Hormones and Fat Loss
Hormones are chemical messenger molecules that circulate throughout the body and stimulate cells to perform or regulate diverse bodily functions. Obesity occurs when these chemicals bring the wrong messages to cells, which causes your metabolism to slow down and to improperly process the fuel you take in from your diet.
I have already explained quite a bit about insulin, the fat storage hormone, and the role that excessive insulin levels play in Insulin Resistance and weight gain. However, the thyroid and adrenal hormones and the fat regulating hormones leptin and glucogen - are other important hormones to be considered with regard to weight gain.
Thyroid Disease is one of the most common glandular disorders, after Insulin Resistance and Diabetes, affecting about 20 million Americans – The majority of individuals with thyroid imbalance have hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) a small minority have hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). The problem is that symptoms of low thyroid function are often mistaken for excess stress, depression, signs of aging, or are simply ignored, so most cases of thyroid imbalance – up to 8 million - are not identified. It is believed that by age 60, 20% of women and 10% of men have signs of low thyroid function. My professional opinion is that the statistics are too low and the real numbers are between 50 to 60% of both men and women have some form of thyroid and/or adrenal weakness.
Your thyroid is a small butterfly shaped two-lobed gland located in the front of your neck, just below your larynx or “Adam’s apple”. It weighs less than an ounce and produces less than a teaspoonful of hormone each year. Yet these hormones control the metabolism or functioning of every cell, organ and gland in your body. Thyroid hormones have a huge impact as the body’s "accelerator," because they regulate how much energy your body uses, your body weight, the functioning of every organ and gland in the body and the metabolic rate and activity within each cell.
In addition to assisting and controlling normal cell reproduction and growth, the thyroid regulates the use of oxygen in all tissues, controls the rate of repair of damaged or diseased tissues, regulates your blood sugar levels by controlling the release of glucose (sugar) from the liver to the bloodstream, the electrolyte and water balance in the cells and body, as well as the regulation and function of the circulatory system, the energy and strength of the muscles, the speed of the impulses going to the nerves, your sex drive, and last but not least your fat metabolism.
The Thyroid Hormones
When the thyroid gland is functioning properly a person is considered to be "euthroid"; this means they have a normally functioning thyroid. If the thyroid is sluggish it is called hypothyroidism and if it is hyper (too fast) it is called Graves Disease or hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism is considered to be a condition that is idiopathic (cause unknown) by conventional medicine. The reality is that there are many factors that have been shown to interfere with and lower thyroid function.
The four medically-recognized hormones produced by the thyroid that affect metabolism and body fat are: thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine/levo-thyroxin (T4), and calcitonin (used in calcium metabolism). There are also T1, T2, and T7 hormones which have been reported to affect fat metabolism and energy and possibly many other thyroid hormones which are unknown or currently not recognized by the medical profession. I will limit my discussion to the main hormones that affect metabolism and fat storage TSH, T3, and T4.
Although the thyroid gland secretes and regulates these hormones, about 80% of the body's T3 (the metabolically active thyroid hormone) is actually produced outside the thyroid gland, in the liver, by chemical modification of Thyroxine or T4
T3 and Metabolism
To stimulate your metabolism T3, which is the active form of thyroid hormone, must be produced. The process of thyroid hormone production begins with the thyroid producing the inactive thyroid hormone T4 (levo-thyroxin), which is then converted to the active thyroid hormone T3 (triidothyronine) in the liver by the liver enzyme 5-deiodinase. T3, which is the only metabolically active form of thyroid hormone, is the one that drives your body’s metabolism, which affects how lean or fat you are. T3 is about five times more potent at raising your metabolic rate than T4. Almost all of us, thin and fat alike, produce enough T4, but the T4 has to be converted to T3 for you to stay lean. One of the main reasons why hypothyroid people gain weight is because their T4 is not being converted by the liver to the metabolically active form of T3 or the converted T3 hormone is not getting to the cellular level of the body.
