Does hypothyroid medical treatment lead to weight loss?

How often have you heard people with hypothyroidism (decreased thyroid function) offer excuses like “It’s glandular, it’s my genetics,” for their inability to shift pounds!

The popular belief is that decreased thyroid function leads to weight gain and people with hypothyroidism have a hard time losing the excess pounds. Hence it seems plausible that if the condition is properly treated through medication it would result in weight loss.

Apparently this is not so. Even proper treatment with levothyroxine (LT4) to restore normal thyroid hormone levels is not linked with substantial weight loss in most people, finds a new study.

In fact, the study found only about half of the hypothyroid patients successfully treated for their hypothyroidism lost weight. The truth is that a large percentage of people who are being effectively treated for hypothyroidism weigh almost the same after therapy as they did before they developed the disease.

Review of patients with newly diagnosed primary hypothyroidism
In order to clear the misconception that you can’t lose weight if you have hypothyroidism, even when it’s properly treated, researchers SY Lee, LE Braverman, and EN Pearce from Boston University Medical Center conducted a study.

They reviewed patients with newly diagnosed primary hypothyroidism over a period of eight years. Cases of thyroid cancer or other forms of disease, those linked with pregnancy or use of prescription weight loss medication were excluded.

The analysis revealed that nearly half (52 percent) of the patients shed weight up to two years after beginning treatment with LT4. It was noted that in general weight loss was fairly small with an average loss of around 8.4 + 9.7 lbs.

Ronald J. Koenig (M.D., Ph.D, Program Committee Co-Chair, and Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor) explains, “Because obesity and hypothyroidism are very common, there are many patients who have both conditions. These patients (and sometimes their physicians) often assume the hypothyroidism is causing the obesity even though this may not be the case.

He added, “This study is important because it shows, unfortunately, that only about half of hypothyroid patients lose weight after the successful treatment of their hypothyroidism. It will be interesting and important to have follow up data to know whether the patients that lose weight are the ones most in need of weight loss, and to know how significantly their weight loss contributed toward achieving a normal body weight.”

The study will be presented at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the American Thyroid Association, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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