Thyroid Problem? The Gym Could Be Doing More Harm Than Good
It's very common that patients in my office report an inability to lose weight. Oftentimes, I see men and women who are eating clean and are working out routinely but are unable to achieve their healthiest body composition. If this sounds familiar, it's likely there's an underlying issue blocking your ability to lose weight.
The culprit could very likely be an undiagnosed thyroid condition, as up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of it. Symptoms of low thyroid function can include cold intolerance, fatigue, sluggish metabolism (aka an inability to lose weight), sluggish bowels, poor memory, dry skin, and even a swollen tongue.
The truth about exercise and your thyroid health.
I often say that stress is our body's biggest hormone hijacker, and since a thyroid condition has everything to do with our hormones, it's important to decrease stress as much as possible. Many people think of stress as just getting stuck in traffic or being nervous about personal finances, but intense cardiovascular exercising like indoor cycling, high-intensity interval training, and long-distance running are large stressors on the body that can rob the body of necessary nutrients to make hormones like thyroid hormones. Seems counterproductive, right?
Free T4 and free T3 are the body's main thyroid hormones. Both are made by the thyrocytes, the thyroid cell in the thyroid gland, and we need to get both checked if we think we have a problem with our thyroid. The liver converts some T4 to T3—since T3 is much more potent than T4—while other tissues convert the rest. The problem is that many people have poor T4-to-T3 conversion. And the No. 1 reason for this is stress, including stress from too much exercise.
Intense exercise can also rob your body of cofactors or nutrients necessary for thyroid production like iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and even B vitamins. This doesn't mean you have to stop exercising altogether, but pay attention to how you feel when you exercise. If you're struggling and forcing yourself to complete your workout and it takes days to recover, the exercise is likely too much for your body and could be worsening thyroid functioning and actually blocking your body's ability to lose weight.
4 steps to healing your thyroid so you can get back to the gym.
If you're rearing to get back in the gym—or you just want to feel less fatigued—it's important to take the necessary steps to heal your thyroid now. Start with these four steps:
1. Reduce additional stressors on your body.
This may mean opting for calming exercises like yoga a few times each week instead of hitting the gym for intense cardio daily. Take at least 24 hours between intense training sessions, allowing your body recovery time. Even taking walks instead of running may be a better option.
2. Counteract intense exercise with supplements.
We learned earlier that exercise can rob you of key nutrients that convert thyroid hormones. Supplementing with tyrosine, iodine, selenium, and magnesium can help reduce the negative effects of intense exercise on the body and your thyroid health.
3. Remove inflammatory foods from your diet, as they, too, are stressors.
The most commonly recommend food group to avoid for thyroid health is often gluten found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats (unless oats are labeled gluten-free). Eating this food group can cause leaky gut, which then compromises absorption of the nutrients needed listed above in Step 2.
4. See an integrative or functional medicine practitioner.
Thyroid health is complex and requires a personalized approach. It's important to find a provider who will order and interpret comprehensive thyroid lab testing, including TSH, free T4, free T3, reverse T3, thyroid peroxidase, and thyroglobulin antibodies. When possible, it's also a good idea to evaluate any medications that can hinder the T4-to-T3 conversion. Beta-blockers specifically are often a culprit. This is also something that should be done under medical supervision.
Suffering from weight loss resistance can be frustrating, but if a thyroid condition is at the root, rest assured that there's a lot you can do to improve thyroid health holistically.
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