It's no secret that in the past, I've been critical of Dr. Mehmet Oz's coverage of thyroid disease. Back before he had his own show, Dr. Oz was a regular on Oprah, including those programs where Oprah Winfrey was talking about her thyroid problem. First she had a problem, then she didn't. She said she was cured by taking a vacation and drinking soy milk, then she said it came back and got worse. Then she said she had autoimmune thyroid problems, then she said she was being treated. Then she said she was cured, but went back on that and said she wasn't cured, but had decided to refuse thyroid treatment and instead take bioidentical estrogen and progesterone for her hormonal problems. As Oprah dithered, and couldn't come to terms with her own thyroid issues, she left many women more confused than ever, especially as they watched Oprah exhibit ever-worsening potential signs of thyroid problems, including continued weight gain, puffiness in her face and around her eyes, and seeming enlargement of her neck.
Meanwhile, there was Dr. Oz, trying to get some rational thyroid info to Oprah's audience, but also standing by while Oprah unwittingly misled the public into believing that thyroid disease was extremely rare but treatable with chakra balancing, soy milk, self-care, and/or reproductive hormones. He even rather glibly referred to Oprah's thyroid problem -- which apparently was causing her gland function to fluctuate -- as a "frat party in [her] thyroid." All in all, my conclusion was that Dr. Oz had left behind a shaky legacy when it came to thyroid education.
Now, Dr. Oz has his his own daytime show, The Dr. Oz Show, and he's also increasingly seem on other programs talking about health issues. So when I heard Good Morning America's host Robin Roberts start into a segment on thyroid disease this morning, and she said Dr. Oz would be her guest, I thought, "Oh no, here we go again!!"
So I was happily surprised -- and frankly, even shocked -- when Dr. Oz went on to offer patient-oriented information about thyroid disease, and he made a major departure from the official "easy to diagnose, easy to treat" party line of most of mainstream medicine, and in particular, the endocrinology community.
So, since I'm quick to dish out the criticism when I think someone has done a disservice to thyroid patients, I also feel that I need to be just as quick to hand out well-deserved praise when someone has done something to help the cause of thyroid patients and thyroid disease. So I would like to applaud Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has clearly seen the light when it comes to thyroid disease, AND who was willing to risk the wrath of the endocrinology establishment.
Why do I say he's "seen the light?" Here are a few of the best of Dr. Oz's comments from his appearance:
"It's pretty simple to treat...you can take thyroid hormones. Synthroid is called synthetic thyroid hormone -- that's why the word Synthroid came to use. Very effective. You can also take Thyroid Armour. I mention those two options, because a lot of women are on Synthroid hormone -- we mentioned 27 million people have the problem, and half of them know it, and are on hormone replacement therapy. The big catch, unfortunately, is that if you're on Synthroid and it's not working for you, then we may have to switch you to the other version, the naturally occurring pork version of thyroid hormone."
"When we tell you your thyroid hormone is normal, we're really misleading you. Because what we really need to do is find out if you have any of the symptoms I mentioned. If you've got symptoms, even if the blood tests come back looking like you're borderline okay, we still might want to treat you more aggressively. It's a very important point to make. Unlike other blood tests, it's a matter of symptom management, not about getting the right blood tests."
"One of the reasons Vitamin D is so important is it reduces autoimmune responses. That's probably the number one reason we have inadequate thyroid hormone in America. I wanted to get that out there because if you think about one thing you should do in your life to avoid becoming one of the 27 million American women who have thyroid problems, take vitamin D."You can watch the entire segment online at ABC's Good Morning America website.
I also liked his "pencil test." To illustrate the idea that loss of the outer edge of the eyebrow can be a thyroid symptom, he said to line up a pencil vertically with the outer edge of your mouth. You should have some eyebrow that extends beyond the pencil. If not, said Oz, "it's either hypothyroidism, or overzealous tweezing."
Dr. Oz did have a few moments where I feel he could have done better. He did repeat one of the popular myths -- saying that hypothyroidism is "pretty simple to treat." That is, of course, not true for many thyroid patients. And he was discussing the medications somewhat awkwardly -- referring to "Synthroid hormone" instead of levothyroxine, or synthetic thyroid hormone, and referring to "thyroid Armour" instead of "Armour Thyroid" or natural thyroid drugs. And in his list of women's thyroid symptoms, while he touched on fatigue, depression, weight gain, and hair loss, he did not mention any of the common hormonal symptoms, such as low sex drive, irregular periods, infertility, miscarriage, or breastfeeding problems, among others.
But those really are minor issues, especially given the fact that a nationally-known doctor went on national network television, and dared to tell America that:
- Doctors may need to switch patients who take Synthroid and don't feel well to natural thyroid drugs like Armour Thyroid.
- With thyroid disease, symptoms may be equally or even more important than blood tests in diagnosis and treatment.
And what is official party line? To paraphrase: "Hypothyroidism is easy to diagnose and easy to treat. TSH tests tell everything, and subclinical/borderline hypothyroidism requires monitoring, but not treatment, as it causes no symptoms. For overt hypothyroidism -- and that means a TSH over 10 -- the only safe and effective treatment is levothyroxine (i.e., Synthroid.) Natural desiccated thyroid is obsolete/old-fashioned/off-the-market, and should never be used."
Doctors who have challenged the thyroid party line have often found themselves viciously targeted by individuals and organizations opposed to integrative or complementary medicine, unfairly investigated or even frivolously charged by state medical boards, and even found themselves the targets of media campaigns sponsored by groups like the AACE. (One example is described at CBS News website.)
Will Dr. Oz end up on the conventional thyroid world's "hit list?" It's hard to say, but we'll be watching closely to see if what he's said generates a response from endocrinology's old guard.
More on Thyroid From Doctor Oz
- Watch the entire video segment featuring Dr. Oz talking about thyroid disease online at ABC's Good Morning America website.
- Read Dr. Oz: How Can You Identify a Thyroid Deficiency?
I believe that we should speak out when we're unhappy, but I also believe that we owe it to the doctors who get it right to thank them, and let them know we're behind them. So, thank you Dr. Mehmet Oz.
And to my fellow thyroid patients, why not take a moment to let Dr. Oz know that you think he got it right about thyroid disease!
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