If you are experiencing unintentional weight gain after thyroid removal, you are not alone.
Many people face this problem on a day-to-day basis. We often underestimate the tiny gland that is the thyroid and what it can do for us and our health.
And so, we are surprised when we learn that thyroid removal leads to weight gain, among other health issues.
The question is – Why? And more importantly – What can we do to stop it?
Here are our tips on maintaining a healthy weight after thyroidectomy.
Why is thyroid removal done?
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped endocrine gland. It is located in the front of the neck. This small gland is important for multiple reasons. All of those reasons are linked to the production of two thyroid hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
These two hormones take part in many bodily functions. Our metabolism, heart rate, energy levels, and body temperature are only some of the bodily functions controlled by the thyroid gland.
Thyroid removal surgery, as the term suggests, is a procedure during which the thyroid gland is removed. The medical term for this procedure is a thyroidectomy. Depending on the patient’s condition, a portion of the complete thyroid gland can be removed.
The most common cause for thyroid removal surgery is nodules or tumors on the thyroid gland. Although the majority of the nodules and tumors are benign, they can still grow big enough so that they obstruct the throat.
We often see doctors performing thyroid removal in order to current hyperthyroidism. As you may know, hyperthyroidism is the condition in which the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormones. In return, this causes a long line of health risks and complications.
Swelling and enlargement of the thyroid gland often require thyroid removal to be performed as well. This occurrence is also known as goiter. Similar to the nodules and tumors, the goiter too, will block the throat, thus interfering with everyday activities such as eating and speaking, among others.
How are thyroid removal and weight gain linked?
One of the after-effects that are expected after a thyroidectomy is weight gain. Almost all patients after a total thyroidectomy struggle with unintentional weight gain. Doctors even consider gaining 10-20 pounds to be normal after such a procedure. Less obvious weight gain is seen after partial thyroidectomy.
The major difference between these two procedures is the leftover thyroid gland tissue. After a partial thyroidectomy, the patient continues to live a semi-normal life, thanks to the thyroid gland tissue that has been left. However, in a complete thyroidectomy, the doctor is required to completely remove the thyroid gland. A significant difference is seen in one’s thyroid hormone levels.
In those with partial thyroidectomy, there is still leftover thyroid gland tissue that can produce thyroid hormones. As we explained earlier, thyroid hormones play a great role in maintaining our metabolism. That is why in patients with hypothyroidism, we see unintentional weight gain happening. Similar effects, such as unintentional weight loss, are seen in those with hyperthyroidism. It all has to do with one’s metabolism rate.
In patients with hyperthyroidism, a noticeable increase in the metabolic rate is diagnosed. The side-effect is the increasing number of calories that are burned on a daily level. On the other hand, the lowered metabolic rate in those with hypothyroidism causes them to gain weight. This explains why patients gain weight after a complete thyroidectomy.
These patients also find it harder to lose weight, despite their hardest attempts. A 2011 study supported these findings. The study showed that patients gained an average of 3.1 kg a year due to post-surgical hypothyroidism. In fact, this study showed that total thyroidectomy causes a greater weight gain as compared to hypothyroidism itself.
Unintentional weight gain can easily lead to overweight and even obesity. Obesity, on the other hand, can expose you to several health issues. Over the years, obesity has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and many other serious health risks.
Luckily, researchers and doctors have recognized these events and found a solution. Nowadays, the usual practice after getting a complete thyroidectomy includes thyroid hormone replacement therapy. The patient is prescribed synthetical T4 to make up for the thyroid hormones, which are no longer being produced by the thyroid gland, now that the gland has been removed. The downside is that the drug needs to be taken for the rest of life if one wishes to live a healthy and somewhat of a normal life. Other than maintaining a healthy weight, Levothyroxine also relieves additional issues such as constipation, fatigue, muscles aches, etc.
The patient may continue to gain weight after being prescribed Levothyroxine. One of the reasons for that is the improper dose that they are taking. In the beginning, it can be a bit tricky for the doctor to determine the right dose. There are no rules nor guidelines as it is up to the doctor to prescribe the right dose individually for each patient considering multiple factors.
And then there is also the problem of forgetting to take the actual drug. You would be surprised to learn how many patients forget to take their prescribed drugs regularly. This, of course, can lead to unintentional weight gain since their body does not have the right amount of thyroid hormones anymore.
