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Self Magazine Gets Thyroid Wrong, Says Hypothyroidism is Rare

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Updated July 31, 2012

Self Magazine Gets Thyroid Wrong, Says Hypothyroidism is Rare

Self Magazine's February 2012 issue further confuses the issue of hypothyroidism and weight.

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I was leafing through some back issues of women's magazines, and came upon an early 2012 issue of the women's health magazine Self. It's a magazine I usually like, and find it to be a fairly reliable source of information when it comes to health topics and coverage.

I was not surprised that thyroid disease would come up in Nancy Rones's February 2012 article titled "Burn, Baby, Burn!" After all, the thyroid IS the master gland of metabolism, and thyroid hormone delivers oxygen and energy to every cell, tissue, gland and organ in the body.

Rones's article talks about the keys to a healthy weight and metabolism, and provides information on diet, exercise, and other metabolism boosters. There is also a sidebar, titled "Metabolism Myths," and I was surprised to read, under that heading, the following comment by Johns Hopkins professor Adrian Dobs, MD:

"The number of people who are overweight or obese because of a thyroid problem is miniscule."
The discussion goes on to say that, according to Dr. Dobs, hypothyroidism is "relatively rare."

(Note: You can read the article, Perks of a Healthy Metabolism and the "Metabolism Myths" sidebar online at Self's website.)

So here we go again. Another magazine writer -- and the editors that oversee the writer -- that are not doing their research and homework. And another practitioner who deliberately ignores the research in order to promote the agreed upon but outdated thyroid dogma.

We saw a similar lack of understanding -- and frankly, outright misinformation -- regarding hypothyroidism last year in Good Housekeeping magazine. In their article "Understanding Thyroid Problems, writer Susan Carlton called thyroid disease the "disease du jour," and went on to cavalierly claim that she was going to manage her symptoms of subclinical hypothyroidism -- fatigue, brain fog, and weight gain -- with extra coffee, crosswords, and spinning classes instead of medical treatment.

While Good Housekeeping later published a rebuttal letter from me that pointed out the article's numerous inaccuracies -- and the potential dangers it posed by advocating that women ignore and fail to treat thyroid conditions -- it was too late. The damage was done, and the article reached millions of subscribers to this popular women's magazine, misinforming them about subclinical thyroid disease.

Now we have another women's magazine, one that purports to provide information to help women maintain good health, at it again.

It's inexcusable that Self's writer, editors and fact checkers didn't bother to read any one of the many qualified studies that have shown that hypothyroidism greatly increases the risk of weight gain, causes elevated Body Mass Index (BMI) levels -- even in people with so-called "normal" thyroid levels that are borderline hypothyroid-- and also increases the risk of becoming obese.

Also inexcusable is Self's publishing Dr. Dobs's claim that hypothyroidism is relatively rare.

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American Thyroid Association have estimated that some 27 million Americans have thyroid disorders...the majority are hypothyroid, or end up hypothyroid. Some studies estimate that millions more are undiagnosed, and the total number of Americans with thyroid conditions could be as high as 10 percent -- or even as many as 25 percent by some estimates -- of all Americans. Even given the most conservative estimates, hypothyroidism is far from being "relatively rare."

And, according to various studies, the majority of people who are hypothyroid complain about weight gain, or difficulty losing weight, as a side effect of their thyroid condition. That means that millions of Americans with an underactive thyroid are struggling to lose weight, or who are gaining weight inappropriately. Millions of Americans a "miniscule" number? I don't think so.

In my opinion, it again does a major disservice to the millions of Americans who are suffering from this common -- but frequently overlooked, undiagnosed, or poorly treated condition. And to suggest that thyroid disease has little to do with weight gain or metabolism is medically inaccurate.

Why is it that when it comes to writing about thyroid disease, some magazine writers seem reluctant to do even their most basic homework, and get to the facts of the matter? And why is there such an effort on the part of the media -- and the endocrinology community -- to disassociate weight gain from hypothyroidism, despite the research that shows a clear linkage?

The medical community needs to recognize the epidemic of thyroid disorders, and the resulting impact on metabolism and weight, and seriously address this important issue. But as long as thyroid disease suffers from a ridiculous stigma, perpetuated in large part by the same medical community that is charged with the mission of helping patients, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a change.

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