Metabolism & Thyroid Function

Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD is a leading holistic hormonal health specialist who has previously provided us with two fascinating articles on ‘Thyroid Health’ and ‘Support for Disturbed Sleep’. This week she has been kind enough to supply us with another excerpt from her book “Weight Loss Winners and Dieting Downfalls”, concerning the influence that  thyroid function and metabolism can have on ones ability to lose weight.

As Alyssa highlights in her book, “Supporting your thyroid hormones is a major influence in your metabolism that will enhance many positive areas of your health and wellbeing. This can mean a huge difference in your success – both short and long term – in achieving your weight loss goals”.

If you are struggling to lose weight there is likely to be a perfectly feasible explanation, and this article will you give an insight into what the source of the problem could be.

Alyssa begins todays article with a short questionnaire to help determine the current level of functionality of your metabolism.


Your Metabolism

Do these problems apply to you?

Sugar or salt craving – yes/no
Cold body temperature – yes/no
Loss of libido – yes/no
Memory and thinking problems – yes/no
Depression and/or anxiety – yes/no
Low blood pressure – yes/no
Dizziness – yes/no
Allergies – yes/no
Fatigue and loss of stamina – yes/no
Aches and pains – yes/no
Low blood sugar – yes/no
Little or no weight loss – yes/no
Constipation – yes/no
Dry skin – yes/no
Headaches – yes/no
Unusual or prolonged fatigue – yes/no

If you have answered yes to more than 3 of the above problems you are likely to be suffering from a slow metabolism that might be as a result of hormonal imbalance.

Starting at the Beginning – Metabolism and Energy

Metabolism is a term that is used to describe the breaking down of your food and drink (and other things ingested or absorbed by your body) as well as the making of bodily components such as peptides and proteins to maintain and repair your body. This process creates and expends energy at the cellular level.

The speed of your metabolism, or metabolic rate, depends on the availability of thyroid hormones, not just the performance of your thyroid gland in pushing out an appropriate level of thyroid hormone, T4 (thyroxine).

Low energy and tiredness go hand in hand with an inability to lose weight, this may be related to a slower metabolism, but you might also be on the ‘Carb Yo-Yo Routine’ and  be complementing it with a few alcoholic drinks because you’re not sleeping very well.

The Carb Yo-Yo Routine

The Carb Yo-Yo Routine messes around with your blood sugar levels sending them up and down as well as helping to lay fat around the middle, changing your shape and raising your risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. If your sleep is disrupted because you’re running this boom bust energy machine and using alcohol as a way to relax your body and mind for sleep, you end up suppressing your insulin production and adding more confusion to your metabolic fire.

Managing stress and regulating your food intake more effectively are so important to overcoming possible problems with metabolism and energy levels, but you still might be someone with thyroid hormone dysfunction.

I see so many people that complain of weight gain without reason, or report the inability to lose weight on a diet, often blaming a slow metabolism. Some clients tell me that their doctor did a thyroid test that came back ‘normal’, whilst others just put it down to getting older. There are reasons why your thyroid hormone function may be causing a slowed metabolism even though your doctor is unable to identify it. Medicine doesn’t have all the answers because it may be more to do with the way in which thyroid hormones are functioning rather than what your doctor is looking for, which is a disease process.

However, doctors who rely on TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) and fT4 (free Thyroxine) testing will not discover a thyroid hormone function problem and may perhaps offer SSRI antidepressants to help with the feelings of depression and anxiety that can often go with undetected thyroid hormone problems. Unfortunately these drugs are likely to contribute to weight management problems. The key is to address the thyroid hormone situation.

  • Dieting Downfall – your stress hormone and energy regulation.
  • Dieting Downfall – factors that can affect thyroid hormone function causing fatigue and lack of weight loss.
  •  Dieting Downfall – fatigue is a major reason why people are unable to make better food choices and opt for processed foods.
  • Dieting Downfall – fatigue is a major reason why people cannot find willpower.
  • Dieting Downfall –  fatigue is a major reason why people opt out of exercise!

