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Do you feel fatigued and depressed? Perhaps you have noticed that you have gained a bit of weight, despite your eating habits remaining unchanged.
Let’s say you have gone to the doctor, and they have diagnosed you with hypothyroidism.
You are not alone. As much as 4.6 percent of the US population has been living with hypothyroidism.[i]
The good news is that the majority of its symptoms are mild and not considered to be life-threatening. They can also be easily controlled with the regular use of proper thyroid medications as well.
And yes, thyroid medications can even help you lose weight and go back to your body weight before the weight gain gained, due to hypothyroidism. In today’s article, we will look at the best thyroid medications to achieve weight loss in hypothyroidism patients.
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front part of the throat, just below Adam’s apple in men.
Through the production of two very important hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), the thyroid gland takes part in many essential body functions. From providing energy for everybody organ and controlling your heart, to maintaining your metabolism – the thyroid gland has many important roles in the body.
Without the right amount of thyroid hormones, the thyroid gland is no longer able to maintain the previously mentioned body functions, and so, they naturally begin to slow down. This is where the first symptoms of a condition called hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid” start to show up.
Affecting women, more frequently than men, hypothyroidism is a serious health issue and, as such requires immediate treatment. Although it can occur at any age, in most cases, we see people after the age of 60 being affected by hypothyroidism.
Here are the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- Weight gain;
- Slower heart rate;
- Muscle weakness;
- Dry skin;
- Thinning hair;
- Menstrual cycle irregularities;
- Cold intolerance, etc.
Now, the symptom that interests us the most is weight gain. In people with hypothyroidism, we see a decline in their BMR (basal metabolic rate) happening. This is the main reason why these people tend to experience unintentional weight gain. As expected, the weight gain depends on the severity of the case itself. Massive weight gain is rarely seen in these individuals. In the majority of cases, we see a gain of 5-10 pounds of body weight.
This symptom can be explained by the excess accumulation of salt and water. But the other symptoms that happen due to hypothyroidism also contribute to the development of weight gain. Feeling fatigued and depressed can reflect negatively on one’s everyday routine, including their physical activity, diet, motivation, etc. thus increasing the chances of weight gain to take place.
What are thyroid medications?
Luckily, in the majority of cases, the symptoms of hypothyroidism, including weight gain, can be easily controlled with the regular use of thyroid medications. A weight loss is expected to happen with the bodyweight returning to the number, which it was before the case of hypothyroidism has first started developing.
The goal of using thyroid medications is to supplement the low thyroid hormone levels in individuals with hypothyroidism. All thyroid medications require a proper prescription to be used. There are multiple health risks to be expected in case of thyroid medication misuse and overdose. You and your doctor will decide on which thyroid medication is the best one for you, and you are to closely follow the provided instructions.
Although the thyroid gland produces two thyroid hormones, with those being T3 and T4, it is T4 that is most commonly used to treat hypothyroidism. These are generally safe to be used. However, they are meant to be used according to the provided instructions. The daily recommended dosage is not to be exceeded as a way to avoid side-effects from happening.
There are two basic thyroid hormone preparations available on the market today.
- Natural preparations;
- Synthetic preparations.
The natural preparations are derived from animal thyroid. These include desiccated thyroid and thyroglobulin. However, the most common thyroid medication is synthetic thyroxine, also known by the name of Levothyroxine. Liotrix is another commonly used thyroid medication.
The best thyroid medications that can help you lose weight
It is worth mentioning that no thyroid medication is meant to be used as a weight-loss aid. The thyroid medication is to be used only as a part of the hypothyroidism treatment, while weight loss is only one of the benefits that are happening due to the normalization of the thyroid hormone levels. Do not use these medications to treat obesity and/or achieve weight loss.
Desiccated thyroid, also referred to as thyroid extract, is a thyroid medication made from dried and powdered pig thyroid glands. This thyroid medication is taken by the mouth, preferably on an empty stomach at the same time each day. It was first used back in the early 1890s. Thyroid extract has been used for far longer before 1980. Chinese healers supposedly used desiccated thyroid, often mixed with fruit, to help improve its taste.[ii]
With the arrival of Levothyroxine on the market, back in the 1970s, desiccated thyroid fell out of use. This thyroid medication re-gained its popularity after Hilary Clinton’s physician reported that she has been prescribing desiccated thyroid to Hilary Clinton to treat her low-thyroid condition.[iii]
Desiccated thyroid contains both T4 and T3, along with traces of iodine, calcitonin, and thyroid co-factors T1 and T2. This thyroid medication is still popular, especially among patients who failed to experience an improvement in their symptoms after using Levothyroxine. In a 2014 study, 78% of the participants diagnosed with hypothyroidism, who replaced Levothyroxine with desiccated thyroid, reported an improvement in their condition with minor side-effects.[iv] Desiccated thyroid is, however, not suitable for people above the age of 65, as they are marked as “high-risk medications.”
Liothyronine is a man-made form of the thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3). It is generally less commonly used as compared to Levothyroxine, which remains one of the most popular thyroid drug options. Liothyronine was first approved for medical use back in 1956. The usual dose of Liothyronine is normally lower as compared to the prescribed dose of Levothyroxine since Liothyronine is a higher concentrated synthetic medication.
Apart from being used to treat hypothyroidism, Liothyronine is also used to treat thyroid cancer and myxedema coma. Its use for obesity is not recommended. There is a risk of minor side-effects that occur when the drug has been used in excessive dosages. Liothyronine can be taken orally in the form of a tablet, or as an injection.
