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Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed classes of medications in the United States. However, people with depression often struggle with weight changes, particularly in weight gain. In a 2015 study in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, one antidepressant medication was found to curb not only depressive symptoms but also weight gain—Wellbutrin. As people with hypothyroidism often struggle with both weight gain and symptoms of depressive disorder, let's explore if thyroid patients can use Wellbutrin for weight loss.
Known best by its brand name, Wellbutrin, this medication treats depression. Also prescribed under the generic name bupropion, Wellbutrin is an atypical form of antidepressants, meaning it does not fall into a specific category like SSRIs or SNRIs.
Wellbutrin works by altering neurohormones in the brain. Specifically, it targets norepinephrine and dopamine, making these hormones available in the brain for a longer time.
- Focus and concentration
- Symptoms of ADHD
- Depressed mood
- Feeling worthless or hopeless
- Loss of interest and pleasure
- Low energy
- Slowed thoughts and movements
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Poor sleeping and eating habits
- Smoking addiction
Common side effects of Wellbutrin include weight loss, headache, dry mouth, difficulty sleeping, nausea, dizziness, constipation, fast heartbeat, and sore throat. These more common side effects often get better over the first few weeks as you continue to take the medication.
More severe but rare side effects include skin rash, skin rash, sweating, ear ringing, shakiness, stomach pain, muscle pain, thought disturbances, anxiety, or angle-closure glaucoma.
Wellbutrin does not commonly cause sexual side effects as many antidepressant medications often do. It may be chosen as an alternative when antidepressant-induced sexual side effects become problematic.
There is a low risk of cardiovascular side effects associated with stimulating agents like Wellbutrin. This risk increases if you live with heart disease, high blood pressure, previous heart attack, or irregular heartbeat. If you have heart disease, talk with your doctor before starting this medication.
Currently, there aren't any known problems associated with the long-term use of Wellbutrin. When used as directed, it is a safe and effective medication.
One of the "off-label" uses of Wellbutrin is for weight loss. The term "off-label" means it is not approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to treat a specific symptom, but some people have found it helps with other symptoms, so your doctor may prescribe it to help with non-label uses.
Because of how Wellbutrin affects dopamine and norepinephrine, many people see a change in their eating habits. In addition, some people find that this medication suppresses their appetite, making it easier for them to lose weight. Indeed, some studies show that people taking between 150mg-300mg of Wellbutrin XL lost five pounds or more while on this medication. Another study found that taking at least 300mg daily of Wellbutrin SR lost more than five pounds—and the amount of weight lost increased with higher doses.
However, in both of these studies, some people also gained weight while taking these medications. Part of the reason this may occur is that everyone responds to depression differently. For example, some people have a low appetite and therefore benefit from seeing an improvement in appetite (and consequent weight gain). In contrast, others overeat in depression and find that taking this medication helps curb their appetite, leading the subsequent weight loss.
Other than the possible effects on appetite, we don't fully know why weight loss may be a side effect of Wellbutrin. However, some studies show that low dopamine levels may be a contributing factor to obesity.
Depression and weight gain are both common symptoms in hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and Hashimoto's disease. Indeed, the lack of thyroid hormone not only slows metabolism but can also affect the balance of neurohormones in the brain. Thus, some thyroid patients question if Wellbutrin may help treat two debilitating symptoms of their disease.
Suppose a patient may benefit from an antidepressant and does not have any other health factors that may disqualify them from trying Wellbutrin. In that case, this medication may help with some weight loss. And fortunately for patients taking thyroid medication, there are usually no contraindications to using Wellbutrin with your thyroid medications—meaning, there should be no adverse effects to taking both drugs together.
However, before using medication for weight loss, it is crucial to get to the root cause of your weight gain and first treat that appropriately. For some people, it is indeed depression, whereas others may have other hormonal imbalances or metabolic syndrome impacting their weight.
Take your thyroid medication as prescribed
For many people with an underactive thyroid, low thyroid hormones may be causing some weight gain. Indeed, many people find that they lose around five-eight pounds when they get started on the correct dose of thyroid medication. Typically, this weight loss is not from loss of fat content but is instead a reduction in water weight.
Make thyroid-healthy changes to your diet
First and foremost, it is vital to remove any dietary triggers that may worsen inflammation from Hashimoto's. For example, many people with Hashimoto's benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet. If you struggle with digestive issues, it may also help to do a strict elimination diet to know what triggers you.
Next, healthy, wholesome foods are best. Focus primarily on having plenty of veggies with a lean protein source. To support your thyroid health, you will want to eat foods rich in iron, selenium, and zinc. These nutrients are found primarily in vegetables and meats and help with thyroid hormone synthesis.
Lastly, try to avoid foods that are packaged, processed, and filled with refined sugars. These foods are not as nutrient-dense and are sometimes full of "empty calories."
Check other hormone levels
Insulin and leptin resistance can show up in people with hypothyroidism and often make weight loss more challenging. Indeed, studies show that having higher TSH levels may contribute to insulin resistance. Therefore, it is essential to check your thyroid hormones regularly and assess for conditions like metabolic syndrome.
Get regular exercise
Daily exercise can feel like a tall order, especially when you have low energy and don't feel your best. But, studies show time and time again that daily exercise, even in short bouts, is beneficial for your mental and physical health. The CDC recommends people get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Thus, a little bit here and there during the week can undoubtedly add up. What is more, it is also helpful to do activities you enjoy. Finally, we know that exercise gives us a boost in those feel-good hormones, which can help with weight loss and improve depression as well.
A note from Paloma Health
Research shows Wellbutrin XL and SR may help some people lose weight. If you are struggling with depression in conjunction with a thyroid condition, Wellbutrin may help with weight loss. However, it is always best to start with healthy weight loss strategies like dietary changes, taking your medication correctly, and getting plenty of exercise. As with any medication, there are also side effects to Wellbutrin that may not be as desirable as weight gain. Together with your healthcare provider, you will want to explore all of your options to help you achieve a healthy weight.