Almost 2/3 of adult Americans are now overweight or obese. The consequences of this excess weight are serious and costly, leading to many chronic diseases. One consequence of this weight epidemic is that many people get into the habit of dieting, losing weight, ending the diet, and gaining the weight back- often more weight than they lost. This is beyond discouraging and makes many people just give up.
The frustration of near constant dieting has led to a proliferation of diet books and services to help people lose weight. But the success rate of these interventions is low. Why is it so hard to lose weight?
We have moved far beyond our archaic understanding of calories in and calories out as the only mechanism of action for weight regulation. Now we know that several key factors affect our weight including thyroid function, microbiome, and muscle mass. This article discusses the thyroid and how its function affects weight.
The thyroid gland is our master metabolism regulator and determines our basal metabolic rate (BMR), or the number of calories your body burns at rest just performing normal activities like blood circulation, breathing, controlling body temperature etc. This basic number is increased with extra activities such as working out or doing housework. People have different BMRs , meaning without doing any other work or workouts, some are burning way more calories than others, which means given the same calorie intake, some people will naturally be leaner than others if their BMR is higher. This is one reason why some people who are heavier lament the fact that they are really not eating that much, in terms of absolute calories, than their lean friends. They likely have a lower BMR.
In most people, about 70 percent of all energy expended is actually through this basal metabolic rate – yes, that means even if you exercise for hours a day, working out accounts for just 10-30 percent of the calories your body burns on a daily basis. So the higher your BMR, the more calories your body burns even when it’s not being active. A higher BMR is the magic key for weight control.
While the lab testing currently performed in thyroid assessment takes a hard look at TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone secreted from the pituitary to the thyroid ), and sometimes T4 and T3 (thyroid hormones), these numbers reflect pituitary values, which do not always correspond to peripheral intracellular levels of thyroid hormones. which is where the thyroid hormone needs to be active in order to function. Additionally, T4 must be converted to T3, the active form of thyroid and 80% of this conversion takes place peripherally, in the cell. So really, all the real thyroid action takes place in the cell. But the trick is, how to get the thyroid hormones into the cell.
New research demonstrates that hormone transport across cellular membranes plays a very important role in peripheral tissues. This process requires mitochondrial energy, from the hundreds to thousands of energy factories (mitochondria) in each cell. Reduced T4 and T3 transport into the actual cells is seen with a wide range of common, chronic conditions including diabetes, insulin resistance, depression, bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, neurodegenerative diseases, migraines, stress, anxiety, aging, and dieting. But blood levels reflecting pituitary levels of thyroid hormones might look perfectly normal, with no elevation in TSH. This is why the current lab testing for thyroid function needs to be replaced.
Mitochondrial dysfunction, a decrease in mitochondrial health, creates a condition where there is not adequate energy in the body to transport these thyroid hormones into the cell, causingIntracellular Hypothyroidism with all of its attendant symptoms: weight gain, fatigue, constipation, dry skin, brain fog, even in the face of a normal thyroid test.
The mitochondria are intimately connected to thyroid function as thyroid hormone induces mitochondria to reproduce, and then the mitochondria make the energy that transports the thyroid hormones into the cell. In terms of thyroid hormone transport, T4 requires more energy (ATP) to get into the cell, and even small disruptions in ATP causes a dramatic decline in T4 uptake into the cell. For this reason, the T4 values on a lab test, and for that matter, TSH, do not properly reflect the true function of the thyroid.
So the upshot of all of this is that you need proper mitochondrial function to have optimal thyroid function, and optimal thyroid function enhances mitochondria. Ah…. the interconnectedness of our physiological systems.
The thyroid is also a target for many environmental toxins, which accumulate there and cause it to make less thyroid hormone. In particular, mercury preferentially accumulates in the thyroid gland. When I test patients for heavy metals, the top two heavy metals are always lead and mercury. Among other things, these are potent neurotoxins. We are all exposed to, and carry as part of our body burden, mercury and lead.
Women with high mercury exposures are more than twice as likely to have higher levels of antibodies that are associated with autoimmune disorders. This is in line with other human studies which show links between mercury and autoimmune disorders. More worrying, is that low levels of mercury, once thought to be safe, are producing autoantibodies. The mercury levels tested by your doctor in blood are NOT reflective of your body burden, and are nearly always dismissed as “normal” or “within normal range”. However, a blood mercury, if elevated, is a sign of ACUTE poisoning of mercury. Environmental medical doctors use different testing for heavy metals, and other environmental toxicant testing. In fact, my newest lab uses advanced mass spectrometry to test for 172 chemicals AND also tests for mitochondrial damage.
Yo-yo dieting, described earlier, also reduces cellular T4 by 25-50%, leading to a higher free T4 and normal TSH values (making blood values look normal) and this is why so many people who chronically diet gain back even more weight after the diet ends! They just reduced their BMR even further. Unless intracellular thyroid levels are normalized, weight loss will not occur! And addressing mitochondrial function needs to be a part of the equation. This is why constant or chronic dieting doesn’t work- you wind up with a lower BMR.
Stress can also decrease cellular thyroid uptake up to 50%. We are a stressed-out society and this does not help our bodies.
Clearly we need healthy mitochondria to have optimal thyroid function.
Things that make your mitochondria happy:
- Clean Water (the subject of my last post)
- Clean Air
- Clean food (organic, non-GMO, fresh, grass-fed beef, wild salmon)
Things that make your mitochondria sad:
- Toxins (hit mitochondria harder than other targets)
- Poor quality and processed foods (90% of food most people eat is processed)
- GMO foods (most processed foods and non-organic foods)
Furthermore, we need to protect our thyroid from toxins. The top thyroid toxins are:
- Mercury (and other heavy metals)
- Perchorate (from rocket fuel- in our produce and water)
- PCBs (highest source is FARMED SALMON), but also meat and dairy. One serving of farmed salmon raises your PCBs level for a year and bioaccumulates in fat; it is the most toxic food on the planet. Don’t eat it, even though its cheap.
- Bisphenol A (BPA- found in 93% of Americans from plastics, can liners, water bottles, and thermal receipts)
- PFOA (found in Teflon and food wrappers, tap water)
- Anti-bacterials like Triclosan (anti-bacterial soaps)
- Pesticides, herbicides, and some anti-fungals also induce weight loss resistance through thyroid function decrease
- PBDEs (flame retardants- found in mattresses, couches, computers, also fish and fatty foods)
- All of these toxins listed have been found in umbilical cord blood from newborn babies on the day they are BORN, so our babies are coming in PRE-POLLUTED. So how many of these do you think are inside of you affecting your thyroid?
In conclusion, toxins and toxicants in our environment, including the food we eat and the water we drink, are poisons to both our mitochondria and our thyroid gland. One observation I have gleaned through years of working with patients on reducing their body burden of toxicants, is that they nearly always lose weight, despite the fact that no dieting is involved. I believe this is because they are increasing their functionality of mitochondria and thyroid gland, and thereby increasing their BMR. By reducing the environmental “drag” on both the thyroid and mitochondria, both can regain function, leading to a leaner, healthier, and more energetic YOU!
Detoxification, and tissue depuration, is best done under supervision from a doctor who has been trained in environmental medicine. If you suffer from fatigue, brain fog, autoimmune disease, thyroid disease, cardiovascular problems, joint pain, psoriasis, or hormone problems, detoxification can help. I can design a personalized detoxification protocol for you . Call to schedule an appointment at 949-650-3333 for a consultation. I work remotely with patients globally via the wonders of telemedicine.
If you haven’t yet watched my digital class on clean beauty, you can get it by clicking HERE!
To your vibrant health and beauty,