There is a definite link between the two, but it still deserves investigation.
Many individuals who are gaining weight—and don’t know why—wonder if their thyroid is to blame. This is a fair thing to consider. After all, thyroid problems are common, especially among women. Plus, experts know there’s a definite link between thyroid problems and weight.
The Thyroid and Its Role in the Body
The thyroid gland regulates a number of processes in the body. People often describe it as a “butterfly-shaped” gland that sits at the front of your neck, below your Adam’s apple. It releases hormones, which play a role in things like metabolism, growth, and development.
Along with metabolism, the thyroid also regulates:
- Heart functions
- Bowel functions
- Water management
- Brain development
- Bone maintenance
Sometimes, things go wrong with the thyroid. It might be overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism). Both of these can have major effects on health. Learn the difference between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism here.
Weight gain can occur when someone’s thyroid isn't making enough of the thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism).The thing is, weight gain is only one symptom that can occur if a person has an underactive thyroid. If the thyroid is truly to blame, you would have other symptoms as well.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Puffy face
- Heavy or irregular menstrual period
- Intolerance of cold
- Dry skin and hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Joint and muscle pain
The Link Between the Thyroid and Weight Gain
An underactive metabolism may be the main cause of weight gain, which can spell difficulty for anyone trying to lose weight. Even if they follow a diet with a calorie deficit, their body isn’t metabolizing it like it should. This stops them from losing weight.
Another way an underactive thyroid can affect weight indirectly is by causing depression. In turn, depression can lead to changes in lifestyle that may lead to weight gain. For example, people with depression may eat more than usual or be less active due to fatigue and lethargy.
Treating the Thyroid to Improve Weight
If you think you might be experiencing problems with your thyroid, talk to your primary care doctor first. They might then refer you to an endocrinologist. There are highly accurate tests for measuring thyroid hormones in the body. This can tell you if your thyroid is working properly (or not).
If your thyroid is the cause of your weight gain, a combination of treatment and lifestyle changes should help you lose weight. If the thyroid is not to blame, your doctor can work with you to find what’s causing your weight gain, and what you can do about it.
Dr. Sood is a board-certified endocrinologist in private practice in New York City and an assistant professor at Hofstra School of Medicine.Preeti Parikh
Preeti Parikh, MD serves as the Chief Medical Officer of HealthiNation. She is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at Westside Pediatrics, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and is an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and has completed post-graduate training at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
- Thyroid and Weight. Alexandria, VA: American Thyroid Association. (Accessed April 2, 2021)
- The Role of Your Thyroid in Metabolism and Weight Control. Tampa, FL: Obesity Action Coalition. (Accessed April 2, 2021)
- Overweight and Obesity. Bethesda, MD: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (Accessed April 2, 2021)
- Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid). Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (Accessed April 2, 2021)