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What Causes Hypothyroidism and Unexplained Weight Gain: Eight Factors to Consider


Dry skin. Constipation. Unexplained weight gain. Thinning eyebrows. The symptoms of hypothyroidism are so diverse that many physicians fail to pinpoint the cause. Dr. William Cole, whose expertise includes post doctorate education in Functional Medicine and Clinical Nutrition, has explored the leading cause of this condition and explained factors that you may want to consider and discuss with your doctor.

The leading cause of low thyroid symptoms is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's disease, says Dr. Cole. When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system views your own body as harmful and attacks it. To diagnose Hashimoto's disease, your doctor will run thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO Ab) and thyroglobulin antibodies (TGB Ab) tests. However, notes Dr. Cole, your body's autoimmune response can go through active and dormant states. Therefore, a thorough health history is required in case a false negative results from the tests.

An estimated seven to eight percent of the population has a thyroid autoimmune disease, according to Dr. Cole. Of those cases in the United States, 90 percent of them are autoimmune. However, he cautions, most doctors prescribe a thyroid hormone replacement drug. But if you have Hashimoto's, it's not the thyroid that is the cause of your problems. Dr. Cole describes your thyroid as the "victim of the immune system."

Factors That Affect Your Thyroid
So just what impacts your thyroid? Dr. Cole describes the following as "the proverbial gasoline barrels on the fire that is the autoimmune thyroid response:"

1. Chronic stress: Do you suffer from constant stress? That's one factor that can result in an autoimmune reaction by weakening your immune system.

2. Food intolerance: Milk, soy, and gluten are among the most common foods in our diets. The problem: They're also the causes of the most common food intolerance. Your immune system can react when you ingest these foods, resulting in symptoms ranging from bloating to foggy thinking. Dr. Cole suggests a food intolerance panel to determine the cause.

3. Nutrient deficiencies: If you get inadequate amounts of vitamin D, selenium and other nutrients, your immune system can suffer.

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4. Gut issues: If you suffer from a condition such as Leaky Gut Syndrome, it impacts your immune system and thyroid. Dr. Cole recommends undergoing immunological gut labs to see if this is the cause of your thyroid issues.

5. Toxins: You may unknowingly be ingesting metals and toxic chemicals in your daily diet. Talk with your doctor about having a heavy metals panel performed.

6. Estrogen imbalances: Women who suffer from estrogen level imbalances may have thyroid problems as a result. Estrogen metabolism labs can evaluate this possibility.

7. Blood sugar dysregulation: Insulin resistance and related conditions can make thyroid disease worse. Talk with your doctor about an insulin resistance test.

8. Iodine intake: Got salt? Although iodine is the active ingredient in many thyroid supplements, Dr. Cole says that too much iodine in your diet can actually make Hashimoto's worse.

Food for Thought
As a holistic nutritionist, I also recommend considering the role of diet, as well as medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) in your thyroid's function. If you are taking a thyroid hormone replacement, you must take it on an empty stomach for it to function properly. In addition, the Mayo Clinic recommends that you avoid taking your thyroid medication at the same time as:

  • Walnuts
  • Soybean flour
  • Cottonseed meal
  • Iron supplements or multivitamins containing iron
  • Calcium supplements
  • Antacids that contain aluminum or magnesium
  • Some ulcer medications, such as sucralfate (Carafate)
  • Some cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as cholestyramine (Questran) and colestipol (Colestid)

If you use the above items, wait several hours after taking your medication.

True or False
Some experts say that soy impacts your thyroid, while others advise avoiding both soy and certain foods that are goitrogenic and may affect your thyroid function. Among those foods: Broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, pears, peanuts and turnips. My recommendation: Talk with your doctor to get a customized viewpoint. You may want to experiment to see if these foods do affect your weight. In all cases, wait a few hours after taking your thyroid medication before you consume any of those foods.