The hormone triiodothyronine, T3, is possibly the most important hormone in the body because it regulates body temperature, fat storage, fat burning and the metabolic rate of every cell in the body. When the level and/or activity of this hormone falls, the body temperature drops, less energy is produced, and more body fat accumulates. Because the T3 thyroid hormone governs the metabolic rate in all body cells, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid activity) can affect all body functions and manifest in a variety of symptoms with fatigue, depression and weight gain being three of the primary symptoms.
Most people become deficient in T3 because food ingredients such as hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners and certain foods they are eating are toxic to the liver and suppress the conversion of T4 to T3 in the liver.
For example, during a restrictive diet that is either too low calorie or deficient in essential nutrients, the body produces less of the 5-deiodinase enzyme, therefore converting less T4 and producing less T3. Since weight gain, obesity and depression result from the suppression of T3 in the body doesn't it make sense that the more T3 you give your body to work with, the higher your BMR or fat burning mechanism is going to be?
Although most conventional medical doctors and Endocrinologists incorrectly only test for the inactive T4 hormone level (which to my thinking is medically illogical, and borders on malpractice), it is important to remember that active T3 thyroid hormone doesn't work only in the blood - it works inside every cell of the body.
If T3 isn't available at the cellular level, then those cells can't function properly. The T4 blood test does not test for this, but taking your body temperature does! I personally feel that your body temperature is the single best (and cheapest) test of your thyroid function.
Low Body Temperature And Thyroid Function
Because T3 hormone produces heat and energy at the cellular level, the one universal characteristic of low thyroid activity is low body temperature. The effects of low body temperature on metabolism are far-reaching, for when body temperature is sub-normal, the functioning of nearly all enzymes in the body are impaired, and efforts to lose weight under such conditions may be futile.
Without the effects of the potent T3 thyroid hormone the entire body becomes tired, the brain slows down, causing anxiety, depression, memory loss and poor concentration, the digestive tract slows down causing constipation and the metabolism slows down and you get fat.
As I have already stated, the active T3 thyroid hormone is responsible for regulating your metabolism. Simply put, metabolism is the rate at which you burn calories. Metabolism is also sometimes referred to as thermogenesis (the generation of heat). Diet products that are touted as being “thermogenic” are products that contain ingredients capable of speeding up your metabolism. The problem is that, too often, these products contain stimulants instead of true thermogenics. Many people mistakenly think the fast heart rate and nervousness, resulting from the stimulants, are burning calories but they are not. In fact, the stimulants may increase your risk of heart attack or stroke and may actually be preventing you from achieving the fat loss you desire.
Why Exercise And Thyroid Hormone Help You Lose Weight
The receptors for the thyroid hormones are found deep within the cells and exercise stimulates the thyroid by increasing oxygen to the cells. When you exercise and breathe more oxygen into your body, you speed up your metabolism and the heat in your body rises. Thin people and people with high metabolisms, have a much higher thermic rate and therefore burn more calories in their daily activities and store less fat. So, to pump up your metabolism, you need to pump some iron to heat up your cells “fat burners” by giving them more oxygen.
When you exercise and breathe deeply, you temporarily reset your body’s thermostat. By building up your muscle mass, you can pump up your body's thermostat so it will always be better at burning up fat even when you are sitting, or sleeping.
Taking specific herbs, such as the ones I have put in SynexDiet™, can help stimulate your liver to produce 5-deodinase and convert the T4 to T3. If your metabolism cannot be kick-started by SynexDiet™ and exercise you will probably need to take thyroid medication.
How Diets Suppress T3
The biggest problem with diets is that most diets leave you with less muscle and more fat than when you started. Some diets are more damaging to the thyroid than others. Researchers have found that low calorie and low carbohydrate diets like the high protein/ketogenic Atkins/SouthBeach/Zone diets and the low-fat, low calorie, high-sugar diets, eventually suppress T3 hormone levels in the body by providing insufficient fuel for the thyroid and body to function properly.
Your thyroid gland is subjected to a great deal of punishment on a daily basis and the typical Standard American Diet just adds to the trouble. Poor eating habits, habitual yoyo dieting and toxins such as hydrogenated trans-fats and flouride in the water supply mean that many people today suffer from hypothyroidism, resulting from a sluggish thyroid gland that produces inadequate amounts of T3. With hypothyroidism, your metabolic rate slows down; you burn calories for energy more slowly, and tend to put on weight.