Hormonally speaking what does this all mean?

image © Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill
image © Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill

Your metabolism can slow down, which can have effects that draw you deeper into weight gain hell. Problems with thyroid hormone conversion and action as well as stress, or the effects of cortisol, are significant for:

  • Your metabolism slowing down, making weight loss an uphill battle.
  • Your energy levels flagging, encouraging you to reach for sugar-based foods.
  • Your mood to drop and with it your motivation.
  • Your memory and ability to think properly may have you feeling that you can’t cope.

It is needless to say that all of the above are large contributors to the major downfall of dieting success, so do they sound familiar to you? If so there may be a problem with your thyroid hormone conversion.

Thyroid Hormone Function

T4 is the main hormone secreted by the thyroid gland and this needs to be converted to T3 to be really useful in sending the thyroid hormone messages to your tissues, including your brain. The trouble is that thyroid hormone action can be interfered with by a number of saboteurs.

Here are the three possibilities:

1) Your T4 is not converting properly to T3

Your main thyroid hormones are T4 (Thyroxine) and T3 (Triiodothyronine) and chemically they are made up of L-Tyrosine (an amino acid) and 4 molecules of iodine, or, L-Tyrosine and 3 molecules of iodine if it’s T3.

T3 is by far the most active thyroid hormone– low levels will mean that you suffer with underactive thyroid problems without having an underactive thyroid condition.

(Interestingly, even people who have been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid and take synthetic Thyroxine (the usual prescribed replacement hormone) can have this problem, causing continual low thyroid symptoms that necessitate constant blood testing and tweaking of their prescription, often to no avail.)

High levels of cortisol (your stress hormone) will interfere with the conversion of T4 to T3. High cortisol will cause your T4 to convert to rT3 (reverse T3), which is a much weaker and therefore less effective hormone. Nutritional deficiencies can also affect the ability of your hormones to function properly here.

2) Stress and the hormone cortisol is impeding the function of your T3

 High or low levels of cortisol in the blood stream caused by either:

On-going stress that is causing your adrenals to secrete a lot of cortisol or low levels of cortisol because your adrenals are now flagging and unable to keep up with demands. Both of these scenarios interfere with thyroid hormones ability to connect with tissue and it can be an on-going problem.

3) Hormone contraceptives lowering availability of your thyroid hormone

 (if you have the book, the following is discussed in more depth the in next chapter) Higher levels of oestrogen will stimulate secretion of a protein called Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG), which will bind to thyroid hormone, making it less available for your body to use.

What all this means is that you can be experiencing the effects of an underactive thyroid without having a diseased thyroid gland. I know that many of my clients feel a great sense of relief when they see their test results and have this scenario explained because they were convinced that something was going on with their thyroid but their doctor had insisted that it was normal.

Supporting your Metabolism

So let’s have a  look at what can be done to support your metabolism.

  • Weight Loss Winner – Address nutritional deficiencies that affect thyroid hormones.
  • Weight Loss Winner – Look at your stress factors.
  • Weight Loss Winner – Look at hormone contraceptive use.
  • Weight Loss Winner – Support mood and sleep.

Hormonally speaking what does this all mean?

image © Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill
image © Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill

There are some key nutritional deficiencies that can have an impact on your thyroid hormones and these deficiencies aren’t necessarily obvious, but they are likely to be quite common.

Nutritional deficiencies, particularly zinc and selenium, can mean that your body doesn’t have the necessary minerals to convert your T4 to T3.

Zinc is used in many enzymatic processes in the body and is important for;

  • Supporting the immune system.
  • Enhancing the actions of Vitamin D.
  • Hormones – it’s an essential part.
  • Balancing blood sugar and insulin.
  • Formation of bone and skin.
  • Converting thyroid hormone into its more active form (T3).
  • Promoting thyroid activity.

Things that deplete zinc;

  • Caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee, colas etc.
  • Steroid-based medication.
  • Diuretics (if not prescribed for medical reasons they can be a favourite of dieters).
  • The antibiotic tetracycline (or another group, fluoroquinolones) will interfere with absorption.

