Thyroid, Menopause, & Weight Gain

Weight gain and menopause

In the previous article we talked about weight gain and how our body clock works. Weight gain is strongly linked to menopause and sadly, the majority of menopausal women gain weight and change body shape at this time. You basically get “thick in the middle”. But, there is not much you can do to alter body fat distribution after menopausal onset. Instead, there are other ways in which you can keep your weight under control. Let’s discuss the function of the thyroid.

What is the thyroid?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland sitting on the front of the neck. It lies below the ‘Adam’s apple’, in the front of the windpipe and consists of two side lobes, connected by a bridge (isthmus) in the middle. It is a brownish red colour as it is rich in blood vessels. This gland secretes three different hormones, collectively called thyroid hormones. These are: triiodothyronine called also T3, thyroxine also known as T4 – and a peptide hormone, calcitonin.

Thyroid hormone functions

These hormones influence metabolic rate and protein synthesis. In children, they are vital for development and growth. Calcitonin plays a role in calcium homeostasis (balancing calcium levels).

Thyroid function

  • The thyroid hormones regulates the basal metabolic rate (resting metabolic rate)and have an effect on almost all body tissues. In fact, body functions like appetite, absorption of substances, digestion and gut motility are all influenced by the presence of these hormones.
  • These hormones increase the rate and strength of the heartbeat. They also increase breathing rate, intake and consumption of oxygen, and mitocondrial activity (energy production in cells)
  • Thyroid hormones are vital for normal development. They are responsible for the growth rate of young people, and cells in the developing brain are a major target for T3 and Thormones.
  • These hormones also play a role in preserving normal sexual function including libido (sex drive) as well as influencing sleep cycles. 

Weight gain

The thyroid’s function influences weight gain because it regulates metabolism. An imbalance in thyroid hormones or their regulation can cause your metabolism to be disrupted, leading to either weight loss or gain depending on the type of thyroid dysfunction you are experiencing.

Menopause

During menopause, oestrogen levels decrease rapidly. This decrease in oestrogen is the cause of menopausal symptoms, as we know. There are evidences from research that oestrogen levels have an influence on thyroid receptors. These are the molecules responsible for the entry of thyroid hormones in cells. Researchers demonstrate that oestrogen levels can affect the thyroid’s functions and therefore can lead to disorders. We need more research to confirm this and to better understand the relationship between these two hormones.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism can make menopause symptoms worse. A research study showed that women suffering from both a thyroid disorder and severe menopausal symptoms, experienced improved symptoms after getting the disorder treated. Hypothyroidism and menopause also present many overlapping symptoms, which means going through both at the same time can severely worsen the common symptoms.

What to do?

If you are going through severe menopausal symptoms and suspect you may have a thyroid disorder, don’t wait, go to your doctor and explain the situation. A simple blood test can determine the function of the thyroid, making it very easy to diagnose.