So you’ve been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid, and you thought you had your symptoms under control, but every time you step on the scale, you’re not impressed with the ever-increasing numbers. Stubborn weight is one of the most frustrating symptoms of an underactive thyroid; however, new findings suggest that excess body fat may be triggering your thyroid disorder, not the other way around. A new study found that obese patients with and without a diagnosis were more likely to have a higher rate of thyroid (and other autoimmune) antibodies. This led researchers to conclude that obesity is a risk factor for developing autoimmune thyroiditis-- one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism.
1. Inflammation Formation
First and foremost, it’s important that I mention how fat cell (especially around the midsection) are imitating an endocrine gland; that is, they’re producing hormones and inflammatory molecules that damage tissues in the same area. The chronic inflammation, although at a lower level, inhibits healthy immune function and gets in the way of effective hormone signaling as it relates to your thyroid, blood sugar, and fat storage processes.
Belly fat, which is sometimes referred to as central obesity, is a major offender behind gut permeability (leaky gut syndrome). Gut permeability describes the damaged intestinal wall, which is susceptible to undigested food. Because the food and pathogens are no longer contained, they can roam free in circulation and escape their fate as digested particles. This condition causes allergies, an imbalanced immune system, and an increase in inflammation.
2. Belly-Up: The Death of Hormone Signals
Inflammation can severely damage your cells’ hormone receptors, which means that even if your body is making enough thyroid hormone, your cells aren’t getting the memo. Ultimately, this will reduce your metabolism, causing you to gain weight and feel fatigued. An extra downside? Your labs will most likely read normal.
Additionally, proteins that have gone undigested thanks to gut permeability can look a whole lot like your thyroid. Your immune system, which wants to target your thyroid cells, will attack these protein structures. Leaky gut can cause a lot of damage; pathogens can find their way into your bloodstream and lodge themselves in the thyroid, which can cause infection and further damage.
3. Forgetting You’re Full
Keep an important eye out for leptin. Leptin is a hormone that is linked to both obesity and underactive thyroid function. Fat cells create this hormone to let your brain know that it’s full, and it helps regulate the fat-burning process. This seems harmless enough, but when you have too much body fat, inflammation will cause your body to become resistant to leptin. In turn, your brain won’t get the message that you’re full, and your body won’t know when to burn fat, leading to excessive hunger and an underactive metabolism. An imbalance in leptin is often linked to decreased thyroid function, weight management issues, and autoimmunity.
Whether your thyroid causes stubborn belly fat, or your belly fat is to blame for you stubborn (and frustrating) thyroid symptoms, these two factors are caught up in a vicious cycle.
Regardless, it’s important to pinpoint any imbalance in your body so that you can eliminate your risk for other complications and, of course, so that you can go back to feeling like yourself again.
I urge you to find a functional medicine practitioner who can help you fight your belly fat and your thyroid dysfunction. At our clinic, we use specialized testing and cutting-edge research to pinpoint the imbalances in your system that make each day an uphill battle. It’s important that we get to the root of your disease so that we can address it once and for all and get you back on the road to optimal health.