Other factors that can contribute to hypothyroidism include: Insulin Resistance, fluoride exposure, genetics, aging, stress, fasting, some medications, inactivity, and even certain foods.
Every cell and tissue in your body is affected by hypothyroidism and deficient levels of the active T3 thyroid hormone can produce one or more of the following symptoms:
- Weight Gain
- Shortness of breath
- Poor memory
- Difficulty concentrating
- Intolerance to cold
- Low body temperature
- Dry, coarse hair/dry skin
- Hair loss
- Muscle or joint pain and stiffness
- Morning Headaches
- Decreased Sex Drive
- Elevated cholesterol or triglycerides
Commonly Recognized Causes of Hypothyroidism
- Insulin Resistance
- Frequent “starvation diets”
- Flouride exposure from fluoridated water, toothpaste, drugs, and food additives. Flouride blocks the thyroids ability to absorb iodine, which is critical for thyroid hormone production. Flouride is a common ingredient in antidepressants and tranquilizers as well as a host of other drugs.
- Hormonal imbalance (especially in women due to estrogen dominance/progesterone deficiency)
- Weak adrenals (There is a strong interplay between the thyroid and the adrenals. One is usually weak first and then weakens the other.)
- Prescription drugs (including Dilantin, Lithium, Beta Blockers, Premarin, Ogen, Cenestin, Birth Control Pills, Amiodarone, Cordarone, Pacerone, Infergen, Rebetron and Wellferon)[1,2]
- Exposure to radioactive fallout
- Chronic stress
- Frequent X-rays from dental or medical exams or radiation treatment to the head, neck or chest
Substances That Interfere With Thyroid Function
- Over-consumption of soy products (Phytochemicals called isoflavones found in soy have been linked to thyroid disease.
- Over-consumption of raw (thyroid-inhibiting) foods, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, rutabaga, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, cauliflower, cabbage and kale by people with iodine deficiencies (NOTE: There is no problem with these foods once they are cooked; light steaming will deactivate the goitrogenic enzymes.)
- Synthetic and genetically engineered hormones (estrogen and other hormones) in meat, dairy, poultry and eggs
- Exposure to Mercury (a toxic heavy metal, which comprises over 50% of “silver” dental fillings). Mercury interferes with the livers production of 5-deodinase an enzyme that is critical in converting thyroid hormones
- Chlorine (added to most municipal water supplies as a disinfectant, often in combination with ammonia as “chloramines.”)
- Fluoride (primary sources include toothpaste, dental products, municipal water supplies, pesticide, residues on commercially grown foods).
These last two elements, fluoride and chlorine, block iodine receptors in the thyroid gland. In fact, fluoride is such a potent thyroid suppressor, that it was once prescribed medically for people with overactive thyroid glands (hyperthyroidism) to slow down their thyroid activity.
Nearly everyone in the U.S. is exposed daily to fluoride and chlorine because of the widespread use of chlorine as an antiseptic in drinking water, swimming pools and hot tubs, and the fluoridation of over 66% of the nation’s municipal water supplies. This means that most people served by such water supplies are ingesting two thyroid-suppressing chemicals regularly, as well as absorbing them through their skin when bathing or showering. This is somewhat alarming since our bodies actually absorb more pollutants from bathing in water than from drinking it. Immunizations (especially DPT shots), which usually contain mercury as a preservative and mercury amalgam (misnamed silver fillings for dental cavities), toxicity have also been strongly implicated in thyroid imbalances.
Various drugs, hormones, steroids and hormone drugs can induce thyroid imbalance and inhibit thyroid function. These are called glucocorticoids such as synthetic cortisol. Medication for depression such as Sertraline (Zoloft) may deepen depression by altering T4 and TSH levels in the blood. Tricyclic antidepressants and antipsychotic phernothiazines (e.g., Flavil, Anafranil, Adapin, Sinequan, Tofrinil, Surmontil, Vivactil, Asendin, Norpramin, Pertofrane, Ludiomil, Pamelor) have a detrimental impact on thyroid function. Other drugs, including Lithium, Amiodarone (antiarrhythmic drug), and Cytokines (Interferon, Alpha, Interleukin-2, macrophage colony stimulating factor) can cause thyroid malfunction. Radiation treatments to the neck and dental X-rays increase the risk of thyroid problems.