A double-blind study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism investigated and then compared the effects of Levothyroxine and Liothyronine. The results showed that both thyroid medications helped increase thyroid hormone levels. It is worth mentioning that the use of Liothyronine helped achieve significant weight loss results.[v]
Levothyroxine is the drug of choice when it comes to treating hypothyroidism.[vi] This thyroid drug is identical to the T4 hormone, which is later converted in T3, once introduced in the body. Apart from being used to treat low thyroid hormone levels, it is also used as a part of the prevention and treatment process for goiter, as well as in the treatment of thyroid cancer.
Dangerous side-effects can occur from the misuse of Levothyroxine, as this medication is not meant to be used to treat obesity and weight problems. The prescribed daily dose is to be respected at all times. There are two methods of use – oral use, when a Levothyroxine tablet or capsule is taken by the mouth, preferably on an empty stomach, and an injection given as an infusion in the vein. Levothyroxine can cause some mild to more serious side-effects.
But Levothyroxine is not always effective. Findings show that around 5-10% of the patients treated with Levothyroxine have experienced persistent symptoms, despite the daily treatment with Levothyroxine. One 2018 study compared the effects of Levothyroxine monotherapy and Levothyroxine used in combination with levotriiodothyronine.[vii] Unfortunately, the results showed no significant improvement in the symptoms in those treated with a combination of Levothyroxine and levotriiodothyronine. In such cases, other thyroid medications are usually prescribed.
And last but not least important we have the man-made combination of thyroxine and triiodothyronine in a 4:1 mixture, known by the name of Liotrix.[viii] The primary use of Liotrix is to treat thyroid deficiency and hypothyroidism. However, this thyroid medication is also often used to treat Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, goiter, and thyroid cancer. It is not uncommon for Levothyroxine to be preferred over Liotrix.
It is interesting to mention that Liotrix was developed while scientists and researchers thought that it was the direct thyroidal secretion that maintained both the T4 and the T3 levels. Nowadays, we know that the thyroid gland is producing ten times more T4 as compared to T3, in addition to approximately 80% of T3 being derived from T4.
Thyroid medications, including Liotrix, are not meant to treat obesity and weight problems. Weight loss is normally achieved in individuals with hypothyroidism once the control over their thyroid hormone levels has been once again established. Liotrix is administered orally, preferably on an empty stomach, in the form of a tablet. Side effects are expected to happen due to misuse or overdose.
The previously mentioned thyroid medications remain to be recognized as some of the best thyroid medications available on the market today. Of all four, Levothyroxine is the obvious winner. However, as we explained before, in the very few cases where Levothyroxine has not achieved satisfactory results, it is good to have a plan B, usually in the form of one or more of the other thyroid medications.
With the increase of thyroid hormone levels, these medications are expected to help the individual return to the bodyweight that he/she had before hypothyroidism ever occurred. All of these medications will lead to an effective weight loss. For even greater weight loss results, the doctor can recommend additional weight loss methods. These usually involve following a well-balanced diet, being regularly physically active, getting enough sleep, etc.
However, do not attempt to use any of these medications to achieve weight loss, if you have not been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer, goiter, etc. Using any thyroid medication without a clear indication can be potentially life-threatening and expose you to great health risks and issues.
Leaving your hypothyroidism untreated can bring upon many major difficulties as a part of your everyday life. Feeling constantly constipated, failing to find the motivation to hit the gym, or even get out of bed, apart from other symptoms, can have its toll on your life.
This is why thyroid medications are so important. With the regular use of thyroid medications, you can fight every single symptom on this list, including the unintentional weight gain, which we are guessing, you are the most unhappy about. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of using proper thyroid medications to help you lose the gained weight and eliminate the rest of the symptoms, thus improving the quality of your life.
[i] Garber JR, Cobin RH, Garib H, et al. Clinical Practice Guidelines for Hypothyroidism in Adults: Cosponsored by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American Thyroid Association. Endocrine Practice. 2012;18(6):988–1028
Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23246686/
[ii] Slater, S. (2011). The discovery of thyroid replacement therapy. Part 1: In the beginning. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 104(1), 15-18. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2010.10k050
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3014555/
[iii] Phillips, A. (2016, September 14). Hillary Clinton’s new doctor’s letter, annotated.
Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/09/14/hillary-clintons-new-doctors-letter-annotated/
[iv] Pepper, G.M., & Casanova-Romero, P. (2014). Conversion to Armour Thyroid from Levothyroxine Improved Patient Satisfaction in the Treatment of Hypothyroidism.
Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Conversion-to-Armour-Thyroid-from-Levothyroxine-in-Pepper-Casanova-Romero/63785ab3d12801d0960084b362d2eca33b4a3fa0
[v] Celi, F. S., Zemskova, M., Linderman, J. D., Smith, S., Drinkard, B., Sachdev, V., Skarulis, M. C., Kozlosky, M., Csako, G., Costello, R., & Pucino, F. (2011). Metabolic effects of liothyronine therapy in hypothyroidism: a randomized, double-blind, crossover trial of liothyronine versus Levothyroxine. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 96(11), 3466–3474. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-1329
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3205882/
[vii] Hennessey, J. V., & Espaillat, R. (2018). Current evidence for the treatment of hypothyroidism with levothyroxine/levotriiodothyronine combination therapy versus levothyroxine monotherapy. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 72(2). doi:10.1111/ijcp.13062
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5873391/
[viii] Cobb, W. E., & Jackson, I. M. (1978). Drug Therapy Reviews: Management of Hypothyroidism. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 35(1), 51-58. doi:10.1093/ajhp/35.1.51
Retrieved by https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/341699/