While many people have problems losing weight, most people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease have the opposite problem. Due to the increased metabolism caused by the hyperthyroid condition, most people with hyperthyroidism lose a good amount of weight, and many of these people find it challenging to stop the weight loss. When I was dealing with Graves’ Disease I lost 40 pounds, and it took awhile before I began gaining weight. I work with many people with hyperthyroid conditions who have the same problem. And so the goal of this blog post is to discuss what people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease can do to gain weight.
When someone is initially diagnosed with hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease, they might actually like the idea of losing weight. In fact, some people don’t want to undergo any treatment until they drop a certain number of pounds. On the other hand, some people with hyperthyroid conditions begin to gain weight when taking antithyroid medication. But some people struggle to gain weight even while on the medication, and so let’s go ahead and discuss some of the things people with hyperthyroid conditions can do to gain weight.
WEIGHT GAIN STRATEGY #1: Normalize the thyroid hormone levels. Since the high thyroid hormone levels are usually responsible for the weight loss in hyperthyroid conditions you of course want to do what is necessary to normalize these levels. Most people with hyperthyroidism have Graves’ Disease, which is an autoimmune thyroid condition where TSH receptor antibodies stimulate or bind to the TSH receptors, thus causing the thyroid gland to secrete an excessive amount of thyroid hormone. Ultimately the goal should be to suppress the autoimmune component, but until this is accomplished it is important to manage the hyperthyroid symptoms.
Many people choose to take antithyroid medication such as Methimazole. This frequently will help to normalize the thyroid hormone levels, which in turn can prevent weight loss from occurring. However, it’s not uncommon for the antithyroid medication to make someone hypothyroid, and thus make it challenging to lose weight. Bugleweed and L-carnitine are natural options, as they both can inhibit thyroid hormone production, and thus stop the weight loss from occurring. Sometimes people will continue to lose weight even after the thyroid hormone levels are normal, and when this is the case they will need to look into the other “weight gain strategies” I listed here.
WEIGHT GAIN STRATEGY #2: Eat nutrient dense foods. Most people with hyperthyroid conditions try to address their weight loss issues by eating as many calories as they can. Frequently what they’ll do is try to load up on carbohydrates. Ideally what you want to do is eat nutrient dense foods. In his excellent book “You’re Personal Paleo Code”, Chris Kresser lists certain foods according to their nutrient-density scores. According to Chris, the food with the highest nutrient-density score was organ meats. Other meats are also nutrient dense, although not as high as organ meats. If you happen to be vegetarian then you’ll be happy to know that nuts and seeds are high up on the list. Some examples of nutrient dense fruits and vegetables include avocados, collard greens, kale, spinach, arugula, radishes, and carrots. Eggs are also nutrient dense. If someone has gut issues then they will either want to cut out, or completely avoid eating nuts and seeds (as well as beans and legumes). The reason for this is because these foods have lectins and phytic acid, which make them difficult to digest. Soaking these foods can help to reduce these antinutrients, although this won’t completely eliminate them.
WEIGHT GAIN STRATEGY #3: Consume one or two smoothies on a daily basis with some added protein. In addition to eating nutrient dense foods, you can also have one or two smoothies per day. In the smoothie you can of course add some nutrient dense foods, such as kale, avocados, coconut oil, etc. But in addition to this you can also add some additional protein in the form of whey protein (which is also a great source of glutathione), or if you’re trying to avoid dairy then you can use a rice- or pea-based protein powder.
WEIGHT GAIN STRATEGY #4: Correct any malabsorption problems. Malabsorption is common with hyperthyroidism (1) (2), as the increase in metabolism itself can affect the absorption of nutrients, although there can be other factors which cause problems with absorption. For example, many people with Graves’ Disease have an increase in intestinal permeability (a leaky gut), and this can cause problems with nutrient absorption. Certain pathogens can also cause problems with absorption, and in some cases it is wise to obtain a stool panel which detects the presence of pathogens. Gallbladder problems are another factor to consider. Sometimes a person will be taking medication other than antithyroid drugs and beta blockers which are interfering with nutrient absorption. For example, oral contraceptives interfere with the absorption of numerous vitamins and minerals.
WEIGHT GAIN STRATEGY #5: Do some LIGHT weightlifting at least 3 days per week . Since hyperthyroidism decreases the muscle mass (3) and affects the bone density (4), it would also be a good idea to do some light weightlifting at least a few days per week. When losing weight most people simply try to eat more calories, but doing some light weightlifting can help greatly in gaining weight. A small trial involving sixteen patients with hyperthyroidism showed that resistance training accelerates the recovery of skeletal muscle function and promotes weight gain based on muscle mass improvement (5). Of course if you don’t have experience lifting weights it probably would be a good idea to work with a personal trainer.
In summary, when dealing with a hyperthyroid condition it can be a challenge to gain weight. When this is the case, normalizing the thyroid hormone levels will be one of the keys to halting the weight loss. However, eating nutrient dense foods and doing some light weightlifting can also help people to gain weight. And if someone has another condition which is interfering with the absorption of nutrients (leaky gut syndrome, intestinal dysbiosis, gallbladder problems) then of course this needs to be addressed.