Scientific relationship of hypothyroidism and high cortisol for weight gain

There are many factors that add up and eventually result in weight gain; some of them are physiological whereas some are pathological. Physiologic weight gain is relatively easier to lose since it just involves the burning of more calories through diet control or exercise. However, pathological weight gain is usually due to the defect in the machinery that metabolizes compounds in our body to get energy. One of them is due to problems in the thyroid gland and the excess production of cortisol in the body. 

The function of the thyroid hormone and how can its underproduction lead to weight gain

The thyroid gland holds a very critical function in our bodies. It is situated in the region of the neck and secretes a number of hormones. These hormones work together to provide energy to the body. The body undergoes serious problems if these hormones are produced in excess or in limited quantities.

The many functions of the thyroid gland include; 

  • Maintaining body temperature when the surrounding temperature drops.
  • Creates a stronger heartbeat.
  • Energy is generated efficiently by the breakdown of compounds in the liver.
  • Helps in the maturation of the brain.
  • Responsible for better functioning of the brain with faster reflexes and outstanding cognitive functions.
  • It is also responsible for growth in children.

Due to the many regulatory functions that happen in the presence of thyroid hormone, its levels are very intricately managed. The decrease in the levels of any of the thyroid hormone results in slowing the entire machinery of the body. This results in the build-up of excess fat and can bring about a lot of changes in the weight of the person with thyroid dysfunction. The process of thermogenesis and maintenance of basal metabolic rate once gets disturbed, it affects the process of lipid and glucose metabolism. Therefore, the excess build up of fat results in obesity and many other problems.

The function of cortisol in the body and its correlation with obesity

Cortisol is a hormone that is very unique in function. It is produced in the adrenal gland (located on top of the kidneys) and is also known as the stress hormone. This hormone is produced whenever a person is in a state of ‘fight and flight’ condition. It stimulates the process of gluconeogenesis; which uses all other forms of compounds already present in the body (proteins and fats) and turns it into glucose. This glucose then travels to all the essential organs of the body and helps a person in challenging situations. However, if due to some pathology or defect in controlling the amount it gets produced, there is a lot of damage that this hormone can do to the body. Since the main purpose of this hormone is to increase the levels of glucose in the blood, due to some abnormality, it can start being produced in large quantities (such as in Cushing’s syndrome). The major concern arises when it inhibits the function of insulin in the process. Due to the constant inhibition, the cells of the pancreas that produce normal insulin undergo damage, resulting in type-2 diabetes. This excess of cortisol which is responsible for causing insulin resistance also increases the body mass index of the affected individual, resulting in obesity. 

This obesity is extremely harmful as it can lead to multiple metabolic disorders and decrease the life span of these individuals considerably. 

When both the clinical conditions; hypothyroidism and increased production of cortisol occur in the body, that person ends up gaining a lot of weight that is impossible to shed off through conventional weight loss programs.

Exercises to stimulate the thyroid gland

Through recent research, it has been seen that certain yoga techniques have helped stimulate the thyroid gland. This stimulation can help better the function of the gland, and moreover regulate the metabolic processes, this can help individuals who suffer from obesity due to hypothyroidism and help them lose weight. There are two main techniques that are used to help the thyroid gland function better. It is important to incorporate the two in a day’s routine to have a better functioning thyroid gland.

The first technique is known as the ‘Breath of Fire’, it has the following steps;

  1. First and foremost, it is very important to find a comfy spot to sit on. The way you choose to sit, completely depends on you, whether you find sitting cross-legged or on a yoga block.
  2. Next, sit up straight and put your palms on top of your belly. Sharply exhale for a second through your nose. You will feel your belly snap as you do this.
  3. Make sure that you inhale softly and gently, and exhale sharply.
  4. You should continue this exercise 20 times before you take a natural breath for almost 30 seconds.
  5. You can continue three rounds every day for this technique to work.

Another exercise that is also used to help manage hypothyroidism is known as the ‘Twisting breath of Fire’, it has the following steps;

  1. It is important that you stay in that same comfortable position as you did for the previous exercise. However, this time you will need to entwine your fingers in front of your chest. 
  2. First, you need to twist your upper body towards the left, and as you do inhale and then exhale sharply for a second through your nose as you twist to the right. During inhalation, make sure it is a little vigorous and not as gentle as it was in the previous exercise.
  3. You should continue with the twisting movements, focusing on the snap of your belly as you inhale and exhale sharply.
  4. You can do 20 rounds of this twisting exercise and then breathe naturally for 30 seconds.
  5. Continue the cycle for 3 rounds in order to revive the thyroid gland.

A case report published to see the effect of this yogic technique in managing hypothyroidism was done in 2012. The subject (known case of hypothyroidism) was instructed to follow the above-mentioned exercise technique for almost a year. A year later, the levels of the thyroid hormone in the subject were all well within their range. This proved that this yogic technique can help boost metabolism and correct the deranged thyroid levels.

References

  1. Sanyal D, Raychaudhuri M. Hypothyroidism and obesity: An intriguing link. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism. 2016 Jul;20(4):554.
  2. Longhi S, Radetti G. Thyroid function and obesity. Journal of clinical research in pediatric endocrinology. 2013 Mar;5(Suppl 1):40.
  3. Bhavanani AB, Sanjay Z, Mohan M. Effect of Yoga on subclinical hypothyroidism: A case report. Yoga Mimamsa. 2011;43(2):102-7.
  4. Admin, (2020, January 11). How To Practice The Breath Of Fire To Stimulate Your Thyroid. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://gearuptofit.com/how-to-practice-the-breath-of-fire-to-stimulate-your-thyroid/

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