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  • Writer's pictureVoraka Magazine



Article Published on 10th Feb, 2024 by Celine Ramelli | 

Debunking the Myth: No Causal Link Found Between Hypothyroidism and Obesity.

Patients frequently attribute their weight gain or struggles with weight loss to a thyroid disorder, yet recent data challenges this widely held belief. According to Dr. Lisal J. Folsom, a pediatric and adult endocrinologist, the internet is a significant source of misinformation regarding the thyroid.

Contrary to popular belief, Dr. Folsom emphasizes that there is no established connection between obesity and hypothyroidism, challenging the notion that a malfunctioning thyroid gland directly leads to weight gain. New-onset hypothyroidism, characterized by an underactive thyroid, does not typically result in weight gain.

A comprehensive study involving 1,400 children referred for obesity revealed that only 0.5% had hypothyroidism, debunking the assumption that thyroid issues are a common cause of childhood obesity. Even in cases of autoimmune hypothyroidism, where thyroid enlargement was prevalent, weight gain was rare, and the affected children exhibited body mass indices comparable to the general population.

Moreover, research examining the impact of thyroid medication on patients' weight showed no significant weight loss. Advanced imaging techniques, such as DXA scans, failed to reveal any discernible differences in fat or lean muscle mass before and after thyroid treatment.

Dr. Folsom underscores that both adult and pediatric data consistently fail to establish a clear relationship between thyroid treatment and changes in body weight. This evidence challenges the prevailing belief that addressing thyroid issues alone can lead to substantial weight management.

In conclusion, the available data suggests that hypothyroidism is not a primary contributor to obesity, dispelling a common misconception held by many patients. Dr. Folsom's insights emphasize the importance of relying on accurate information rather than internet-fueled myths when understanding the complex relationship between thyroid function and body weight.


The TSH-Obesity Connection: Unraveling the Misconceptions

Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), a key player in thyroid function, has long been associated with thyroid hormone levels. Contrary to common belief, a higher TSH level, often observed in obese individuals, is not a driving force behind obesity. In fact, evidence suggests that the elevated TSH might be a strategic response by the body to counteract weight gain.

Dr. Lisal J. Folsom, in her enlightening medical education presentation on Pediatric Thyroid Disorders, emphasizes that higher TSH levels can actually boost metabolism, indicating a potential compensatory mechanism to combat weight gain. Even in cases where TSH levels are elevated in obese patients, levels of thyroid hormone generally remain within the normal range.

The historical misconception linking weight gain and hypothyroidism is traced back to a time before TSH testing was possible. The introduction of the first TSH test in the 1960s marked a pivotal moment in thyroid diagnostics. Before this advancement, patients were often diagnosed at a late stage of their disease, characterized by myxedema, where weight gain was attributed to edema and increased water weight rather than an accumulation of adipose tissue.

Dr. Folsom challenges the common narrative by highlighting that classic symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue, constipation, dry skin, hair loss, and irregular periods, stand out more prominently than weight gain. The revelation that higher TSH levels might be a physiological response to obesity provides a fresh perspective on the intricate interplay between thyroid function and body weight, debunking long-standing myths and encouraging a more nuanced understanding in the medical community.

 Unraveling the Complexities of Thyroid Hormone Metabolism

Understanding thyroid hormone metabolism reveals a complex interplay with profound implications for basal metabolic rate, glucose utilization, and growth processes. Here's a closer look at the intricate role of thyroid hormones in shaping various metabolic functions:

Thyroid hormones influence basal metabolic rate by affecting the genetic expression of the sodium-potassium-ATPase, also known as the "Na-K pump" or sodium pump.

They stimulate the metabolism of carbohydrates and the anabolism (building up) of proteins, contributing to vital physiological processes.

Thyroid hormone enhances the body's ability to absorb and produce glucose through gluconeogenesis. It aids in glycogen synthesis, promoting the storage of glucose, and enhances glucose oxidation, facilitating its utilization.

In childhood, thyroid hormone is crucial for bone and linear growth, as well as brain development. Hypothyroidism, affecting approximately 1 in 500 school-age children, can lead to poor linear growth and may manifest in physical symptoms such as a goiter or a slow heart rate.

The most common cause of hypothyroidism in children is an autoimmune condition, specifically Hashimoto thyroiditis or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. Regular screening is essential to identify and manage thyroid dysfunction in this demographic.

The thyroid gland predominantly produces thyroxine (T4). Free thyroxine, which is not bound to proteins, and total T4, including T4 bound to plasma proteins, are crucial indicators in assessing thyroid function. These proteins primarily include thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG), transthyretin (TTR), and albumin.

When evaluating thyroid function in patients, common blood tests include measuring thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels along with either free thyroxine (T4) or total T4. This comprehensive approach helps healthcare professionals gain insights into the thyroid's dynamic role in metabolic regulation.

In summary, understanding the far-reaching effects of thyroid hormone metabolism is essential for unraveling its impact on metabolic processes, growth, and overall well-being. Ongoing advancements in diagnostic screening contribute to more effective management of thyroid disorders as research continues to expand our knowledge.


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