Don’t take any more than 25mg per day to support your body’s needs. The best forms of zinc for absorption are zinc citrate or zinc picolinate.

Selenium is another essential micro-mineral that is important for;

  • Thyroid function.
  • Immune system.
  • Reducing toxicity from heavy metals.
  • May help to prevent heart disease and cancer.

(Don’t take selenium with Proton Pump Inhibitors, used to treat reflux, or anti-histamines. Selenium can be toxic at high levels so the usual dosage is 200 mcg per day. Taking a good quality multi vitamin and mineral formulation can be a good way to provide your body with on-going nutritional support to your diet)

Stress and Cortisol

When it comes to optimal thyroid function stress and cortisol are very important influences (If you have the book please carefully review the preceding chapter on stress). However, if you are someone who takes Thyroxine be aware that general medical practice doesn’t tend to observe the importance of cortisol in thyroid function. It’s not uncommon for me to see test results of clients that illustrate how the prescription of thyroid medication has increased the processing of cortisol through the liver, putting more stress on the adrenals to replace it, which can lead to a further lowering of adrenal reserve so that there’s not enough cortisol in the blood for thyroid hormone to connect with its receptors. The outcome is that the individual has enough thyroid hormone but the hormone can’t connect to tissue in effective amounts.

The underactive thyroid symptoms continue, including problems with weight management. The influence of the Pill and HRT is another area that is not generally recognised with regard to thyroid hormone influence (this is addressed more fully in the next chapter on Oestrogen). If you are experiencing problems with weight management it may be because your contraception or HRT has slowed your metabolism and increased your ability to retain fluid. Supporting your thyroid hormones is a major influence in your metabolism that will enhance many positive areas of your health and wellbeing. This can mean a huge difference in your success – both short and long term – in achieving your weight loss goals.


Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD is a leading holistic hormone health specialist with practices in Harley Street, London, Jersey in the Channel Islands and an international virtual clinic with patients all over the world. She is a fervent supporter of the charity Thyroid UK, being a Trustee and on their advisory panel, supporting their aims of promoting better thyroid health.

Alyssa has a background in health that stretches over 20 years – with an academic background in health promotion (MSc) and a PhD focused on ‘Holistic healing from breast cancer through the lens of hormones: Synopsis and synthesis’. More information about her and her book ‘Weight Loss Winners & Dieting Downfalls’ (including buying online) can be found by following the link below. The book provides a wealth of information including:

 “Learn key factors that can help you overcome your Dieting Downfalls and maximise your Weight Loss Winners with questionnaires to assess how you shape up in hormone health. This is not another diet book this information will make a difference whatever regime you choose to follow. If you want to know why, this book will provide you with hormone insights that impact men and women alike.”

www.dralyssaburns-hill.com


Recognising the Connections: Stress, Thyroid Health & Function – 20th March, 10am – 5pm

If you have enjoyed this article, you will be please to know Alyssa will be holding a Thyroid Conference on the 20th March at Brockworth, Gloucestershire. For more information on the conference and how to book your place please click the image below.

Seminar-web


With many thanks to Alyssa for this enlightening article. Alyssa has previously written blogs for us and you can find the links to those articles below. If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time. If you want to be alerted by email when a new post is published simply add your email address in the ‘Get The Latest Post By Email’ in the right-hand column.

Amanda Williams, Cytoplan Ltd
amanda@cytoplan.co.uk, 01684 310099


Relevant Links

Cytoplan Blog: Stress and Cortisol
Cytoplan Blog: Thyroid Problems – the difference between ‘form’ and ‘function’ – by Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD
Cytoplan Blog: Support for disturbed or disrupted sleep – by Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD


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23 thoughts on “Metabolism & Thyroid Function

  1. Interesting article, tells me much of what I have already read; but for me does not offer much of a solution.
    As far as I can judge I do (and take) all the right things and do NOT do (or take) all the wrong things. Yet I still have a weight problem, I still feel tired most of the time, often depressed, lack motivation, have dry skin, constipation, poor memory. I have no idea of my cortisol levels, but assume they are high and I suspect adrenal fatigue too. as I am a full time carer for a demanding, difficult, often aggressive husband.
    Strangely my blood pressure is high, not low and I have finally had to give in and accept pills from the doc.

