Issues and Fitness
I get thousands of e-mails about
thyroid issues and individuals diagnosed with hypothyroidism
(production of thyroid hormones below the body’s need) struggling
to lose weight despite attempts at dieting and exercising.
Because of the overwhelming number of e-mails I receive, it
just isn’t possible to provide a personal response to each
and every one, although I sincerely wish I could. In sharing
some of the realities about the thyroid gland and how it affects
exercise results, I hope I can answer a few of the questions
and alleviate some of the surface concerns.
Of course when the thyroid gland
itself becomes impaired (such as in the case of Hashimoto’s
disease or any autoimmune response that targets, inflames,
and damages the thyroid), or when medical conditions require
surgery on or removal of a portion of the thyroid gland, additional
medical intervention is typically required to normalize the
hormonal environment, but most the thyroid issues I come across
in clients and customers are not as much related to damage
of the gland, but rather compromised interaction of hormones.
Starting with the basics, the thyroid
gland, located in the neck region, stimulates metabolic functions
through its creation and distribution of hormones which all
interplay within the endocrine system. We typically associate
the thyroid with the production of the metabolism regulating
hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine or tetraiodothyronine),
but the hormonal processes that begin with TSH (thyroid stimulating
hormone) work to determine a staggering number of hormonal
functions. Thyroid activity helps to determine how much cholesterol
is converted into pegnenolone, progesterone, and DHEA, and
these compounds begin a process of conversion resulting in
the production of testosterone, estrogen, and the “stress
Thyroid issues are diagnosed more
frequently in women than in men. That isn’t a random statistic.
The female hormonal environment is more susceptible to conditions
that can adversely impact thyroid activity. As all hormones,
the thyroid hormones interact at a cellular level by attaching
at receptor sites within the structures of cells, and in women,
the binding of thyroid hormones requires sufficient progesterone.
If progesterone levels are low (as is common in perimenopausal
and post menopausal women), while the thyroid gland may be
healthy and functional, the hormonal interactions are impaired
and with reduced binding of thyroid hormones, metabolism slows.
When estrogen levels rise beyond what might be considered
optimal proportions, progesterone levels typically drop leading
to compromises in the efficiency of the thyroid gland.
There are many issues, other than
the hormonal changes that we associate with aging, that can
interfere with thyroid activity. Repeated bouts with calorie
deprivation can compromise the production of T3 and T4, and
each successive “diet” may further inhibit metabolic activity.
Medications, stress, digestive difficulties, candida, erratic
or excessive intake of simple sugars and refined carbohydrates,
and compromised adrenal function via the use of stimulants
can all challenge thyroid health.
Here’s the good news. While you
can certainly indict hypothyroidism as a culprit if you experience
weight gain, you can also get yourself moving back in the
other direction, healthfully. The first trick is to avoid
the common mistakes. I find many people who have a thyroid
related weight issue attempt to commit to exhaustive aerobic
exercise efforts or long brisk walks. While this may have
great value for the Cardiorespiratory system, it does little
to protect muscle mass, and if you lose muscle, metabolism
slows further. As we age, muscle loss is inevitable unless
we ask our bodies to challenge resistance. Aerobic exercise
is a piece of the puzzle, but to develop a lean body, a concern
for resistance exercise is vital. The second great mistake
lies in avoiding food (restrictive dieting) and/or “snacking”
on low-fat cookies or appetite suppressing snacks. This works
to further slow metabolism and while diets might lead to short
term alterations in water loss, they will rarely lead to a
healthful adjustment in the hormonal cascade.
An important step for anyone with
thyroid compromises is to regularly visit with your endocrinologist.
Thyroid “meds” are usually either synthetic T4 (Synthroid)
or a mix of T3 and T4 (Armour Thyroid). An endocrinologist
can help you to adjust the estrogen / progesterone balance
as well as to compensate synthetically for any thyroid deficiencies.
A program of exercise and supportive eating can only help
to optimize the physical outcome, provided the aforementioned
mistakes are avoided.
In summary, eat small meals frequently
combining lean proteins with small servings of natural complex
carbs, avoid simple sugars and bleached flours, exercise both
aerobically and with resistance, and check hormonal levels
with an endocrinologist. My 17-Day
ANSWER program together with my EAT!
recipe book have proven to be of great value to those
with thyroid concerns who came to me in desperate search
of fat loss. With the proper technology in place, and with
some patience and commitment, thyroid concerns do not have
to prevent you from re-shaping your body virtually any way
you want to.
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