After we eat, the food we eat is converted into energy. The way that your body processes and uses the food you eat is referred to as your metabolism. Rather than speaking of a ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ metabolism, think of it as efficient or inefficient.
There’s usually little difference between the metabolic rates of people who are of normal weight or those who are overweight — except in those cases where hypothyroidism is involved. Some overweight people — specifically those with a hypothyroid condition — don’t consume more calories than people of average weight, yet may even gain weight at lower calorie levels.
The thyroid is one of the largest endocrine glands in the body. It’s found in the neck, below the thyroid cartilage. It controls how quickly the body uses energy or makes proteins, and how sensitive the body is to other hormones. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.
Since the main purpose of thyroid hormone is to run the body’s metabolism, people with this condition show symptoms associated with a slow metabolism. Estimates vary, but some say ten million Americans may have this condition, and as many as one in ten women may have some degree of thyroid hormone deficiency. Hypothyroidism is more common than you might suppose, and millions of people are currently hypothyroid and don’t know it.
There are two common causes of hypothyroidism. The first is a result of inflammation of the thyroid gland, which leaves many of the cells of the thyroid damaged or dead, and incapable of producing sufficient hormone. The most common cause of thyroid gland failure is called autoimmune thyroiditis, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a form of thyroid inflammation caused by the patient’s immune system.
The second major cause is the broad category of medical treatments. The treatment of many thyroid conditions requires surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid. If the total mass of thyroid producing cells left is not enough to meet the body’s needs, the patient will develop hypothyroidism. This can also happen when goiters and some other thyroid conditions are treated with radioactive iodine therapy. The aim of this is to kill a portion of the thyroid to prevent goiters from growing larger or producing too much hormone, a condition called hyperthyroidism. As you might imagine, this is when the thyroid produces an excess of hormone, producing symptoms such as feeling too hot, losing weight, and lack of sleep. Sometimes, the result of radioactive iodine treatment is that too many cells are damaged, eventually making the patient hypothyroid.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism are as listed here:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Weight gain, or difficulty losing weight
- Coarse, dry hair, and dry, rough, pale skin
- Hair loss
- Inability to tolerate the cold
- Muscle cramps
- Depression and irritability
- Memory loss
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Decreased libido
Any of these apply to you? If you suspect you have hypothyroidism, consult your GP. If you have undiagnosed hypothyroidism, anything you do to raise your metabolic rate and so lose excess weight may fail. In which case the first, essential step is to get a thyroid test.
And if you have been tested and are being treated, you need to make sure your treatment is optimized. This means the proper drug and dosage, as well as supplements to support thyroid function. An efficient metabolism requires the smooth running of many complex bodily processes which rely on antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, and the B vitamins.