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Fat Gain: Thyroid to Blame?

Table of Contents

By Dan Gwartney, MD

Long, far back and significantly, distant, excessive weight was actually unusual in the United States. Social recognition of the health condition was actually considerably lesser and folks that were actually “hefty” frequently used reasons for certainly not having the capacity to burn fat. Among the extra often used reasons were actually, “I possess sizable bone tissues” and, “I possess a thyroid health condition.” Though some folks might without a doubt struggle with excess bone tissue body weight in problems like Proteus disorder (very most significantly recognized coming from the instance of Joseph Merrick, the subject matter of the motion picture the “Elephant Man”), this is really unusual.1

On the various other palm, thyroid problems are a lot more typical.2 However, no poll has actually presented that overweight and obese Americans possess an inadequately operating thyroid. Seemingly, neither of these 2 timeless reasons absolves an individual for coming to be unhealthily obese. In a handful of years, as hereditary and antitoxin screening comes to be mainstream, potential reasons might transform rather to, “I possess a MC4 receptor anomaly” or, “I was actually revealed to an adenovirus when I was actually youthful.”3,4

Certainly, potential factors for being actually overweight, apart from the noticeable ecological and behavior sources, might be located upon clinical proof. Even though many individuals will things, it is very likely that records potato chips or universal product code will be actually positioned in or on folks to give urgent accessibility to clinical relevant information, citizenship or visa condition, rap sheet, etc. While this might boost safety and give additional individualized companies and care, it holds the threat of the reduction of personal privacy. Yet, one blunder changed and over once more is stopping working to look back to recent and learn.

Why was actually the thyroid thus frequently criticized for body weight increase? Did it employ a negative social relationships organization? Was it paying for among the crucial body organs? Perhaps it was actually an instance of incorrect identification? Or could it be actually that the thyroid in fact was actually responsible?

The purpose responsible for the view is affordable sufficient. After all, the thyroid participates in a significant task in entire-body rate of metabolism, basically “pacing” the price at which fats are melted just like the rate cars and truck establishes the velocity when a yellow banner happens out in NASCAR.5 If the body is slow-moving regarding getting rid of fats, leading to a slow-moving body like Jabba the Hutt coming from “Star Wars”, then it is rational to presume that the metabolic price is as well slow-moving and the thyroid is certainly not operating accurately.

Thyroid functionality is both effortless and difficult to determine. It is effortless to determine if the only worry is the amount of thyroid bodily hormone is being actually made and launched.6 However, it is very hard to determine just how effectively the thyroid hormone is regulating function at the cellular level.7 The thyroid gland, which rests just below the Adam’s apple, sitting on both sides of the trachea (windpipe), is an endocrine organ, meaning it releases a hormone that travels throughout the body to be taken up by individual cells. It is more accurate to say the thyroid gland releases two hormones, T4 and T3. T4 is the dominant form, accounting for about 95 percent of the total hormone load released. T4 is less potent than T3 and it is more appropriate to consider it a prohormone to T3, which is the form that really “turns up the heat.” In circulation (the bloodstream), most thyroid hormone is bound to a carrier protein and is not active when so bound. Inside the cell, T4 is typically converted to T3, which then binds to a receptor and travels to the nucleus (the DNA center of the cell).8,9 The T3-receptor complex can activate or suppress specific genes in the nucleus, leading to a change in cell function. The function of interest in the realm of fat loss is the T3-associated increase in metabolic rate.

T3 increases the rate at which calories are burned through a variety of cellular mechanisms, but the two most powerful are increasing the response to adrenergic stimulation, and increasing uncoupling at the mitochondria.10,11 By making the cells more sensitive to adrenergic stimulation, fat release and oxidation (burning) is increased. Uncoupling is the process that separates ATP generation from burning fats (fatty acids) as calories. This forces the cells to burn even more fat as calories to meet energy demands.

