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The Weight Loss Key You May Be Missing

By , SparkPeople Blogger
In my younger days as a high school and college athlete, eating right and being active allowed me to maintain a consistently healthy weight. Working as a Registered Dietitian and maintaining an active lifestyle allowed me to maintain that healthy weight well into my thirties. However, when autoimmune disease was detected in 2002 that ultimately required the removal of two-thirds of my thyroid gland, I entered an unfamiliar battle with weight like millions of other people with thyroid disease.  

Over the last nine years, exploring and learning why I make the choices I do and why I struggle with certain things has been helpful as I continue living a healthy life and learn to accept what I cannot fully control. Likewise, connecting with others living with thyroid disease has allowed me to take control of my health like never before.  I have found that weight management is success and weight loss is a blessing that many times is influenced by things I never realized. Perhaps my newly discovered key to weight management success will be yours as well.

Over the last few years, I have experienced issues with iron deficiency anemia for the first time in my life. I have been about as consistent with my daily iron supplement as I have been with my flossing. I am good about taking it when I am getting ready to get my blood drawn. A few weeks after they confirm that my hematocrit is low again, I resume taking it but very soon begin to forget and then eventually stop. This is mostly an issue because of the necessity to space it correctly with my thyroid medicine. I have repeated this cycle for a couple of years. At a recent visit, my endocrinologist once again reminded me that my hematocrit was on the low side and asked how I was about taking my iron. She confessed that she had the same habit and laughed at the comparison to my flossing habits. As we talked, a light bulb went off about the role of iron and many things I was experiencing and I made a commitment to stick with my daily iron supplement in addition to continuing with my iron rich diet.

I know that iron is essential for the blood to carry oxygen. I should have realized that feeling weak and tired or not having any stamina during exercise or being winded easily could indicate continued anemia but as usual, I chalked it up to my thyroid disease. What I missed was that while the hematocrit returns to normal after a few months of iron therapy, it can take six months to a year to replace iron stores in the bone marrow. My pattern of starting and stopping iron supplementation was in no way supporting the replenishment of the marrow stores and was barely keeping blood levels normal. Of course, the battle with being tired and lacking energy was affecting the intensity of my workouts and the energy burned which ultimately influenced my weight. So of course, once my hematocrit returned to normal this time around and I remained on my iron supplementation (with a goal to remain consistent for the next six months) I was able to work out harder and see benefits with body weight and shape changes. For me, iron has been my hidden key to weight management success that I previously ignored and may be for you as well.

Here are some important things to keep in mind as you determine if iron is a missing link for you. One of the biggest causes of iron loss is due to bleeding and many times that is from long, heavy, and frequent menstrual periods. However, for people that have celiac disease, Crohn's disease, have had gastric bypass surgery or who take many calcium-containing antacids, iron absorption can be the issue. Today with more and more people following strict vegetarian eating plans, getting enough iron can also be the problem. Many forget that forty percent of the iron found in meat, poultry and fish is heme, with the other 60 percent non-heme. All plant-based sources of iron are non-heme, which is why the RDA for iron is higher for vegetarians than it is for meat eaters. According to the Institutes of Medicine, vegetarian men and post-menopausal women need 14 mg daily and pre-menopause vegetarian women should aim for 33 mg each day. Add to that the fact that non-heme iron isn't as readily absorbed as heme iron and sources such as spinach, beet greens, rhubarb, and Swiss chard contain an oxalate acid that binds with iron that makes it unavailable for the body and you see why getting and absorbing adequate plant based iron sources is a challenge. This makes following steps that influence the absorption of iron highly important for vegetarians.

If you are in doubt about your iron intake, find yourself winded, tired, unable to tackle your workouts or fit into one of those risk groups listed above, be sure to talk to your doctor. A simple test can determine your iron level. You may also be surprised to find it is a missing piece to your weight management success like I did.

Does any of this sound like you?

