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2011: The Thyroid Year in Review

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Updated September 22, 2013

2011 thyroid year in review

2011 has been a momentous year for thyroid patients.

Collage of photos featured: istockphoto, clipart.com, Gena Lee Nolin, Cheryl Senter

At the close of 2011, here's a look back at some of the significant thyroid stories, news and developments of the past year.

Thyroid Awareness Month

The year began with January's Thyroid Awareness Month commemoration. The Thyroid Awareness Month 2011 campaign from DearThyroid, the Coalition for Better Thyroid Care, and Thyroid-Info.com featured video messages from thyroid patients and doctors around the world, united under the theme "I am the face of thyroid disease."

WeGoHealth.com also marked thyroid awareness month with interviews of DearThyroid founder Katie Schwartz, and About.com Thyroid Guide, author and patient advocate Mary Shomon.

Good Housekeeping Controversy

Thyroid awareness was also in the news this summer, with a major thyroid controversy in the media that was triggered by Good Housekeeping magazine.

The magazine's August 2011 issue published a misleading, and misinformation-filled article titled "Understanding Thyroid Problems" by writer Susan Carlton, in which 40-something Carlton listed her symptoms (loss of energy, fuzzy thinking, and a rapid 10 pound weight gain), and told of her doctor suspecting a thyroid problem, and reported that tests showed she was borderline hypothyroid. It was then that Carlton and Good Housekeeping ended up in a major controversy, as Carlton derisively referred to thyroid disease as the "disease du jour," and claimed that thyroid information and websites are a "virtual cottage industry." She interviewed several traditional, conventionally-oriented endocrinologists, and presented their outdated and cavalier personal opinions about thyroid care as official medical information on thyroid issues. She concluded her article by suggesting that she should be applauded for refusing treatment, and said that instead, "I'm drinking more java (for energy) and honing my crossword skills (for focus). As for the unwanted pounds, there's a spinning class on Saturday with my name on it."

Hundreds of patients wrote responses to Good Housekeeping, and a number of the nation's top integrative doctors responded to Good Housekeeping's thyroid controversy by setting the record straight. After several weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions, Good Housekeeping published a thyroid advocacy letter I wrote in response to their article online and in the magazine.

Unfortunately, Good Housekeeping wasn't the only magazine who got it wrong this year. Health also got confused about thyroid, continuing the trend of magazines doing a less than stellar job covering thyroid disease honestly and accurately.

The Rise of the Integrative Thyroid Experts

One of the important developments of 2011 has been the increasing visibility and influence of some of the nation's leading integrative thyroid and hormone experts. There are a number of experts who are getting more well-deserved positive attention in the media, and from the patient community, but a few who have been highlighted here at the About.com Thyroid Disease site include: Finishing the up the year, I featured a Q&A with popular integrative physician David Borenstein, MD, who is based in Manhattan, sharing Dr. Borenstein's approach to thyroid treatment and hormone balance.

Thyroid Resources

Several free resources were published for thyroid patients in 2011.

The Thyroid Cancer Survivor's Association (ThyCa) made a free downloadable e-booklet available, titled Thyroid Cancer Basics. In this booklet, thyroid cancer survivors, caregivers, and physicians offer information about thyroid cancer, questions to ask, tips on how to prepare for appointments and treatment, among other topics.

The Coalition for Better Thyroid Care also published the Guide to Starting a Local Thyroid Support Group, part of the Coalition's initiative to help patients start in-person support groups and to create an online directory of local thyroid support groups.

A number of interesting books were also published this past year, and I was able to review several of them, including Richard, Karilee and Georjana Shames' book Thyroid Mind Power: The Proven Cure for Hormone-Related Depression, Anxiety, and Memory Loss, and patient advocate Julia Schopick's book about various overlooked but effective treatments, Honest Medicine, which features low dose naltrexone (LDN), a promising treatment for autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto's disease.

Chernobyl's 25th Anniversary / Japanese Fukushima Meltdown

2011 was the 25th anniversary of the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which was considered the worst nuclear accident in history, and a trigger for an epidemic of thyroid cancer and thyroid problems in the areas downwind of the disaster.

