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Losing Weight with Hypothyroidism

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Updated December 31, 2012

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Losing Weight with Hypothyroidism
Insulin Resistance

Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas. When you eat foods that contain carbohydrates (which make up the majority of most of our diets), your body converts the carbohydrates into simple sugars. These sugars enter the blood, becoming "blood sugar." Your pancreas then releases insulin to stimulate the cells to take in the blood sugar and store it as an energy reserve, returning blood sugar levels to a normal level.

Carbohydrates can be "simple," high-glycemic carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, sugar, white flour and cakes, or "complex" lower-glycemic carbohydrates, like vegetables and whole grains.

Current theory claims that sugars and starches are far easily broken down than in our more prehistoric past, and today, many of us simply do not need and cannot process the amounts of carbohydrates that are considered "normal" by current dietary standards. For an estimated 25% of the population, eating what appears to be a "normal amount" of carbohydrates in fact raises blood sugar to excessive levels. The pancreas responds by increasing the secretion of insulin to the level where it will drive down blood sugar. For this group, consistently eating too many carbohydrates -- but remember, what is too many for this group is not necessarily too many for the average person -- creates a situation called "insulin resistance."

Insulin resistance means that cells have become less responsive to the effects of insulin. So your body has to produce more and more insulin in order to maintain normal blood sugar levels. The insulin can also remain in your blood in higher concentrations. This is known as hyperinsulinemia.

In addition to those who seem to have a lowered need for carbohydrates, some people simply eat too many carbohydrates. Today's low-fat diets emphasize more and more pasta, bagels, Snackwells, and sugary fat-free products, and most of these are high-glycemic carbohydrates. Basic over-consumption of high-glycemic foods carbohydrates can also trigger insulin resistance and overweight.

If you are insulin resistant, eating carbohydrates can make you crave more carbohydrates. You'll gain weight more easily, and have difficulty losing it. It is estimated that 25 percent of the general population -- and 75 percent of overweight people -- are insulin resistant.

High insulin levels can stimulate your appetite, making you feel even hungrier than normal for carbohydrate rich food, while lowering the amount of sugar your body burns as energy, and making your cells even better at storing fat, and even worse at removing fat.

When you're creating this excess insulin, it also prevents your body from using its stored fat for energy. Hence, your insulin response to excess carbos causes you to gain weight, or you cannot lose weight.

The weight problems are not the worst aspect of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance may set up a whole syndrome of other serious health problems. For example, insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia, which tend to go together, are often precursors of diabetes. And insulin resistance is also associated with a substantially increased risk of coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Insulin Resistance and Thyroid Disease

It seems likely that hypothyroidism, with its penchant for slowing down everything else in our systems right down to our cells, slows down our body's ability to process carbohydrates and our cell's ability to absorb blood sugar. Hence, the carbohydrates we could eat pre-thyroid problems now are too much for our systems to handle. So excess carbohydrates equals excess insulin equals excess weight. Plus, the fun side effects of blood sugar swings (tiredness, dizziness, fatigue, exhaustion, hunger, etc.) that we may be mistaking as thyroid symptoms and our doctors say can't possibly be.

Any illness -- such as the chronic thyroid problems we all face -- also creates physical stress. And stress raises cortisol levels. And increased cortisol increases insulin levels. (I know my cortisol was through the roof last time the doctor checked. She had no idea why.) More insulin means increased chance of insulin resistance.

There's also a vicious circle aspect to this. The liver mediates between the activities of the insulin-releasing pancreas and the adrenal and thyroid glands, which are supposed to "tell" the liver to release glucose. If the adrenals and thyroid aren't working properly on the "telling" end, or if the liver is sluggish, stressed out, or toxic, and not working on the "receiving" end, the system goes out of balance. Either way, the result is elevated excess insulin.

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