Medications containing Estrogen such as oral contraceptives and hormone-replacement therapy may affect thyroxine-binding globulin, or may enhance thyroxine (T4) transport and lead to falsely normal levels of thyroid hormone in blood tests.
Signs And Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Many overweight people are convinced their metabolism is slow because of a thyroid problem. Yet the vast majority do not have an under-active thyroid Instead, they have Insulin Resistance, which can mimic hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism (failure to produce or convert sufficient thyroid hormones) is the most common thyroid dysfunction and is characterized by: Fatigue, low body temperature, dry skin/hair. inappropriate weight gain, brittle nails, insomnia, poor short-term memory and concentration, headaches, depression, hair loss, low motivation and ambition, cold hands and feet, fluid retention, irritability, food intolerances, diminished sex drive, food cravings.
Sadly, many hypothyroid symptoms are frequently dismissed by physicians as a normal part of aging, a psychological problem, overwork, or some other condition. Up to 20% of all chronic depression cases stem from undiagnosed low production or conversion of thyroid hormone. However, although the true cause is ignored and undiagnosed by the physician, drugs for depression are usually prescribed per the conventional pharmaceutically based medical approach of covering up symptoms and ignoring causes. As a result thyroid tests are never performed and the patient never receives the proper medical treatment they require.
Tests for thyroid function
If you are following my suggestions, doing everything right and still not losing weight, you are probably suffering from clinical hypothyroidism (an under-active thyroid) or sub-clinical hypothyroidism (you have symptoms but the blood tests are normal).
If you are experiencing difficulty losing weight due to hypothyroidism and have experienced or want to prevent any toxic exposures as those I previously described, you will want to invest in water filtration devices that will remove both chlorine and fluoride. I personally use a Reverse Osmosis unit because this will effectively remove most fluoride from drinking water. Carbon filtration of drinking and shower water is adequate to remove chlorine but not fluoride. Showerheads are now available that have filters to remove or reduce chlorine. I use a TheraShower™ showerhead. You can find them at www.therashower.net.
Lets assume you are overweight and think you have hypothyroidism. You’ve been to the doctor with complaints of weight gain, fatigue, cold hands and feet, and "brain fog". The doctor examines you and performs some blood tests, including thyroid tests. And all the tests come back normal. But you are sure you must have an under-active thyroid. You have all the symptoms including a low body temperature, but your uninformed or just uncooperative doctor refuses to prescribe any treatment. You go home, sentenced to a life of obesity and just plain feeling bad. This scenario is played out again and again because the physician is usually medically ignorant of the proper functioning of the thyroid (you would be surprised at how little is sometimes taught in medical school these days) and the conventionally prescribed thyroid blood tests simply are not sensitive enough to pick up many cases of hypothyroidism.
The Barnes Temperature Test
If you feel your thyroid is sluggish and you think you may be hypothyroid, testing your thyroid is important. You can take the do it yourself Barnes Thyroid Temperature Test (see below), as an inexpensive, yet surprisingly accurate, initial test. Before the advent of the blood test, the Barnes basal temperature test and a patients symptoms were all physicians had available to them to test thyroid function.
Doing the Barnes self temperature test, will give you a starting point to determine if you may have hypothyroidism and need to have further confirmatory blood tests or the new more accurate saliva testing performed.
Barnes Basal Temperature Test to Check Thyroid Activity
There is considerable evidence showing that the current blood tests for the diagnosis of mild sub-clinical hypothyroidism can be misleading. In his book, Hypothyroidism, an Unsuspected Illness, Broda Barnes, MD and Endocrinologist, explains that detecting low thyroid function is as simple as checking basal (baseline upon awakening) temperature.
