Perhaps you can blame your hormones if you are overweight because what some call a “slow metabolism” may actually be an underactive thyroid gland.
Generally the thyroid – a tiny butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck – produces the exact number of hormones needed to keep your body’s metabolism healthy and in sync.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate heart, muscle and digestive function, brain development and bone maintenance. If you need more energy, for example, it’s the thyroid’s job to generate more hormones to give those muscles a boost.
However, sometimes it starts to complain by underproducing those oh-so-vital hormones and that may lead to weight gain and a host of other unpleasant symptoms.
Your skin may become dry and flaky, your nails brittle, and your hair thinner and coarser. Digestion and heart-rate slow down, your muscles ache, your joints are sore and you can’t handle cold weather. You are forgetful and can’t focus. On top of that, women may have more frequent and stronger menstrual cycles.
It sounds a nightmare, and you may not even realise it is all down to that little gland. It also can go with a swelling known as goitre.
On the other hand, this endocrine gland can also swing out of balance in the other direction. If it is too active you can suffer from hyperthyroidism, which goes with weight loss, fast heart rate, nervousness, muscle tremors, irregular menstrual cycles, sleep problems, eye irritations and heat sensitivity.
If you suspect a problem, speak to your doctor because a dysfunctional thyroid creeps up slowly but, if left untreated, hypothyroidism heightens your risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
People of all ages and races can get either kind of thyroid disease but it is five to eight times more common in women than men.
Around one in 10 people generally are affected, and hyperthyroidism is less common than hypothyroidism. Although anyone can develop hypothyroidism, you are at more risk if you are a woman over 60 with an autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes. New mothers are also at risk.
Your doctor may refer you for a simple blood test to look at levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4) in the blood. The right diagnosis is important as certain symptoms – for example, lethargy, poor memory – of hypothyroidism can overlap with those of depression. However, they call for different treatments.
Fortunately, there are several treatments for hypo- and hyperthyroidism and you’ll be glad to hear they are usually safe and effective once you and your doctor find the right dose.
But, apart from medication, what can you do to make sure you don’t get thyroid disease?
One natural healthy way to take care of this butterfly is to make sure you have enough iodine in your diet – think dairy, seafood and iodised salt (check the label when you next buy salt to see if it includes iodine).
As the thyroid influences every cell, tissue and organ in the body, it’s easy to blame your hormones – who doesn’t crave a chocolate when they hit the moody blues? Generally, though, the reason you pick up weight is not because of a “slow metabolism” but because you are eating and drinking more calories than your body is burning.
On the other hand, if you’ve been cutting down on calories and trying to be more active yet still are not losing any weight, don’t be too tough on yourself. It may be relatively rare but perhaps your body’s butterfly is sending you a message to get your health checked out!
Date Published: 02 March 2021