Some patients take advantage of their Levothyroxine prescription, meaning that they take too much of it. Taking too much thyroid hormone will cause weight loss, but this is not a safe weight loss method. Other than weight loss, other side-effects will take place as well. So, it is for the best that you follow your prescribed dose and remember to take the drug each day. In the meantime, we also have a few weight loss tips for all of you who have got a complete thyroidectomy and struggle with the side-effect that it is weight gain.
Weight loss tips for patients after thyroid removal
You need to understand that there is no such thing as a quick-fix. We will not be sharing any weight loss secrets or unhealthy methods that will help you lose 10 pounds in one week. Instead, we will be sharing science-backed up tips that are meant to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight after a partial or a complete thyroidectomy.
Take your thyroid medications regularly
As we mentioned earlier, many patients tend to forget to take their thyroid medication each day. Do not make the same mistake.
Follow your doctor’s instructions and do not make any changes to the dosage without first getting his approval. Levothyroxine is usually taken on an empty stomach, around 30 minutes to an hour before breakfast. A great tip would be to set an alarm that will remind you to take your medication before you reach out for breakfast.
Optimize the free T3 levels
With the thyroid gland being removed, your body is missing two of the thyroid hormones. With Levothyroxine, you are introducing at least one of them – T4. Your body then proceeds to produce the T3 on its own. Some doctors prescribe their patients with a synthetical form of T3. But we are here to discuss how you can optimize the free T3 levels in your body.
One of the ways to do that is to take enough zinc, selenium, and Vitamin B6. One of the easiest ways to do that is to eat foods that are naturally rich in these nutrients. Another great option is taking the proper supplements.
Taking a quality probiotic is helpful as well. It will help maintain the natural microflora of the gut, thus making the absorption of the previously mentioned nutrients a lot easier. Certain medications such as antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and diabetic medications can interfere with the free T3 levels. Make sure that your doctor knows all of the prescription and non-prescription medications, including dietary supplements, that you are taking at the moment. Together, you can look for a proper replacement if needed.
Do not starve yourself
Keeping an eye on your daily calorie intake can be helpful. But you should, under no condition, starve yourself. Eating not enough calories can be contradictory. It can actually cause your thyroid function to worsen, as a study published by the Endocrinology & Metabolism Clinics of North America has shown. Talk to a certified nutritionist that can help you determine your recommended daily calorie intake. Then, by using a food journal, you can efficiently keep track of your calorie intake.
Maybe exercise is not on the top of your priorities list. But it should be. Regular exercise can help balance your hormones better, boost your mood, energy levels, and even improve sleep. Not to mention that you will be burning more calories on the go.
If you are new to working out, then start small. Maybe you will walk for 30 minutes a day. Walking is a great low-intensity exercise that will still get you all of the benefits that we discussed. Aim for 10,000 steps per day and make that your daily goal. When you feel comfortable, you can proceed and explore other options as well. Jogging, cycling, swimming, or doing home workouts will all get you closer to maintaining a healthy weight.
Reduce the number of complex carbs
Take a look around your kitchen and try to identify any complex carbs. Familiar examples are white bread, white pasta, white potatoes, rice, etc. There is at least one of these examples hiding in your kitchen right now. Make an effort to replace them with a healthier option. Try eating more whole-grain bread and pasta, maybe switch to brown rice and sweet potatoes for a change.
Eliminate any processed food, fast food, chips, and anything that comes with way too many calories and little to no nutrients whatsoever. Taking these easy and simple steps will get you closer to your goal weight.
Eat enough protein
After having eliminated so many foods, you are probably wondering what is there left for you to eat. Other than whole grains, do not forget about clean protein. Perfect examples are chicken, tofu, fish, eggs, whey protein powder, and many more. Protein will help control your appetite better, prevent hunger, and binge eating, which is what may be making this whole weight loss journey harder for you. Paired up with regular exercise, the protein will support muscle growth. More muscles mean a faster and more efficient metabolism, one that will burn more calories daily.
Try to fill at least a quarter of your plate with these tasty proteins and feel the other half of your plate with yummy veggies. Add a bit of those whole grains that we discussed, and there you have it – the perfectly balanced meal for you to enjoy in.
It takes time for our body to get used to the sudden changes in the absence of our thyroid gland.
Weight gain is one of the most common side-effects due to thyroidectomy: that and fatigue, muscle aches, hair loss, and many other health issues.
Prescribing Levothyroxine can help take some of those issues away, including weight gain and, instead, helping to maintain a healthy weight. If that is something that you wish for yourself, then consult your doctor about the use of Levothyroxine in your treatment.
But do not stop there. Have a look at the weight loss tips that we shared with you. Relying on this combination is what will ultimately deliver the wanted results.