount of tissue at the front area that connects the two lobes together.
The gland plays a crucial role in the human body. It forms part of what is known as the endocrine system, the system in the human body that is responsible for the secretion of hormones. The Thyroid gland’s role is to secrete Thyroid hormones – in turn, and these hormones have several roles to play in different functions that occur in the body. Thyroid hormones have been found to act upon the body’s development and growth, as well as on metabolism3.
There are three hormones that the Thyroid gland secrets. These include Triiodothyronine, referred to as T3, Tetraiodothyronine, or T4, and Calcitonin. T3 and T4 are considered the “main” thyroid hormones and these are the hormones that interact with metabolism and other processes in the human body.
What Happens To The Thyroid Gland And Hormones With Hashimoto’s Disease?
As previously mentioned, Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition where the immune system starts to attack the Thyroid gland. When this happens, it essentially causes the development of hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a condition where there are insufficient levels of Thyroid hormones in the body, which can alter several functions that depend on these hormones – including metabolism, growth, and more.
Hashimoto’s disease has been linked to genetics, environmental factors, and endogenous factors – all of which can contribute to a higher likeliness of developing the condition. It is known that the condition is more prevalent among women.
One of the most common environmental factor known to play a role in the development of Hashimoto’s disease is an inadequate consumption of the mineral iodine. The Thyroid gland is the only part of the body that absorbs and uses iodine – this mineral plays a crucial role in the functioning of the Thyroid gland and is important for the production of both T3 and T4 thyroid hormones.
Other environmental factors that are also known to play a factor in the risk of Hashimoto’s disease include exposure to certain chemicals, as well as infections4. Drugs may also cause an increased risk.
How Does Hashimoto’s Disease Affect Weight?
The fact that Hashimoto’s disease leads to hypothyroidism is the reason behind the fact that many people tend to gain excess weight once they develop the condition.
Hypothyroidism causes an inadequate production of Thyroid hormones – in this case, the cause would be the Thyroid cells being attacked by the immune system. When there are not enough Thyroid hormones circulating in the human body, metabolism slows down, energy starts to become drained, and other potential complications will start to develop as well.
With the reduction in Thyroid hormone production, the body becomes the host for a number of problems, such as:
- Estrogen dominance may occur, which essentially lead to excess weight gain in certain areas of the body. Women tend to gain weight in their hips, thighs, and the buttocks area when their estrogen levels become too high.
- Insulin resistance may start to develop, and this sets a person up for weight gain and on their way to obesity. Insulin resistance may also alter the way that cells absorb and utilize thyroid hormones, further contributing to the issues that Hashimoto’s disease is causing.
- With Hashimoto’s disease, cortisol levels may increase – in turn, this causes a worsening of the insulin resistance. Increased cortisol in the body directly contributes to fat gain as well.
Losing Weight Effectively With Hashimoto’s Disease
Significant restrictions in daily caloric intake are not the answer to losing weight successfully for a person diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease. In one study5, scientists found that a 40% restriction in daily caloric intake can cause a significant reduction in Thyroid hormone production – in some cases, Thyroid production may be lowered by around 50%. With Hashimoto’s disease already in effect, this can be disastrous to Thyroid health, metabolism, and the production of these crucial Thyroid hormones. Ultimately, this would rather cause more weight gain in the long run.
With this in mind, it is obvious that following fad diets that require such significant restrictions in calories are not an ideal approach to weight loss for people with Hashimoto’s disease. There are, however, a number of tips that can become useful for these individuals – and when implemented correctly, can yield effective results.
Confirming Thyroid Hormone Levels
One of the very first things that a person should do before they start to consider a diet or weight loss plan, in terms of Hashimoto’s disease, is to gain a complete laboratory test to check their current Thyroid hormone levels. Tests should ideally be conducted to provide the following values:
- Free T3
- Free T4
Once these values have been confirmed, it becomes easier for a person to understand how serious their condition is and what particular measures need to be taken in order to combat their weight gain and ultimately help them shed their excess pounds.
Restoring Thyroid Hormone Levels
Before weight loss can be successful, it is important to try and restore Thyroid hormone levels – this should be done prior to implementing a diet plan. There are many effective treatment options available that can provide synthetic Thyroid hormones to make up for the reduction in these hormones that occurred due to the development of Hashimoto’s disease.
At the moment, the standard treatment option for patients with hypothyroidism is levothyroxine6. This is a synthetic type of thyroid hormone that the body can convert and use as needed. Treatment with this medication can sometimes pose difficulty, as an appropriate dose need to be determined.
The first dose provided to a patient does not always offer them effective results – some patients may need to go through multiple changes in their dosage in order to experience a better balance of Thyroid hormones in their body.
It is also important to consider specific factors in a person’s life that may alter the body’s ability to produce adequate levels of Thyroid hormones, as well as factors that may cause problems with the body’s ability to convert T4 into T3. Some of these factors may include:
- Soy products
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Cigarette smoking
- Excessive alcohol usage
- Heavy metal exposure
- Low levels of progesterone
- Growth hormone deficiency
If any of these factors are present in a person’s life and they are struggling to maintain a good balance of Thyroid hormones, especially with treatment, it is crucial to try and remove as many risk factors from their life.
Eat A Healthy Diet
A lot of people try to follow a diet that restricts their intake of food significantly – the idea is that if they eat little, they won’t gain weight and they will end up losing weight. Unfortunately, this can be harmful to the body, especially in people with Hashimoto’s disease.
Not all calories are the same. Calories obtained from a bowl of vegetables are completely different from those calories gained from eating a donut. This is an important factor to take into consideration here. Switching to a healthy diet can yield positive results in terms of weight loss – fruits, vegetables, lean meat products, fatty fish, nuts and seeds – these are all food products that can be included in a healthy diet.
At the same time, while a healthy diet should be followed, a caloric deficit still needs to be in place for weight loss to be possible. This, however, does not mean calorie intake should be restricted significantly. A person should consider their daily energy expenditure to determine how many calories they are burning on a day-to-day basis. They should then determine their ideal daily caloric requirement and from there create an appropriate caloric deficit that will still allow them to obtain enough food to provide their bodies with essential nutrients. Thyroid supplements are often to supplement diets with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids the thyroid requires.
Hashimoto’s disease, a condition that causes the Thyroid gland to become less effective in producing essential hormones in the human body, can lead to excessive weight gain. People with the condition often also find that losing weight is more difficult.
This, however, does not mean a person should give up on their weight loss goals. Weight reduction can be extremely beneficial and is possible with the right strategies put into place, as described in this post.
1 Obesity and overweight. World Health Organization. 16 Feb 2018. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
2 D.L. Mincer, I. Jialal. Hashimoto Thyroiditis. StatsPearl. 27 Oct 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459262/
3 How does the thyroid gland work? Informed health Online. 17 Nov 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279388/
4 K. Zaletel, S. Gaberscek. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: From Genes to the Disease. Journal of Current Genomics. Dec 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3271310/
5 R.L. Araujo, B.M. Andrade, M.L. da Silva, A.C. Ferreira, D.P. Carvalho. Tissue-specific deiodinase regulation during food restriction and low replacement dose of leptin in rats. American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism. 10 Feb 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19208852
6 J. Jonklaas, A.C. Bianco, A.J. Bauer, K.D. Burman, A.R. Cappola, F.S. Celi, D.S. Cooper, B.W. Kim, R.P. Peeters, M.S. Rosenthal, A.M. Sawka. Guidelines for the Treatment of Hypothyroidism: Prepared by the American Thyroid Association Task Force on Thyroid Hormone Replacement. Thyroid Journal. 1 Dec 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4267409/