Health Matters – Weight Loss, Part II

More than Diet and Exercise

If your diet and exercise resolutions got off to a bad start you can always get back on the healthy living wagon and begin again. But what if you’ve been working hard at eating properly and exercising, and still aren’t seeing results? Last week we looked at two factors that might be keeping you from weight loss success: stress and cortisol. This week we look at the thyroid, which also plays a big role in enhancing or inhibiting weight loss.

What is the thyroid?

The thyroid is a gland located in the front of your neck, under the chin. It performs many vital functions, including controlling your basal metabolic rate (BMR)?essentially a measure of much energy you would expend if you remained at rest all day. It’s easy to see how this is tied to weight loss; if your BMR drops due to thyroid malfunction, you won’t burn as much energy during the day. You’ll have difficulty losing weight, and might even start gaining.

What causes the thyroid function to slow? Bodily changes like pregnancy or menopause can be a factor, but genetic predisposition plays a big part as well. Some symptoms of low thyroid function include lethargy, hair loss, swollen neck, poor sleeping patterns, and, yes, difficulty losing weight. You can also get a general idea of your thyroid health by checking your basal body temperature?the temperature of your body at rest (best measured upon waking, and before getting out of bed). Although a woman’s basal body temperature can fluctuate depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle, a consistently low number in the early part of the cycle (less than 36.3 degrees Celsius) can indicate subclinical hypothyroidism.

To assess your thyroid function, have a blood test done to detect levels of TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone. This hormone is sent by the pituitary gland to stimulate the thyroid to produce the thyroid hormone. A low-functioning thyroid will treat this ?message? like spam, ignoring it?which means the pituitary gland will keep manufacturing more and more TSH. Ideally, your TSH levels should be less than 3; if they are higher, it could indicate a thyroid issue. Note that in Canada, the acceptable level for blood-value TSH is less than 5; but recently US endocrinologists have determined that levels under 3 are the best marker for a properly functioning thyroid, and all US mainstream and specialist labs have accepted this. It is hoped that Canadian labs will follow suit, but in the meantime you should still treat thyroid levels greater than 3 as a subclinical hypothyroid concern. If your TSH levels come back greater than 2, don’t try to treat the problem yourself; you will need professional help to get your thyroid back under control.

What if TSH levels are normal?

But if your TSH levels appear acceptable and you still suspect a thyroid issue, there are a few things you can do to optimize your thyroid health. First, avoid excessive consumption of foods from the brassica family?these are also known as cruciferous plants, and include cabbage, broccoli, mustard seed, and rapeseed. Although these are considered healthy “superfoods”, they should be avoided or significantly reduced in your diet if your thyroid is compromised. Secondly, add seaweed to your diet; seaweed contains iodine and selenium, nutrients that are essential for adequate thyroid function.

Increasing your overall health is often a difficult journey, but your efforts might be blocked by issues like stress, cortisol overproduction, or a low-functioning thyroid. If you’ve yet to experience weight loss success despite hard work, check your thyroid levels and engage in stress and cortisol management?and get on your way to becoming a healthier you in 2014!

Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.