    1. Hi Kato

      Thank you for your response. Remember that this is only an extract of my book so you might find more answers and solutions with the bigger picture. However, as you say that there are a few unknowns and these really speak to me. You mention a number of, potentially, thyroid related problems: dry skin, constipation, poor memory and weight and it may be that your main thyroid hormone T4 is not converting to T3, the active hormone. This will mean that you are functionally low and your GP is very unlikely to have looked at this because it’s not treated with drugs. Also if your cortisol levels are high they will be preventing conversion of T4 to T3!

      So you see a bit to think about. As you are a full time carer of an aggressive person this can be extremely stressful and stress can be linked with an increased blood pressure because higher cortisol will cause constriction of the arteries.

      I hope you find these responses helpful, Kato. I send you best wishes,

    2. Could a form of magnesium (mineral) be used to drop your BP instead of drugs? It has a relaxant effect, by dilating the blood vessels and therefore dropping the pressure. I’m sure Cytoplan will be able to advise. Or try Googling ‘natural remedies for BP’ and see what comes up. I would also suggest some form of meditation or mindfulness but it doesn’t sound like you have the peace for that. Your situation sounds similar to my Mum’s. Perhaps a form of listening meditation DVD to chill down that cortisol? And some regular planned time out of the house for yoga, tai chi or learn NLP ‘anchoring’ techniques that will help put you into your own positive mindspace. I’m 60; my weight has become a problem since menopause 2 years ago. I eat no more than I ever did but the waistline increaseth! My last suggestion is to look at Imaginal Health’s You Tube videos. She does some good Energy Medicine techniques for balancing adrenals and hormones that are simple, self help ways. Or go onto Eden Energy Medicine website and find a local practitioner.

      1. Magnesium does indeed relax smooth muscle and certainly in this instance can aid vasodilation and hence reduce blood pressure. It is often a good and safe place to start, especially in patients not on blood pressure medication. I would be inclined to advise 2x500mg of Magnesium Citrate per day with food for a few days and if it is the magnesium that is going to make the difference needed, then it will usually happen within a few days.

        All the best,
        Amanda

        1. Many thanks to those offering suggestions. I have twice had the standard thyroid test and even demanded test 2 (which they do not usually do) with what they called “normal” results. I am just at the end of my second bottle of Kelp, for iodine, with absolutely no discernible effect. I wonder if there is any reason to continue ?

          I have had some improvement in my energy by – wait for it – drinking more water ! I still get tired easily, but do have a little more “go” and my general mood has improved. – or is it the Tai Chi ?

          Yes, I also do Tai Chi (which incorporates Qui guong ) and get a really good night’s sleep afterwards. There are several types of Tai Chi, the first I tried did not suit me, or provide any improvement ; this one is better. So anyone thinking of doing Tai Chi, do please try several types until you find the one best for you – or go for Qui guong for relaxation and good breathing.

          I am already taking a potassium/magnesium supplement, but the Mag is just 50mg. What does seem to have helped my BP is Olive Leaf. 300mg, (consisting of 60mg oleuropein, 175mg wild rose hip, and 75mg colloidal minerals.) a significant, although not drastic reduction, but it has stopped my doc from increasing my medication.

          1. Hi Kato,

            I think it would be a good idea for you to do a Barnes test which will ascertain your metabolic rate and hence whether your thyroid gland is working optimally or sub optimally. Once you have the results from this, it would be the time to look at the supplements you are taking and to assess if your thyroid does indeed need more support or if your tiredness has other causes. If you want help regarding the Barnes test methodology please email me directly – amanda@cytoplan.co.uk

            All the best,
            Amanda

          2. Hi Kato

            Thanks for sharing – there are a couple of things that come to mind – one is methylation so you might want to try some support there. There are certain similarities between poor methylation and low thyroid. You could read my Cytoplan blog on this if you’d like to know a it more.