In clinical medicine, there are a number of conditions that alter thyroid function. When the condition causes a state of low thyroid function (hypothyroidism), many changes are noted, including weight gain and fatigue. Conversely, when the thyroid is overproducing (hyperthyroidism), weight loss (including muscle loss) and an agitated state is common. Many studies have correlated the weight change (up or down) in people who suffer a thyroid condition during treatment. However, in the absence of a documented thyroid problem, there is no consensus on treating overweight or obese people with thyroid replacement/supplementation. Anecdotal reports of people reporting weight loss and subjective improvements in fatigue exist, but controlled studies are conflicting at best. Again, part of the problem is that it is easy to measure the function of the thyroid gland but difficult to measure the function of thyroid hormone in individual cells.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine took a different approach that offers new evidence of the relationship between thyroid function and weight gain.12 Most studies look at subjects to see what the thyroid status is at one point in time. However, the researchers in this study looked at the thyroid function and weight in a very large group (part of the Framingham study), and then tracked changes in weight and thyroid function three and one-half years later. Thyroid function was assessed by measuring the concentration of TSH (the pituitary hormone that regulates thyroid gland function released from the brain). TSH regulates thyroid function a lot as LH regulates testosterone production. When thyroid bodily hormone is detected to be high, TSH levels drop to reduce output; if thyroid hormone is low, TSH increases to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more hormone. So, a high TSH level indicates that thyroid function is insufficient.

As logic would suggest, people with high TSH at the onset had a higher average bodyweight.12 Unfortunately, body composition data was not available. However, after three and a half years, the initial high TSH (low thyroid function) group did not gain more weight than people with (presumably) better thyroid status.

However, the true value of this study was the finding revealed when change in TSH over the three and a half-year period was compared to weight change. If an individual showed an increase in TSH (indicating a lower thyroid function) over the three and a half-year period, weight increased as well.12 The relationship between TSH change and weight change was linear and significant.

What does this suggest to the average person? It may be important to have hormone levels checked during a state of health (normal weight, young adulthood, disease free) so that later measures can be compared to the individual’s baseline, rather than a generic reference range. There has been a lot of dissension in academic circles as to whether a person needs to be treated if he/she has values within the normal range defined by a laboratory, be it for growth hormone, testosterone or other hormones.

Even if weight gain is not an issue of importance to an individual, there are many other functions of thyroid hormone that need to be appreciated. Another study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that TSH levels within the normal range were also linearly and significantly associated with the risk of fatal coronary heart disease (heart attack).13

Every person is unique. While it is useful and necessary to establish reference ranges, and prudent not to treat people without evidence of need, these studies support the argument that a “cookie-cutter” mentality cannot be applied to many hormones. The resources and technology exist to easily measure individuals’ endocrine hormone levels during states of health, so that changes can be more relevantly analyzed during times of ill health or changes in status (aging, obesity, etc). For the person whose weight has increased over a period of years, who shows a low-normal thyroid function (higher TSH), a trial of thyroid hormone replacement may be warranted. For athletic women, measuring TSH prior to and during an intense training period may allow trainers and physicians to more readily detect signs of overtraining. Hopefully, studies such as these will prompt modern medicine to consider the concept of individualized normal ranges, rather than forcing the population into a one-size-fits-all system.

These studies provide valuable information for clinicians but should not be construed as advocating thyroid hormone indiscriminately for weight loss. Several athletes and fitness contestants, as well as everyday people, have abused thyroid hormones (Synthroid, Cytomel, levothyroxine) to lose a little weight or cut fat, only to end up dependent on the medication long-term as the thyroid failed to return to normal function after being actually suppressed by the drug therapy.

 

References:

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2. Arrigo T, Wasniewska M, et al. Subclinical hypothyroidism: the state of the art. J Endocrinol Invest, 2008;31:79-84.

3. Loos RJ, Lindgren CM, et al. Common variants near MC4R are associated with fat mass, weight and risk of obesity. Nat Genet, 2008 May 4. [Epub ahead of print]

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7. Liu Y, Redetzke RA, et al. Serum thyroid hormone levels may not accurately reflect thyroid tissue levels and cardiac functionality in mild hypothyroidism. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol, 2008 Feb 29. [Epub ahead of print].

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9. Flamant F, Gauthier K, et al. Thyroid hormones signaling is getting extra complex: STORMs are coming. Mol Endocrinol, 2007;21:321-33.

10. Martin WH 3rd. Triiodothyronine, beta-adrenergic receptors, agonist responses and exercise capacity. Ann Thorac Surg, 1993;56:S24-34.

11. Wrutniak-Cabello C, Casas F, et al. Thyroid bodily hormone action in mitochondria. J Mol Endocrinol, 2001;26:57-77.

12. Fox CS, Pencina MJ, et al. Relations of thyroid functionality to bodyweight: cross-sectional and longitudinal observations in a community-based sample. Arch Int Med, 2008;168:587-92.

thirteen. Asvold BO, Bjoro T, et al. Thyrotropin Levels and Risk of Fatal Coronary Heart Disease: The HUNT Study. Arch Int Med, 2008;168:855-60.



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