Thyroid & Weight Gain
Thyroid patients often struggle with their weight.
If you are reading this, and you have low thyroid or hypothyroidism, then you probably know what I am talking about.
Your thyroid is one of the primary regulators of your metabolism.
This is why people who have low thyroid or hypothyroidism end up gaining weight.
Low thyroid leads to a lower than normal metabolism which ultimately results in weight gain.
But why is it that so many thyroid patients continue to stay overweight DESPITE taking thyroid medication?
And why is it that so many thyroid patients continue to experience low thyroid symptoms DESPITE taking thyroid medication?
The answer to both of these questions is basically the same and it has to do with the type of medication they are taking.
The truth is that some thyroid medications are better than others when it comes to losing weight and helping you to feel better.
And that's exactly what we are going to talk about today.
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The Best Thyroid Medication for Weight Loss?
Is there a "best" thyroid medication for weight loss?
One that stands above the others and one that you can reliably count on to help you lose weight when you take it?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is no.
But, there is definitely a class of thyroid medications which can give you a much higher chance of success in your weight loss efforts.
And these medications work because they are much more powerful than standard thyroid medications.
Which medications am I talking about?
Any thyroid medication which contains the active T3 thyroid hormone.
T3 thyroid hormone is the most powerful thyroid hormone in your body and it's the one that you want to take if you are having issues with weight with low thyroid.
How do you get T3?
Fairly easy, actually.
It's just a thyroid hormone and it's found in several types of thyroid medications.
The most potent include:
- Liothyronine (this is a pure T3 only thyroid medication)
- Cytomel (this is a pure T3 only thyroid medication)
- Sustained Release T3 (this is a pure T3 only thyroid medication)
- Any NDT (Natural Desiccated Thyroid) formulation (this contains both T3 and T4 and includes medications like Armour thyroid)
- Compounded T4/T3 thyroid medication (comes from compounding pharmacies)
T3 differs from T4 thyroid hormone medications like levothyroxine and Synthroid because it is active immediately upon absorption.
Medications like levothyroxine must be activated before they can be used by the body.
And this seems to make all of the difference in many thyroid patients.
And I'm not the only one to suggest that T3 thyroid medications are superior when it comes to weight loss.
We also have several studies which show that thyroid patients who switch to NDT medication (like Armour thyroid) lose weight even when switching from levothyroxine (1).
It's important to note that this weight loss occurred without changing diet or exercise routines, as well.
In addition to these studies, we also have data directly reported from thyroid patients which shows that they prefer thyroid medications with T3 in them compared to those with T4 only.
A survey of over 12,000 thyroid patients illustrated this point perfectly.
Thyroid patients taking NDT and T4/T3 combinations had fewer weight issues compared to those taking levothyroxine and Synthroid.
It's pretty clear that if weight loss is your goal you should be taking a thyroid medication which contains T3.
This is one huge area for confusion for many thyroid patients, so let me take some time to clear it up.
I frequently hear thyroid patients complain that "X" or "Y" thyroid medication didn't help them lose weight.
This is true of even the most powerful thyroid medications which contain T3 thyroid hormone!
But there's one big problem with these statements...
You cannot tell whether a thyroid medication is effective or not unless you first know that you were dosed CORRECTLY!
Let me explain...
Imagine you have two people who are both taking the same thyroid medication but at different doses.
Person A is taking liothyronine at a dose of 5 mcg per day along with her levothyroxine at 75mcg.
This person is still struggling with low thyroid symptoms and weight gain even while taking T3 and T4 thyroid hormones.
Person B is taking liothyronine at a dose of 15mcg per day along with her levothyroxine at 50mcg per day.
This person is feeling better and has lost 10 pounds while this combination of medications.
When all is said and done, person A claims emphatically that liothyronine is a failure and does not help with weight loss while, on the other hand, person B claims that liothyronine is an amazing weight loss medication and has helped her lose 10 pounds without changing her diet or exercise routine.
Both people have the exact opposite experience despite taking the exact same thyroid medication.
But there's a big difference between the two of them, right?
Person A is taking 1/3 of the dose that Person B is taking of the SAME thyroid medication!
And this is a perfect example of how dose plays a HUGE role in how well you feel.
