What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a common thyroid disorder. The thyroid is a gland situated at the front of the throat. It produces and secretes hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate, growth and development.

A person with hypothyroidism has an underactive thyroid gland that is unable to secrete enough hormones into the bloodstream. The thyroid gland enlarges as it continually attempts to produce more hormones. The enlargement of the gland is called a goitre and can often be seen from the outside of the throat in severe cases of hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism also causes the body’s metabolism to slow down resulting in weight gain.

Other symptoms of hypothyroidism can include:
Fatigue and low energy levels
Slow heart rate
Intolerance to cold temperatures
Hair loss
Dry, coarse skin
Muscle aches
Concentration problems.

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

There are a number of causes of hypothyroidism including birth defects, surgery and pituitary gland dysfunction; however one of the most common causes is iodine deficiency.

Iodine Deficiency

Iodine is a mineral that is required by the body in small amounts and is found in a variety of foods. The body is not able to store iodine so it is essential that foods containing iodine are consumed regularly.

The hormones produced by the thyroid gland contain iodine. If a person does not consume adequate amounts of iodine in their diet the gland will not be able to produce these hormones.

Hashimoto’s Disease

The most common cause for hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease. Hashimoto’s disease occurs in approximately one in every fifteen Australians. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder whereby the body’s own immune system attacks, inflames and eventually destroys the thyroid gland. Researchers don’t know why this occurs, but it is believed that both genetic and environmental factors play a role.

How is hypothyroidism treated?

Treatment usually includes taking a hormone replacement medication called thyroxine. It will also be important to get regular blood tests to ensure that your thyroid hormones are within the recommended range. Occasionally some people need to have surgery if the thyroid gland becomes too large.

Weight and hypothyroidism

As hypothyroidism can cause weight gain by slowing down the body’s metabolism it is important to maintain a healthy weight to prevent against other weight-related medical conditions. If you are overweight, work with your dietitian to lose weight by increasing your energy expenditure and decreasing your kilojoule intake.

The medication thyroxine mimics the function of the hormones naturally produced by the thyroid gland. Thyroxine raises your metabolic rate and accelerates the burning of fat. This will also help you to lose weight. However, if your dose of thyroxine is too high, it can cause a range of dangerous side effects such as osteoporosis, heart palpitations and insomnia, as well as an increased appetite! Consuming too much thyroxine can also cause your body to burn carbohydrate and protein, which may lead to a loss of muscle mass, which can cause more problems with your metabolism (and weight) in the long run.

It is recommended that you work on your metabolism by increasing your muscle mass and eating small regular meals. You can increase your muscle mass by ensuring that you consume adequate protein in your diet and by participating in regular exercise. Furthermore, exercise elevates the effectiveness of thyroxine in the bloodstream by approximately 30%, so exercising is an excellent way to achieve and maintain weight loss for someone with hypothyroidism.

Your dietitian can help you to lose weight and optimise your metabolic rate again.