Overweight, stress, goitre: all because of the thyroid gland? The common beliefs about this gland are not always true.

Very often patients report claims that, in most cases, do not correspond to reality, contributing only to create scaremongering, further doubts or alibi to justify a lifestyle that is sometimes incorrect (as in the case of overweight). So let’s dispel these “myths” and see what the thyroid gland really causes when it doesn’t function properly, explained by Andrea Lania, head of Endocrinology in Humanitas.


True and false about weight gain and weight loss: Is the thyroid at fault?

“It is undeniable that weight can be influenced by thyroid function. It is, in fact, known how hyperthyroidism can be accompanied by slimming, sometimes significant, linked to a loss not only of adipose tissue, but also of muscular mass. Slimming is not always the case; as hyperthyroid patients may not change their body weight or even, in very rare cases, show a slight weight gain, at least in the early stages of the disease. It should also be remembered that hyperthyroid patients present symptoms such as tachycardia, insomnia and intolerance to heat, in addition to weight changes. As far as hypothyroidism is concerned, however, the increase in weight is linked to the severity of the hypofunction picture. In fact, in the case of a serious hypothyroidism there may be an increase in the fat mass and, above all, an increase in water retention with a consequent increase in weight. These weight gains are generally not particularly significant, decrease after the introduction of substitution therapy and, above all, are not responsible for obesity. In the case of weight gain, in fact, several factors come into play and the thyroid can only become an alibi to justify an incorrect lifestyle, starting with nutrition and poor physical activity. As said about the effect of excess thyroid hormones on muscle mass and, above all, on heart function, it is good to be wary of all those products for slimming containing thyroid hormones or their analogues, which are often recommended to patients with excess weight.


I’m hyperthyroid, I can’t go to the sea: False

“Iodine is definitely an important component of the thyroid because it is linked to the synthesis of thyroid hormones. A correct intake of iodine is, therefore, important for the thyroid to function properly. In fact, if iodine deficiency can be associated with goitre, the intake of large amounts of iodine (as in the case of drugs such as amiodarone) can give rise to hyperthyroidism. However, this does not mean that the sea is a problem for those suffering from thyroid diseases. A holiday in a seaside resort is not contraindicated in those who are hyperthyroid, as well as does not represent a real benefit for those who are affected by hypothyroidism instead. Finally, it should be remembered that what counts is iodine that is introduced with food and not the one that is ‘inhaled’ with sea air”.


I am stressed, it is the thyroid: True and False

“It is not true that a stressed person should necessarily have problems with hyperthyroidism, nor that a depressed and asthenic person is certainly affected by hypothyroidism. Insomnia, anxiety, irritability, tiredness and worsening of the mood tone can be signs of an altered thyroid function that must surely be investigated, but that often turns out to be completely normal”.


Antibodies to elevated thyroid equals altered thyroid: False

“The detection of high levels of thyroid antibodies and, in particular, of thyroglobulin antibodies (Ab Tg) and thyroperoxidase antibodies (Ab TPO), is often a cause of extreme concern to patients. In fact, positivity for anti-thyroid antibodies is a sign of the presence of a thyroid autoimmunity that does not necessarily result in gland malfunction. Often, in fact, its function (evaluated by studying TSH and FT4) is normal and the presence of these antibodies, which in itself is not associated with any specific symptom, indicates only an increased risk of developing an alteration of thyroid function in the future.


I have thyroid nodules, it resulted in weight gain: False

“The detection of thyroid nodules in our country is a relatively frequent phenomenon, especially in areas of iodine deficiency. In fact, the relationship between iodine and goiter and the importance of a correct intake of the food with the diet are well known. Thyroid nodules, in the presence of a normal thyroid function (normal levels of TSH and FT4), do not give rise to any symptoms from altered thyroid function. However, in the presence of large nodules, compression symptoms may occur. In particular, the patient may report difficulties with swallowing and breathing.