Thyroid disorders affect one in 20 people in the UK. We look at what the thyroid is and what impact thyroid problems can have on the body – and your ability to lose weight.
What is a thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland is a gland located in the throat just below the Adam’s apple. It produces the hormone thyroxin, which is essential for regulating the metabolic rate of the body (the rate at which it uses energy) and other organ functions. It works in tandem with the hypothalamus (in the brain) and the pituitary gland (at the base of the brain) to help the body function normally.
The most important job of the thyroid gland is to produce hormones (also known as chemical messengers) which, in simple terms, tell the other body parts and organs what to do. It can be likened to the boss in an organisation – if you take the boss away, the organisation becomes chaotic and things start to go wrong.
What can go wrong with my thyroid?
Hypothyroidism, known as an underactive thyroid, means not enough thyroxin is produced for the body’s needs. Hyperthyroidism – an overactive thyroid – is more common and means too much thyroxin is produced. Your doctor can check your thyroid status with a blood test.
Is there a link between thyroid and weight gain?
Many patients report weight gain with an underactive thyroid, and the inability to then lose that weight. The thyroid and weight gain are linked because the thyroid is responsible for regulating the majority of the metabolic processes of the body, including controlling the rate at which energy is used. So, if your thyroid is underactive, the rate at which you store and use energy is slower, and more energy is stored as fat. However, the cause of weight gain in thyroid patients is due to many factors, and can be attributed to gaining water and salt weight and not fat. In fact, substantial weight gain is not a result of an underactive thyroid, and people can expect a weight gain of no more than 5-10lbs. With thyroid treatment, the body should return to its original weight.
Why are thyroid problems more common in women?
Women face a one in five chance of developing thyroid problems. That risk increases with age. It’s unclear exactly why women are at a higher risk than men, but it seems to be linked to menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. An overactive thyroid can cause either no periods or irregular periods, while an underactive thyroid can cause amenorrhea (no periods). Women with an over or underactive thyroid may also have an earlier onset, or premature menopause.
For further information, visit the British Thyroid Foundation online: www.btf-thyroid.org