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I have an underactive thyroid and I have been vegetarian for 17 years. I have never had an issue with low iron. And, I have had 2 Red Cross volunteers tell me that they never see low iron in vegetarians. I am not so sure that I would make a blanket statement about vegetarianism and low/poor absorption of iron. I would agree with the statement that a poor diet whether vegetarian or not (one filled with chips, junk food, etc.) could cause these issues. Don't get me wrong, it is a good article overall. I'm just not sure that singling out vegetarianism is fair. Singling out an iron-poor diet seems more reasonable. Report
Was wondering if low iron would be a consideration for a male with Hypothyroidism?
Love the article Report
What a great article. I, too, have a thyroid problem. I was hyper active and after radioactive iodine therapy I am now hypoactive. I battle with my weight constantly and even with meds, I always reach a plateau and don't seem to move. The next time I go to the Dr. I'm going to ask about my iron levels. Thanks. Report
Wow! Talk about coincidence! I just happened to be logging on this morning to look for thyroid related issues with weight loss and how to overcome those issues. I have been exceptionally bad about taking any supplements since being put on thyroid medication a few months ago. I have since gained 3 pounds even though I work out almost daily and watch what I eat (although I am far from great at counting calories). I am so discouraged by the lack of progress, but keep telling myself that eventually the weight will start dropping sooner or later. Maybe this is what I need. I do work out hard, but I shouldn't be exhausted after my workouts. I'm definitely going to put out a reminder for myself to take that supplement each night and see if that helps. Perhaps that would also help with my cravings for meat/protein based foods! Thanks for posting! Report
Position statement of ADA (American Dietietic Association)The iron in plant foods is nonheme iron, which is sensitive to both inhibitors and enhancers of iron absorption. Inhibitors of iron absorption include phytates, calcium, and the polyphenolics in tea, coffee, herb teas, and cocoa. Fiber only slightly inhibits iron absorption
Soaking and sprouting
beans, grains, and seeds, and the leavening
of bread, can diminish phytate
levels and thereby enhance iron
absorption. Other fermentation
processes, such as those used to make
miso and tempeh, may also improve iron bioavailability. Vitamin C and other organic acids found in fruits and vegetables can substantially enhance iron absorption and reduce the inhibitory effects of phytate and thereby improve iron
status. Whereas many studies of iron absorption have been short term, there
is evidence that adaptation to low intakes takes place over the long term,
and involves both increased absorption and decreased losses. Incidence
of iron-deficiency anemia among vegetarians is similar to that of nonvegetarians. Although vegetarian adults have lower iron stores than nonvegetarians, their serum ferritin levels are usually within the normal range (29,30). Report
Very interesting blog. And, thank you for all the additional information along the way. I have iron deficiency anemia and well identify with the tired feeling that it brings. At one point this year, my iron level was so low that my doctor sent me for an iron infusion. I usually cannot give blood due to this condition. I try to pay attention to iron rich foods but am not always good about making sure they are in the house. Report
This sounds a lot like me, but I'm on thyroid medication and my doctor says my iron levels are normal. Still, I'm tired so much of the time. I'm still searching for my key. The good news is when I do work out I feel more energetic, but it's hard to force myself to go after work and there's no time before work. It's a vicious cycle, but I'm not giving up. Report
I cant believe that there's so many people that's suffering with their thyroid like I am. I've been diagnosed with an under active thyroid and ever since my 26th bday i've just picked up weight no matter what i did , even when i joined weighless instead of loosing on their programme i picked up and that made me very depressed. I asked my doc to check my blood and she said my iron levels were fine but yet im still tired and stuggle to finish a 30 min workout , I'm definitely going to look into this. Thanx for a great article. Report
I went to give blood a few years ago and my iron was low , not too much but enough for them to not want my blood !
i was told that there was no reason for concern because it wasn't THAT low , just too low for them. i was asked about my diet , which seemed satisfactory , but then i was asked how much TEA i drank a day. i drink a lot of tea , it fills the gap between meals !
the nurse told me that too much tea stops the body absorbing iron from the foods we eat ! we learn something every day ! Report
It cannot be stressed strongly enough - talk with your physician and have your levels checked before self-treating with iron!!!! If your health care provider won't check, find a new one. Having been severely anemic I know that there can be many reasons for anemia - it's a symptom, NOT a diagnosis. Not to get to the root of the problem is to risk serious illness. Similarly, too much iron can cause serious problems. Never guess - have it checked! Report