            Your fT3, the one they won’t usually test, is the one that does most of the work but it’s at a functional level of the body. The Tai Chi that you’re doing will help with stress and cortisol levels as that can be a major factor in poor conversion of fT4 to fT3. fT4 is the one they sometimes check but not always! This is also the one that is usually replaced if there’s a problem. However, zinc and selenium can also be helpful in providing nutritional support for the conversion process.

            I hope that’s helpful m’dear! wishing you well,
            Alyssa

  2. Hello,
    I’ve just been reading the above article and am puzzled. I thought the new thinking on obesity is that normal or low weight people have slow metabolic rates and overweight or obese have high metabolic rates? – see article abstract below –
    THE LANCET
    Originally published as Volume 1, Issue 8074
    27 May 1978, Pages 1122–1125
    ELEVATED METABOLIC RATES IN OBESITY
    Originally published as Volume 1, Issue 8074
    W.P.T. James, J. Bailes, H.L. Davies, M.J. Dauncey
    The resting metabolic rates (R.M.R.S) of 69 obese patients were measured during a period of weight stability. All except 4 women had a rate, in megajoules per 24 hours, in excess of that for subjects of normal weight. This increased R.M.R. is obscured by the traditional method of expressing R.M.R. per unit surface area. The high R.M.R. in the obese state was related not to the excess fat but to a 36% and 32% increase in the lean body mass of the men and women respectively. The R.M.R.S of 30 patients measured during weight-loss fell. The increase in R.M.R. in obesity is an important mechanism for achieving energy balance, whereas the progressive fall in R.M.R. during slimming demonstrates the need for a permanent reduction in food intake if energy balance is to be maintained on reaching normal weight. Measuring only the R.M.R. in the obese state is unlikely to help in understanding the pathogenesis of obesity.

    1. Hi Jinny

      Thank you for your enquiry, which I think highlights the multi-factoral nature of health problems.

      The term Metabolic Basal Rate is potentially confusing as it is derived from a measurement of how much energy it takes to heat 1 gram of water by 1 degree celsius, but MBR can be affected by quite a few factors: hormone levels, whether you’ve fasted or taken exercise and even by your emotional state (i.e. if your anxious, for example).

      There have been a lot of RMR related studies that have been published since the one you reference that show that this is not as straightforward as the 1978 study might suggest, but as it does suggest, “Measuring only the RMR in the obese state is unlikely to help in understanding the pathogenesis of obesity”.

      From a whole person point of view there is always more than one factor and this is an important part of what I shall be covering in the Cytoplan seminar on March 20th!

      I do hope that’s been helpful. All best wishes

  3. Since I sustained a major head and spinal accident at work 16 years ago and left me disabled I have put on double my weight, 8 stone, prior to my injury. I have tried a number of diets and stuck to them religiously and have lost very little weight. I have repeatedly asked my G.P to do an RT3 and 4 test and normal thyroid test function. He has agreed to do the normal thyroid test which is within the normal range but his unable to do the test for RT3 and 4.

    I do not understand why I now cannot loss weight even when i have made drastic changes to my diet. I am unable to do any exercise and am carer dependant. even when my calorie intake is 500 a day, for two days a week, i still cannot lost the extra weight, which is putting pressure on both my damaged spine and hips. I am eager to change my life for the better and believe something in my thyroid is not functioning properly. I live in the benefit system, which test would you recommend, to get a definitive answer to the possibility of thyroid dysfunction? I am finding this is now having a negative affect on my already compromised and challenging life.

    Your article was very insightful and simple to understand, especially when this is such a complex subject.

    Clarissa

    1. Hi Clarissa

      Thank you for your question m’dear and for your kind feedback, much appreciated. It sounds like you’ve been through a very difficult time. There are a number of points I’d like to try to address for you:

      – with a head injury that has left you disabled it would have been a huge shock and adjustment to your system. However, 16 years later you should be able to consume more than 500 calories per day!

      – your GP is only likely to do a TSH and maybe a fT4 (rT3 is a bit ‘out there’ for NHS practice!). However, with what you’ve been through it may well be that your adrenals and a low fT3 are what are causing a problem. If this is so you are unlikely to get anywhere in the medical model because it’s a functional problem rather than a disease-state. It’s a problem I see in my clinics on a regular basis.