Place a thermometer (preferably digital) within easy reach on the bedside table. If possible avoid using a mercury thermometer to eliminate the possibility of accidental breakage and potential mercury toxicity. If you use a mercury thermometer, take measures to prevent breakage.
Place the thermometer in your armpit for five minutes try to move as little as possible because movement will raise your body temperature. Do this before you’ve gotten out of bed, had coffee or food or done anything significantly physical. Dr. Barnes suggests using the axillary (armpit) temperature, rather than the mouth, because so many people have low-grade unsuspected sinus infections. These infections generate heat only in the oral cavity, thereby falsely raising the oral temperature. If you are sure you do not have infections you may take your oral temperature. For young children or the disabled, you may use the rectal temperature. Record your temperature each morning for five days.
For women, additional consideration is needed during ovulation, since ovulation somewhat elevates temperature. Because of this, women who menstruate should start recording their temperature on the second or third day of menstruation.
Normal axillary or oral temperature is in the range of 97.8 - 98.2 degrees F. Normal rectal temperature is 98.8 - 99.2 degrees F. Data on your daily basal temperatures will assist in assessing your cellular thyroid activity. Dr. Barnes estimated in the 1970’s that more than 40% of the adult population is affected by hypothyroidism, hypertension, obesity, depression, as well as constipation and many other ailments it is much higher today.
Serum (Blood) Test for Hypothyroidism
If your temperature is low, you or your physician may want to do further testing. There is a serious problem with blood testing for the thyroid and with the physicians interpreting the tests. Harvard Medical School has reported that there are no accurate serum (blood) thyroid tests.
The main problem with all the thyroid blood tests is that they do not reflect what is actually happening at the cellular level of your body. Remember, the all important conversion of T4 to T3 occurs in the nucleus of the cell within your liver not in the bloodstream.
1. W.V. Baisier, J. Herthoghe MD, W. Eeckhaut MD. Thyroid insufficiency. Is TSH measurement the only diagnostic tool? J Nutr & Environmental Med 2000 10, 105-113.
2. Damien Downing. Hypothyroidism. Treating the patient not the laboratory. J Nutr & Environmental Med 2000 10 101-103.
3. Norman G Schneeberg M.D. 'Hypothyroidism: the missed diagnosis', Endocrinology 8-12.
If you want to go the conventional medical test route you need to insist that your physician perform the T3, free T3, sensitive TSH, Reverse T3, and anti-thyroid antibody tests. Remember that the Standard T4 blood test for thyroid function ordered by most Endocrinologists and conventional physicians only measures T4 (the inactive form of the hormone) function and is rarely sensitive enough to determine hypothyroidism. That is why I recommend that you ask your doctor to perform the other blood tests. Don’t let your physician bully you – remember he works for you and can be easily replaced by a more receptive doctor.
In my clinical experience, I have found most thyroid blood tests will come back normal (due to the inherent inaccuracy of the tests), but the patient still shows signs of (sub-clinical) hypothyroidism such as a low body (basal) temperature. When this occurs a responsible physician will defer to the low temperature reading and prescribe some natural thyroid replacement hormone.
The good news is that new and more accurate non-invasive (no needles) salivary and urine thyroid tests have become available. The even better news is that you don’t need a prescription or your doctors permission to have it done – although you may have to threaten him with replacement to get him to read it and prescribe treatment. He/she may argue that it isn’t valid and this isn’t true. Serum tests aren’t necessarily valid but the salivary and urine thyroid tests are.
The Salivary Thyroid Test
Salivary and urine thyroid testing to the rescue! That’s right. Your saliva and urine now holds the key to determining whether or not you have an under-active thyroid. This brand new technology promises to change the lives of the millions of individuals suffering with an undiagnosed under-active thyroid. Because it tests thyroid function at the cellular level, the salivary/and or urine thyroid panel is more accurate than the blood tests in identifying an under-active thyroid.
