Did you know autoimmune diseases can lead to weight gain or loss?

An autoimmune disease is a condition where your immune system targets self tissue and organs, causing inflammatory symptoms leading to chronic illness. 


The cause of autoimmune disease is still unknown, but genetics, environment, stress, and diet may play a part in its development. 

You might wonder how such a condition could relate to weight gain or loss. Still, the truth is that weight gain or loss in autoimmune disease, or an inability to manage your weight, no matter how little you eat or how much exercise you do, is a symptom of these conditions. This article will explain why how autoimmune disease may affect your weight and what you can do to bring your weight back into balance. 

The impact on metabolism 


Hypothyroidism is common in autoimmune diseases, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease where your immune cells specifically attack thyroid cells and limit the thyroid’s function. 

As the hormone produced by the thyroid regulates your metabolism, when its function is impaired, you make less hormone. As a result, your body burns less energy and retains weight. It means that you burn calories more slowly than before. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include hair loss, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and sensitivity to the cold. 

You can read more about Hashimoto’s in my article, ‘Understanding Hashimoto's Thyroiditis’, to understand more about the condition and whether it might be a factor in your symptoms. 

In conventional medicine, doctors will often prescribe thyroid hormone to their patients, which helps to improve thyroid hormone levels and can help manage symptoms, including weight gain. 

However, the conventional medicine approach does not address the autoantibodies to the thyroid cells, which means that the destruction of the thyroid may continue, even when you are feeling better. 

Taking steps to address the underlying autoimmunity will help to rebuild a healthy thyroid function and may help to prevent further damage to the thyroid gland. 


In contrast, hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, which unnaturally speeds up your metabolism, causing weight loss. 

Grave’s disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the thyroid gland to upregulate by producing an antibody that mimics thyroid stimulating hormone, causing the thyroid to make too much thyroid hormone and putting your metabolism in overdrive. 

Other symptoms of Grave’s disease include bulging eyes, anxiety and irritability, weight loss, and changes in the menstrual cycle. 

Inflammation in weight management

Inflammation is a normal immune system function to protect you from viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. Still, once the inflammatory response has done what it needs to do, the inflammation reduces, and your body is back in balance.  

However, in chronic illness and autoimmune diseases, the inflammation stays in your body for an extended period. It begins to cause damage to your blood vessels, organs, and other systems in the body. 

And inflammation also impacts weight gain, as it can interfere with the hormone leptin. Leptin is vital as it signals your brain to stop eating when you have had enough. When this feedback loop becomes dysfunctional due to inflammation, you tend to be more likely to overeat, causing weight gain or an inability to lose weight. 

And, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. When your body loses the ability to respond to leptin, it is known as leptin resistance, and it can take time to reestablish your brain's connection with this hormone.  Leptin resistance is thought to be a key driver in weight gain. 

And weight gain in and of itself can be inflammatory. Adipose tissue can initiate inflammation through the secretion of proinflammatory adipokines, which can lead to the infiltration of immune cells and systemic inflammation. 

How can an anti-inflammatory diet help with weight management?

If your weight gain or loss is related to an autoimmune disease, or you believe that inflammation might be a driver in your inability to maintain a healthy weight, then rather than following a strict diet, or an intense exercise routine, why not try a nourishing anti-inflammatory diet instead? 

By taking the approach that others with autoimmune diseases take to reverse their symptoms and feel better, you can do the same for your weight by changing your diet and lifestyle for the long term and enjoying the multitude of other health benefits in the process. 

If you would like to read more about the best diets for autoimmune disease, you can read the article I was featured in, 'What diet is best for autoimmune disease?

And it’s not just about diet. It is about how you live your life and feel about yourself. So if you haven’t been doing anything for yourself recently, or you have been dealing with a difficult situation in your life, now is the time to change it. 

Write down three things you could do right now to start feeling better about yourself and focus on them daily. You will be surprised how much more determined you are to improve your health once you have decided it's the right time to start looking after yourself. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W1G & Harrogate HG1
Written by V. J. Hamilton, Autoimmune Disease Expert | BSc (Immunology), DipION, mBANT
London W1G & Harrogate HG1

Victoria is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and member of BANT, focusing on autoimmune disease including skin disorders, heart disease & neurological issues as well as gut health & fatigue. Victoria has a BSc in Biochemistry & Immunology which she uses in her practice, using only evidence-based nutritional therapies to support chronic conditions.

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