      I realise that this doesn’t provide you with a way of going back to your doctor but I hope that it gives you some further insight. There are no magic pills for a problem such as this, but testing does help to identify the problem areas so that a targeted approach can be used. Natural support such as vitamins and minerals can make a profound difference if that is all that is required – for example low selenium and zinc will mean that your body’s ability to convert T4 to T3 will be compromised – but very often poor adrenal function will also be playing a significant role.

      I hope this helps, Clarissa.

      Sending best wishes,
      Alyssa

      1. Hi Clarissa
        Having just managed to shed a few stubborn pounds I sympathise. If your nails are ridged the chances are that you have a thyroid imbalance. I certainly found that once I addressed this imbalance it was much easier to shed the weight and my nails are now lovely and smooth. I like the Iodine complex from Script Essentials formulated by Suzy Cohen. I also use Ashwaghanda an Aruvedic herb which is brilliant for throid health. Quite often for women several hormones are out of balance making weight loss near impossible. Its not just about exercise and calorie intake. Sara Gotfried’s “The Hormone Reset Diet” explains which hormones need to be in balance brilliantly at provides a 21 day reset protocol. It is important whatever protocol you follow to be honest about how much you’re eating and what you’re eating! A food diary will sort that! It’s very easy to eat 100 more calories a day than you need and it adds up! If a 21 day proptocol is a bridge too far you ideally should do a 5 – 7 day cleanse before taking any new supplment so that you body can dump the junk which will stop you absorbing them. Don’t forget to get lots of sleep and drink lots of water too. It the body thinks it’s deprived it will tend to hold on to everything! Fat included! Mostly we comfort it so its key to find out the emotional issue we are using food to assuage and find a better alternative e.g. baked apple and cinnamon instead of apple cake.

  4. All this is so true. Many doctors have thought I had a thyroid problem due to my symptoms but blood test said NO. My weight also just keeps on going up with no change in diet and I exercise regularly.

  5. Some folks have mentioned iodine (in kelp form) in re to thyroid function. I wonder what the opinion is about taking iodine via dropper bottle. The amount needed by the individual can be energy tested for (via kinesiology) or can just be put directly onto the skin. In my experience, if the iodine is needed the body will absorb it through the skin without you having to try and work out the dose! When the yellow colour’s gone – then it’s been absorbed. Sufficient iodine means that the receptors get what they need when they are otherwise often blocked by other similar elements like bromine (in bread and salt), chlorine (in water & chemicals) and fluorine (in water, toothpaste & chemicals). Household chemicals should be avoided too in favour of simple cleaners like Bicarb, lemon, etc.

  6. Just read a doctors comments in an article on thyroid problems. When asked, he said there were no suitable complementary therapies as most of them contained iodine and it was a mistake to think that this was beneficial – implying that it could be harmful.

    1. Hi Veronica-Mae,

      Thank you for your comment. A lot of doctors have iodophobia (fear of iodine), which fails to appreciate the importance of the mineral in a world that is filled with its competitors – like fluoride! I’d welcome the opportunity to look at his/her references for this perspective as there are a great many references to argue the importance of iodine in most thyroid conditions. This is where its important to understand the underlying conditions and, therefore, important to work with a well-informed health practitioner. I hope that’s helpful for you. Best wishes, Alyssa

  7. Dear Clarissa
    If you have ridged nails the chances are high you have a thyroid imbalance. You may want to try the iodine complex by Script Essentials and Ashwaghanda an Aruvedic herb. Sara Gottfried’s book “The Hormone Reset Diet” explains really clearly how to bring a range of hormones into balance using a 21 day protocol. For most women its more than one hormone imbalance resulting in weight gain and difficulty loosing weight. Stress, lack of sleep and insufficient water instage can all contribute to weight gain. If 21 days might be a bridge too far! Try a 3 day juice cleanse and then a 7 day juice cleanse. Cleaning out the junk before adding supplements to what you consume will increase your body’s capacity to assimilate them!

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