Sometimes the inability to lose weight is jokingly blamed on a slow metabolism, but in reality it’s often no laughing matter. A sluggish resting metabolism can be triggered by a variety of lifestyle factors, but a key medical cause is often a sluggish thyroid.
What is the thyroid, and why is it so important? If we open up our science textbooks we’ll see that it’s a large gland that’s found in the lower part of your neck that secretes several different hormones – collectively called thyroid hormone - that are critical to regulating body temperature, growth and development, and metabolism. When it works properly, the body responds appropriately to nutrition, activity, and other lifestyle choices you make as part of your weight loss efforts. However, if it’s slow, meaning that it doesn’t produce a normal dose of thyroid hormone, it can have a fairly severe impact on body weight, fat percentage, and overall health. In fact, a six-year study of over 6,000 people published in the International Journal of Obesity found that participants with a sluggish thyroid had a higher body mass index (BMI).
This condition of having an underactive thyroid is known as hypothyroidism. It affects about 27 million Americans today, and overwhelmingly women over the age of 35. Shockingly, about half of all hypothyroidism cases go undiagnosed.
However, just because the thyroid isn’t working in sync with other bodily systems does not mean you are doomed to never lose weight. In fact, there is a standard method for treating an underactive thyroid. But you first need to understand if it is something that affects you.
Seeing that hypothyroidism can wreak havoc on BMI and that so many are not aware they have it, it is critical to take steps to screen for the condition. The tests you will want to ask your medical provider about are called TSH and T4. TSH is a hormone that actually regulates the thyroid itself, and T4 is one of the hormones produced by the thyroid. Your doctor may also check a T3 level, the active form of T4 and a test called reverse T3, which is an inactive form of T3.
If the tests reveal hypothyroidism, your provider will most likely prescribe a synthetic form of thyroid hormone called levothyroxine. It generally does not take long for the synthetic hormone to result in improved health and energy, but it is something that will be required for the rest of your life to keep the body in balance. In some cases, synthetic thyroid hormone might not do the trick. Additionally lab tests might direct your doctor to prescribe a different type of thyroid hormone called T3 to use in combination with T4. There are also natural bio-identical versions of both T4 and T3 that may also be used.
Because levothyroxine mimics thyroid hormone, you can also expect better regulation of your metabolism, which should have an impact on your ability to lose weight. However, don’t think for a moment that it is your weight loss “cure.” Successful weight loss and long-term maintenance are a result of a combination of effective medical treatment of underlying conditions – such as hypothyroidism – and lifestyle choices.
So, the next time you are tempted to laugh off your weight loss challenges because of a slow metabolism, think again. The smartest thing you can do for yourself is to make an appointment for a thyroid check. If that is successfully diagnosed and treated, you’ll have a real reason to smile!