Hello! Well, this was timely. I just had blood work done and the nurse called me to say the doc wants me on 325mg iron 2x a day and he want to review my thyroid I go in early next week. The symptoms are all me. I've not had bypass, or the other diseases noted and I'm not, I'm going to dig into all of this new info. I do have to say that this Spark People site is amazing! BTW, the nurse said all my other levels are good! Yeah!
If you're vegetarian, that could directly be contributing to low energy, too. I had that problem during my short bout with veganism. My cholesterol went too low, enough that my doctor was concerned. Cholesterol is important to nerve health and mood. I ended up having to eat meat again to regain my health. Report
I had a moment in my life where I had low blood iron. Whenever I got my menses I bled, and bled, and I didn't think much of it even when I'd gotten to the point that I was wearing adult diapers because super tampons/pads were useless. I never did go to the doctor directly for the issue, I instead went about something else entirely and that is when the low blood iron issue came up. I haven't encountered the issue again since taking some supplements for a while, but I examine myself way more closely now that I know I can be prone to not having enough iron. Report
Great article! Have been deferred as a plasma donor several times because of low iron. In fact, mine was barely high enough tonight! My Dad had a blood disease called "thalacemia" (or however you spell it) and I'm borderline. Need to remember to take my iron pills. Never low enough in blood tests to this point... Report
oops, pressed the save comment button twice! Report
Yes, it does sound like me! I am a vegetarian and have had anaemia in the past (particularly when my diet wasn't healthy and included takeaways and chips!). Last time I got checked, my blood levels were fine but I had felt a bit tired and weak lately so as soon as I read this article, I went and had one of my iron tablets. It doesn't hurt to top it up and make sure my body is top condition to work out. Many thanks! Report
I understand all that you have stated. I, for one, had Gastric Bypass Surgery, but mine was one of the "earliest, 27+ yrs ago" whereas, some of my intestine was REMOVED. This is NOT THE CASE NOW!!!! My body DOES NOT ABSORB vitamins nor nutrients as EASILY from daily foods. So I must take supplements. I am working on this, such as you and other SPARKLERS...and I know this time WE CAN ALL DO IT!!! This is a wonderful site, with SPFriends, tools at our fingertips, and all the encouragement and support we can all use. Good luck to all, remember, we are all in this just keep SPARKING!!! Report
I almost died 8 years ago after years of heavy periods and low iron levels. My levels were so low I had to have an emergency hysterectomy. It is critical for you and your healthcare provider to know and control your iron levels. Report
Hmmm, I wonder - would low level iron cause bp and pulse rate to be on the low side too? I'm getting blood work done next month - with a follow up w/ the pcp a week later - if anyone reading this can suggest something beyond the usual profile I would appreciate a sparkmail. I do get the thyroid tested - been on synthroid for years - and am actually trying to find info about a "natural" thyroid medication someone was telling me about. Any info that way would be appreciated as well.
Thanks - Frances Report
This is just what I needed this morning. I as well have some autoimmune problems. Celiac disease diagnosed with a biopsy. Thyroid disease, psoriasis, and psoriatic arthritis. I battle a gluten free diet, and quite a bit of pain and low energy level. I have a self injected shot every two weeks to keep the psoriasis away that removes my ability to fight infections and makes me pretty tired. I have become very heavy and really need to shed this weight to help with the pain of psoriatic arthritis. Working out for me is more like stretching and gardening. I will be talking to my doctor about iron. Thank you for helping me know that I am not alone with these health problems and I too can make the decision to help myself..... Report
Good blog Report
About 9 months ago I was having some issues with my menstral cycle. I was bleeding pretty heavily for a month or two and never really thought anything of it until one day I realized I was feeling very tired, weak and winded when I was climbing stairs. I was always tired before, during and after my workouts. My legs felt like lead. I was craving eggs, red meat and of all things prunes. Sitting alone in a hotel room one night I started to put two and two together and realized that I was probably anemic. The very next day I called the doctor and explained my symptoms. He did not seem concerned, chalking the menstral flow up to perimenopause. Before I let him off the phone I told him I wanted my iron checked. He said he would write a script and send it to my house. When I got home, I went right to the lab and low and behold, I was anemic. I started on iron supplements (I too am horrible at taking medications) and up until about a month ago I was really good at taking the supplements. I have gotten out of my old routine (I travel for work and my home life has changed recently) but I do remember to take the pills at least 4 or 5 days out of the week. Report
I so understand the low iron/low thyroid thing since I live it everyday. If I don't take my iron supplements and synthroid, I'm a mess... can't think, feel like I'm in a fog, tired all the time, etc. So I have gotten myself into a good routine for both.