Almost 25 years to the day, there was the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which resulted in the catastrophic meltdown of the Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant, which is now considered a nuclear accident on par with Chernobyl.

The Fukushima meltdown generated understandable concern for the Japanese, and several months after the disaster, radiation was found in the thyroid glands of Japanese children who were in the downwind path of Fukushima. But there was an almost hysterical response in the US, which experienced a run on -- and eventual shortage of -- potassium iodide, the supplement that can help protect the thyroid gland in the event of exposure to certain kinds of radiation. In addition to panic buying by the public, some unscrupulous distributors started charging exorbitant costs for iodine and potassium iodide supplements of all sorts, taking advantage of public misinformation and fear.

Celebrity Thyroid News

2011 gave us the last episode of Oprah's television show, but the daytime diva never did responsibly discuss her own thyroid disease in a way that contributed to the discussion. Over the years, Oprah Winfrey's show and magazine had unique opportunities to truly transform the understanding of thyroid disease, but her own insecurities and/or misunderstanding of her condition ultimately prevented her from making a real impact on thyroid awareness.

Meanwhile, in 2011, several celebrities went public with their own thyroid diagnosis, including rapper Missy Elliot, Brazilian soccer great Ronaldo, and singer Anna McGarrigle.

The biggest celebrity news in 2011, however, was the announcement by Baywatch and Sheena star, and Playboy cover model, Gena Lee Nolin. Nolin, a mother of three, revealed a 20-year battle with Hashimoto's disease and hypothyroidism, as well as her plans to be my co-author on Beautiful Inside and Out: Conquering Thyroid Disease with a Healthy, Happy, "Thyroid Sexy" Life , making her the first celebrity to step out openly as a thyroid patient advocate, and become a vocal and public spokesperson for her fellow thyroid patients.

Chiropractors and Thyroid Disease

With some concerns about the marketing practices used by some chiropractors to attract thyroid patients, and the increasing visibility of high-priced chiropractic programs being designed to target thyroid and autoimmune patients, the patient community took a careful and critical look at chiropractic care this past year.

This included an evaluation of chiropractic thyroid programs from New York City-based integrative physician David Borenstein, MD.

I also had an opportunity to review the popular book by chiropractor Dr. Datis Kharrazian, titled Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms When My Lab Tests Are Normal: Understanding Hashimoto's Disease & Hypothyroidism. Dr. Kharrazian also did a helpful Q&A with me, discussing the role of chiropractors in thyroid management.

Major Developments and Findings

We had some major news in 2011, with perhaps the biggest news being the announcement of the new Veracyte Afirma process for thyroid nodules. This test process means that inconclusive fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsies will be a thing of the past, and will allow patients to avoid unnecessary thyroid surgery for indeterminate FNA results.

Another major development in the thyroid world was a groundbreaking new study, reported on in the European Journal of Endocrinology, that showed that adding T3 to thyroid treatment is superior to levothyroxine (T4)-only treatment for hypothyroidism.

Thyroid cancer patients have also struggled throughout the year with a shortage of Thyrogen, the medication used for thyroid cancer patients who are undergoing a scan, to allow them to avoid hypothyroidism symptoms. Despite numerous promises from manufacturer Genzyme that the shortage would be over this summer, Thyrogen remained almost unavailable throughout 2011.

A number of important research studies were also published, informing us about the following developments:

Thyroid Passages

Finally, 2011 was the year the thyroid world said goodbye to the beloved patient advocate Ric Blake. Ric was one of the founders of the Thyroid Cancer Survivor's Association, and a long-time advocate for thyroid patients, and for the palliative care and hospice movements. Ric was a dear friend of mine for more than a decade, and despite his diagnosis of terminal thyroid cancer in 2001, Ric continued to make a lasting impact on the world for another ten years. The thyroid community misses him greatly, I miss him tremendously, and he will always be remembered as an incredibly positive force for thyroid patients around the world.

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