If you feel like you’ve been cutting calories and hitting the gym religiously without seeing any major movement on the scale, it might not be that you’re doomed to a life of fat pants and seatbelt extenders. In fact, it might be your thyroid gland that’s keeping you from dropping the pounds you want to lose!
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ that’s located in the neck and plays a major role in regulating the body’s metabolic processes. A number of different diet and environmental factors can cause the gland to become sluggish or inflamed – resulting in a decreased metabolism that can make it nearly impossible to lose weight.
This condition – known as hypothyroidism – is estimated to affect as many as 15 million undiagnosed Americans, resulting in symptoms like:
- Sensitivity to cold
- Toughened skin
- Dry skin
If you’ve been experiencing any of these symptoms in conjunction with an inability to lose weight, ask your doctor to run a TSH test at your next appointment. The “TSH” test – or, “thyroid stimulating hormone” test – measures a hormone that’s released by the pituitary gland when it detects that the thyroid isn’t releasing enough of its own hormones to maintain homeostasis in the body.
In a normal person, the results of this test will fall between .4 and 4.4 mU/L (with scores lower than this range being classified as hyperthyroidism – the inverse condition in which the thyroid gland is too active). A score of 4.5-10.00 mU/L is diagnosed as “subclinical hypothyroidism,” while any result over 10.00 mU/L will be treated as “acute hypothyroidism.”
If you are diagnosed with either one of these hypothyroid conditions, don’t panic! For most people, hypothyroidism is easily managed and unlikely to result in severe symptoms or health complications. In many cases, individuals who test positive for hypothyroid conditions are entirely asymptomatic – making diagnosing this condition a challenge for many physicians.
Typically, the first course of treatment for hypothyroidism is a prescription thyroid hormone replacement that aims to make up for the body’s lack of hormone production. These prescriptions contain either synthetic thyroid hormones (as in the case of the popular levothyroxine) or thyroid hormones derived from porcine sources (as sold under the brand name, “Armour Thyroid”) that will replace your body’s own thyroid hormones.
Your doctor will prescribe the medication he believes is best for your condition, though be aware that it can take some time to find the dosage that’s right for your body. Expect to have your TSH level re-checked every 2-3 months until you reach an optimal level and then at least annually to ensure that your medication continues to perform effectively.
In the meantime, there are a number of other things you can do to boost thyroid performance naturally in the absence of prescription drugs:
- Try a gluten-free diet. The molecular structure of the gluten protein closely mimics the structure of human thyroid cells. If your body is already attacking the thyroid unnecessarily, consuming gluten only prolongs the attack – leading to a worsening of symptoms and a decreased ability to lose weight.
- Avoid goitrogens. Goitrogens are naturally-occurring compounds found in several plants that inhibit the proper performance of the thyroid gland. A few different vegetables to avoid for this reason include kale, broccoli, radishes, turnips, cabbage and cauliflower.
- Add healthy fats to your diet. There’s a big difference between an unhealthy Big Mac and a thyroid-healing avocado. Healthy fats are the building blocks of hormonal pathways, meaning that foods like coconut oil, flax seeds, nuts and nut butters can help provide the thyroid with the compounds it needs to heal itself.
While there’s no guarantee that receiving treatment for hypothyroidism will help you to immediately drop your extra pounds, many sufferers report having an easier time losing weight after getting their conditions under control. If you believe that you may be suffering from this condition, asking your doctor for the all-important TSH test is the only way to determine whether or not your thyroid is preventing you from losing weight!