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Problems With the Thyroid Gland Can Mean Early Death

Scientists have found that when older adults have troubles with their thyroid gland, they are more likely to die prematurely.
Doctor checking thyroid gland of elderly Vietnamese woman

When the thyroid gland doesn’t work well, people are especially sensitive to cold. They often feel as though they have no energy. They may report symptoms such as constipation, dry skin, hair loss, high cholesterol or depressed mood. Swollen hands or feet, trouble concentrating and weakness are other common symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Diagnosing Thyroid Gland Dysfunction Among Older People:

People over 60 years old are more likely to have hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Doctors know this. However, the symptoms are not very specific. Will the health care provider attribute the symptoms to “just getting older” and miss the diagnosis? Older people who suspect something is wrong with their thyroid gland should request testing and push for a diagnosis. Here’s why.

Underactive Thyroid Gland and Mortality:

A meta-analysis of 27 studies revealed that older people with this condition are more likely to die prematurely (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, online Dec. 12, 2019).  On the other hand, if older patients had laboratory findings indicating hypothyroidism but no symptoms, they did not appear to be at increased risk of early death.

What Can You Do About Thyroid Problems?

Fortunately, hypothyroidism can be treated. Doctors and patients can collaborate to find a treatment that will help re-balance thyroid gland activity and help the person feel better.

In most cases, hypothyroidism is treated with supplemental thyroid hormone. Usually doctors prescribe levothyroxine, aka T4 (Euthyrox, Levoxyl, Synthroid, Tirosint, Unithroid). Occasionally, however, people feel better if they take a combination of T3 and T4 hormones. Genetic differences among individuals mean that some people are far more efficient at producing the active hormone T3 (triiodothyronine) from T4. That helps to explain why some people simply don’t feel good on levothyroxine alone.

Learn More:

We discuss the new research on genetic differences and what they mean for treating hypothyroidism in our eGuide to Thyroid Hormones. In it, you will learn about symptoms of thyroid imbalance, medications that may affect thyroid tests, both Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease, counterproductive foods and helpful supplements.

You may also wish to listen to our recent interview about problems with the thyroid gland. It is Show 1162: How to Treat Common Thyroid Problems.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Thyroid Hormones

What symptoms signal thyroid trouble? This extensive guide to Thyroid Hormones has critical info on testing, treatment, and side effects.

Thyroid Hormones
  • Tsai T-Y et al, "Association of hypothyroidism and mortality in the elderly population: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, online Dec. 12, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgz186
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I’ve had underactive thyroid for years but synthroid didn’t do much for me. I finally talked a PA into giving me a prescription for Armour, and I feel much better but still have some symptoms. But my doctor says my labs are within normal range so won’t do anything else.

So here we go: thyroid problems are yet another result of elevated PFAS (per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) in our environment. They’re prevalent globally; they potentially last forever; and the science research is just getting off the ground about this horrible nightmare.

The public needs to be aware of the ubiquitousness of these chemicals and the numerous health hazards they cause and start campaigning to get them out of our lives!

Don’t forget natural thyroid such as Armour Thyroid! When diagnosed with hypothyroidism years ago, my attending physician initially prescribed levothyroxin (Synthroid); however, I continued to have the very typical symptoms: always cold, tired, dry, itchy skin, and general lethargy. My physician was adamant that there was nothing else he could prescribe. I changed physicians, and my new physician, who was a general family practitioner suggested the natural form of thyroid (Armour Thyroid). He was one of very few in the area who prescribed the natural form when levothyroxin did not work.

The results were absolutely dramatic! I felt like a new person. He also checked both T3 and T4 and found that both were low. The Armour Thyroid took care of both. I have been on 60 mg. for over 30 years–I am 76, still very active and feel great.

Many physicians are reluctant to prescribe Armour Thyroid, but if you are on one of the synthetics, and it is not helping you, ask about natural thyroid. It changed my life!!!

I had part of my thyroid removed about 12 years ago & have been on levothyroxin since. I’m frustrated because for the last several years I’ve been on 75mcg & 50mcg alternating days. Every 6 months or so, the numbers are off & I’m changed to just 1 dosage (50 or 75) for awhile. Then it’s back like before & again I’m put on alternating dosages! There’s got to be a better way!

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