I often will see thyroid patients make sweeping claims and generalizations about thyroid medications without saying ANYTHING about dose!
And you simply cannot make assertions about any thyroid medication without first talking about the dose.
So don't fall into this trap!
If you want your thyroid medication to work you have to be on the RIGHT type of thyroid medication AND the right dose.
Taking Too Much isn't the Answer
Another trap I see thyroid patients fall into is what I will call the "more, more, more" trap.
If the answer to my weight problem isn't solved by my current thyroid medication or dose then the answer MUST be simply taking more of the same thing but at a higher dose.
The theory here is that if you can push yourself into a hyperthyroid state then you will lose weight, right?
You would think so, and maybe hope so, but it isn't really true in practice.
Not only is taking too much thyroid medication dangerous, it's also not likely to help you lose any weight.
This is also why you do NOT want to use thyroid medication to aid with weight loss if you don't have a thyroid problem!
Why is this?
Most thyroid medications that people take contain only the T4 thyroid hormone.
These medications, while they can be effective for some, often fail to help many people (as many as 20%) feel better.
It has been shown that these medications can readily be converted into the inactive thyroid hormone metabolite known as reverse T3.
And if your body takes levothyroxine and turns it into rT3 instead of T3 then your symptoms and weight gain can often get worse.
This process can occur due to something called thyroid conversion and it's something that you should be familiar with as a thyroid patient.
Thyroid conversion is the process by which your body takes and either activates or inactivates the thyroid hormone that you are taking by mouth.
Don't think you can just increase your dose to help you lose weight.
In fact, taking a high dose is not only dangerous but it might cause you to gain weight through reverse T3 conversion.
Reasons you aren't losing weight on your Thyroid Medication
You should also be aware that it is possible to lose weight with whatever thyroid medication you are taking.
In my experience in treating thyroid patients for 5+ years, here are a few of the most common reasons that thyroid patients aren't losing weight...
#1. You Need T3
There are just some people out there who will need T3 thyroid hormone in some form no matter what.
Most doctors like to believe that everyone is fine taking a T4 only thyroid medication like levothyroxine but that just isn't the case.
We know from studies that approximately 20% of the population has a problem utilizing levothyroxine to its fullest.
And if you are one of the unlucky few then you will probably need to add T3 thyroid hormone to your regimen in some form.
You can do this simply by switching up your thyroid medication but it will require a new prescription from your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about doing this, but be sure to discuss dosing to ensure that you are not only on the right medication but also the right dose.
#2. You aren't absorbing your medication
You also need to be aware of absorption issues with your current thyroid medication.
Thyroid medication, in general, is quite the fickle medication.
Do you remember your doctor or pharmacist telling you to avoid taking your thyroid medication with any food?
Absorption issues are the problem.
Your thyroid medication will look for basically any reason to not make it into your bloodstream through your intestinal tract.
Before you jump to another medication, make sure you are actually absorbing whatever thyroid medication you are taking now.
Avoid taking your thyroid medication with food, coffee, various drinks, and even supplements as all of these things can negatively impact absorption.
You can also try switching to cleaner thyroid medications which are easier to absorb, such as Tirosint.
#3. Your dose is not quite right.
Lastly, don't blame your thyroid medication if you can't lose weight until you optimize your dose!
Optimizing your dose includes basing your dose off of more than just your TSH.
You might be on a dose of thyroid medication which puts your TSH in the sweet spot but is not high enough to increase your free T3 and free T4.
If this happens you simply won't feel better or be able to lose weight.
If you are a low thyroid patient struggling to lose weight and you are looking for some help from your thyroid medication make sure you follow these rules!
#1. Make sure that that your thyroid medication is being absorbed properly.
#2. Make sure that your dose is optimized and high enough for your body.
#3. Consider taking T3 thyroid hormone medication in some form (any type will do).
#4. Check your lab tests to make sure your free T3 and free T4 are in the right range!
By following these steps you should be able to finally lose weight and start to feel better.
Now I want to hear from you:
Are you currently struggling to lose weight?
What thyroid medication are you taking right now? Do you think it's helping or hurting you?
Are you taking a medication which contains T3 right now? If so, have you noticed a difference?
Leave your questions or comments below!
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