Why are you gaining weight – part 4
I’d like to share with you how hormone imbalance are quite commonly hidden causes of weight gain. The hormones most directly involved here are low thyroid function (this blog) and elevated cortisol (your stress hormone, saved for the next blog). Sex steroid hormones can also play a role (a future blog).
Low thyroid function
Thyroid levels will be the first hormone your doctor will test for if you complain of unwanted weight gain. Chances are your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level will test normal and your doctor will feel this rules out low thyroid as a contributing cause. But there is more to know about thyroid hormone test results. Let me explain.
While it is true that standard TSH, free T3 and free T4 tests measure circulating hormone levels, they do not necessarily measure their function in your thyroid-sensitive tissues. This may explain the disconnect for many of you who have been feeling low in thyroid hormone yet your doctor reports that your thyroid is normal.
Here are some ways this happens:
Decreased thyroid hormone uptake by target tissue cells; reduced lymphatic drainage associated with low thyroid function results in the accumulation of connective tissue waste products that impede blood circulation to these tissues
Decreased conversion of T4 (more prevalent) into T3 (more biologically active) forms of thyroid hormone
Hormones vary tremendously during the day, and these blood tests are only a snapshot in time. Stress, in particular, will increase many hormones but not necessarily increase their utilization in target tissues
The TSH test is a feedback hormone and will only change when thyroid levels drop substantially, lagging behind what may be circulating in your blood (but once again, not necessarily indicating what is happening inside tissue cells)
Understand that lab reference ranges of “normal” are established by measuring thyroid levels of a general population, not from optimally healthy individuals
Thyroid function self-test
Some European endocrinologists identify thyroid deficiency without using blood tests. They then successfully manage low thyroid based on this self-test. It is called the basal body temperature test, and here’s how you can do it at home. Using a thermometer, check your axillary (armpit) temperature first thing in the morning while still lying in bed for 3 minutes. Check your temperature at least three different mornings. If your temperature is consistently below 97.8 °F (and if you have several symptoms of low thyroid—see below), then you can be quite certain you have low thyroid hormone function. For menstruating women, it is best to check on or near days 2, 3, and 4 of your menstrual cycle.
Here are the most common early symptoms or signs of low thyroid function
Sensitivity to cold; hands and / or feet often or usually cold
Can put on weight easily
Feel tired in daytime when resting
Face puffy / eyelids swollen in the morning
Trouble getting up in the morning or anxiety / depressed mood upon waking
High cholesterol or high blood pressure
Memory problems or impaired concentration; nervousness, depression, or bipolar
Frequent colds, sore throat, ear ache, or other infections
Dry skin / thick skin; brittle, thick, or weak nails / excessive hair loss
Constipation, abdominal bloating or colitis symptoms
Low thyroid function is easily corrected with natural thyroid hormone replacement, prescribed from a doctor knowledgeable in this area.
In my next blog I’ll explain the effects of excess cortisol from stress and now this will put on weight.
Best of health,
Michael Cutler, M.D.