The thyroid salivary test measures T3, T4 and free TSH. The salivary or urine thyroid test also measures antibodies against thyroperoxidase, an important enzyme involved in the production of thyroid hormone. Positive antibodies are sign of an autoimmune process (the immune system attacking the body’s own thyroid tissue). For more information on thyroid testing laboratories you can go to:
Reviving Your Thyroid - Treatment for Hypothyroidism
If your thyroid gland is found to be sluggish, through any of the various tests, you may first try the natural non-drug approach to reviving your thyroid by avoiding the toxins I mentioned earlier and increasing your intake of iodine-rich foods. Iodine rich foods include: seafood, asparagus, sea vegetables (like dulse and kelp), garlic, lima beans, sesame seeds, spinach, summer squash, Swiss chard, turnip greens and sea salt. Sea salt (found in health food stores) is to be used in preference to iodized salt, which is a highly processed product, devoid of most of the companion minerals normally found with sodium. Sea salt, on the other hand, contains nature’s balance of many dozen minerals.
I would not suggest taking iodine tablets or kelp supplements. Iodine, in the form of a supplement or drug, must be prescribed carefully based on laboratory testing of your iodine levels because an overdose can cause serious problems. Also, the overuse of iodine and iodine rich foods such as kelp may suppress thyroid function in some individuals. For this reason I do not recommend self-treating with kelp or iodine without consulting your healthcare practitioner – preferably one that has had wholistic training.
Thyroid Replacement Hormone Treatment
If your blood or saliva test comes back abnormal and you are fortunate to get your doctor to prescribe thyroid hormone it will most likely be Synthroid or another Levothyrodine (T4, the inactive form of thyroid hormone) drug. The problem is that most Endocrinologists and conventional physicians use these drugs almost exclusively (due to heavy advertising not because of clinical research) to treat hypothyroidism. This advertising and drug-rep driven illogical prescribing of T4 to treat hypothyroidism is the reason many hypothyroid patients remain sick despite being prescribed thyroid hormone replacement therapy!
I suggest you avoid taking Synthroid and other Levothyroxines since research has shown that they are not very effective. In fact, Synthroid was almost taken off the market by the FDA (some last minute political intervention saved it) because the manufacturer lied about its effectiveness (independent research indicates it isn’t very effective) and the manufacturer also covered up the fact that it causes osteoporosis in women. The most important reason to avoid using Levothyroxine or T4 drugs like Synthroid is that they need to be converted in the liver by the 5-deodinase enzyme to the metabolically active T3 (triidothyronine) form. Research indicates that up to 80% of hypothyroid patients lack the deodinase enzyme in the liver to produce the conversion! Another reason to avoid the use of T4 for treating hypothyroidism is that the T4 may actually be converted into Reverse T3, instead of T3 preventing any metabolic activity from taking place in the cells.
Never try to self-treat hypothyroidism by buying dessicated thyroid at the health food store. All of the dessicated thyroid sold health food stores has been forced by the FDA to be irradiated so that there are no traces of any active thyroid hormones present. Some research indicates that taking the irradiated, dessicated thyroid may permanently damage your thyroid due to the thyroid absorbing some traces of radioactive iodine present in the supplement.
All hormones are serious, potentially deadly substances and should only be used under the supervision of a physician and that is why they are only available by prescription.
Proper medical treatment for subclinical and clinical hypothyroidism should be the use of natural thyroid hormone replacement medication. This simply involves taking thyroid hormone tablets to make up for what the body is failing to produce on its own. When thyroid hormone replacement is necessary, I feel it is always preferable to use a natural dessicated form of the hormone such as Nature-Thyroid. Physicians trained in alternative and complementary medicine are less likely to use synthetic hormones and more likely to prescribe natural bio-identical hormones to treat hypothyroidism. If you want to go this route look for a licensed physician who specializes in alternative or complimentary medicine.
The New England Journal of Medicine 1999;340:424-429, 469-470, Worst Pills Best Pills by Sidney Wolf p883, Colorado Thyroid Prevalence Study Reported on in the February 2000 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, United States Food and Drug Administration Letter to Synthroid Manufacturer, Knoll Pharmaceuticals, April 26, 2001 June 1, 2001, the Wall Street Journal FDA Could Make Abbott Pull Synthroid, Popular Thyroid Drug, From the Market