The depth of my problem came to light when I fell out in the chow line at Army officer basic last November. I was at tranfusable levels, but they decided to try the iron supplementation and I perked up post haste. I went from barely being able to run/walk 2 miles in almost 26 minutes in October to 22 minutes in December! Report
Good advice for most! Although I am anemic, I also have an enzyme deficiency (genetic jackpot for me) which requires frequent blood transfusions(every 4-6 weeks). Here's the Catch 22...the blood transfusions are necessary because my body can't produce adequate red blood cells, the iron that is in the transfusions is stored in organs (not good) and can doesn't circulate in the blood stream. Even with chelation to remove the iron stores, my iron levels are insanely high but it's the "bad" type. So, although I am iron deficient in my blood levels, my organs (especially liver) are saturated with excess iron. Any supplement I take must be iron free...which pretty much means that at 30, I take a vitamin for Seniors! So, if you have a condition requiring frequent transfusions please discuss with your doctors if you need chelation (to pull iron from organs NOT blood stream). There is an oral drug now, much easier than the subcutaneous infusion method (which could take 8-12 hours each day)! Report
Yeah, I'm known to take iron pills a week or two before I go for a blood test. Like you, I don't like having to space it with the thyroid meds. I used to be really good about taking them but haven't in months.

I've built the habit of flossing daily - I guess my next habit will be iron pills. Maybe it will help me stay awake past 9:00 :)

Thanks for the reminder and for letting me (and others) know I'm not alone! Report
I actually have the opposite problem....and I'm a woman...I am borderline too high and have to watch to make sure that I am not too high...donating blood regularly and such...the body is a fine tuned machine and any little deviations can cause's good to stay on top of your physicals and diagnostic tests to keep it in perfect operating condition Report
From birth, i knew i was anaemic so tiring out after little work was quite normal to me. I am hyper-active but as soon as that bubble bursts, i become super tired. Just last month, i got to know that i am Thalessmic Minor and may get hypo-thyroid in coming time as i am getting a lot of stress. It came as a shock n i was depressed. but now i am taking care of myself a lot and coming back on track with proper medications and all.

Will surely be normal as anybody and will be back to my cheerful nature!! Report
I'm another hypothyroid sufferer and this is a brilliant article! The only puzzling thing I find is that, although I'm aware of my body needing more Iron, most Drs are against having too much. Where is the line to cross? Report
I have found that I have thyroid problems and low iron. We have had difficulty getting my thyroid regulated, but am getting close. Because I don't tolerate iron supplements - they inflame my ulcers, I go in for iron transfusions every few months. This has made a huge difference in my energy levels. I find that it is difficult to get myself out to exercise when it is getting close to the time for me to go in for another transfusion. It is this difficulty that impresses on me to make sure I keep up with my regular appointments. Report
Though this was made clear in the article, I feel the need to repeat:
It is important to *talk to one's doctor* about being tested, rather than just popping pills based in assumption.

I have been vegan for over 20 years, and my iron has always tested just fine. The same goes for my vegan spouse. Report
I never thought about iron contributing to excess weight either. I have thyroid issues, but also iron problems, in that my body doesn't absorb iron properly. I want to do additional research on this. Thanks for planting a seed! Report
What a tremendous challenge for you, Tanya, having to manage both your thyroid problem and the low iron level as well! I have a different (dietary) situation: my serum sodium is low, which is potentially dangerous (can cause brain damage). So I'm in the midst of seeing what can be done to correct it. The nephrologist wanted me to take 6 (yes, 6!) grams of sodium in my food, but I was unable to tolerate it, as mouth sores formed as a result. My normal sodium intake is about 2,500 mg./day. So I've been told to restrict fluids. With sugar-free gum and mints, I can manage it, but I sure do miss those fluids! Report
I also have thryoid disease. I do not need to tell those of you who deal with it how much of a challenge it can be! I do feel fatigued too much. I think I will have my iron level checked too. Thanks for your well written article! Report
This is a great article! I never really thought about iron being a part of weight loss, even though I knew its role in anemia and how anemia affects energy levels. Thanks for the reminder! Report
This is a great article! I never really thought about iron being a part of weight loss, even though I knew its role in anemia and how anemia affects energy levels. Thanks for the reminder! Report
I can relate COMPLETELY to the thyroid disease. Like you, I was an athlete during all of my younger years, and was diagnosed with thyroid disease in my 40s. I can no longer take for granted the 'thin genes' that prevail in my family. Sometimes it's hard to keep fighting, when you feel like you have a weight attached (, that keeps pulling AGAINST you all of the time. But WE CAN DO IT! Keep up the good work, and I will too! Report
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