Oprah, diets and your thyroid

Yesterday as I was reading stories about the Chicago Tribune and the ethical — and most likely criminal — debacle in Illiniois involving Obama’s Senate seat, I came across another article on Chicago Tribune online: “Oprah falls off the fat wagon.” Ouch. I figured this was just another holiday-related celebrity story about dieting or not gaining weight during office or other parties. It’s not. And the Chicago Tribune has it all wrong.

Oprah struggles with thyroid disease — hypothyrodism, an underactive thyroid. So do I. And so do millions of others — women and men of all ages. And many are never treated — with serious consequences.

Here’s the context for the Oprah story, from the Chicago Tribune article:

She can make a serious novel a best seller, find a great gift for less than $100 and help elect a U.S. president. But losing weight and keeping it off? That’s a tough one.

Even for Oprah Winfrey.

The talk show queen now weighs 200 pounds, up from 160 in 2006, according to an article in the January issue of O magazine provided early to The Associated Press by Harpo Productions.

“I’m mad at myself,” Winfrey writes in the article. “I’m embarrassed. I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight. I look at my thinner self and think, ‘How did I let this happen again?’ “

Folks, I’m not writing here about diets. I don’t know whether Oprah at 200 pounds is healthy or not. If she is then that is the important point. If not, then she is going to have to do something about it soon. But from what I have read about her situation — and what I know from personal experience — it’s about the thyroid.

Here’s why. The thyroid operates like the idle on an engine. When tuned correctly, life is good. But if the idle is too fast (hyperthyroidism) it’s like being wired with high-voltage coffee all the time. And if it is too slow (hypothyroidism) your metabolism slows to a crawl — and it can lead you to being overly tired, chilled and packing on the pounds no matter how rigid a diet you follow.

I’ve been struggling with this now for about 15 years. In fact, as soon as I finish this post I’m off to get another blood test — to see if I need to adjust the medicine that I take daily and will for the rest of my life. And I’m fortunate because the synthetic medicine I take works for me — most of the time. My thyroid now speeds up — and slows down — for no apparent reason. So when accelerating, I have a hard time sleeping. When slowing down, I gain weight. Unless the medicine I take is absolutely in the right dose. And that’s been iffy of late.  And medicine — a pill — doesn’t work for everyone — Oprah apparently being one.

Anyway, I was lucky with this. But it took me several years to convince my doctor at the time to even do the simple blood test necessary to look at the thyroid. And that’s typical. This is a condition that is grossly neglected by doctors. Why? If you complain about fatigue they attribute it to work or stress. If you’re gaining weight, they attribute to lack of exercise or poor diet. And if you are complaining about being moody or just having the blahs — they want to consider depression. Many times — it’s the thyroid, stupid.

That’s not to say that all problems relate to the thyroid. But it needs to be examined and considered as part of other treatments.

Here are the key points from a very information and thoughtful  story by Mary Shomon on Thyroid Disease Blog — “The Six Reasons Why Oprah Winfrey Doesn’t Have to Weigh 200 Pounds“:

Thyroid Problems Rarely “Stabilize” Without Medication

Synthetic Treatment Doesn’t Work For Everyone

It Takes Time To Find the Right Medication and Dosage, and It Takes Time For It to Work

The TSH Controversy Is Confusing to Patients AND Doctors

A Soy-Heavy Diet May Worsen Thyroid Problems — and Sabotage Weight Loss Efforts

Stress and Adrenal Fatigue Can Slow or Prevent Thyroid Recovery

And here is my final point: Urge your doctor as part of any routine physical exam to test your thyroid. And don’t take no for an answer.


5 responses to “Oprah, diets and your thyroid

  1. I really enjoyed this post and will check out the About blog. Do you have any experience with armour thyroid (dessicated thyroid)? I’d not heard of this until the Oprah story, but it supposedly provides T# and T4. Here’s an article (it’s a from a women’s health site, but this one applies to both women and men) with a bit more on this: http://www.womentowomen.com/hypothyroidism/hormonalimbalance.aspx

    • Jacqueline,

      Thanks for the comment and for the link to your site — viewsonwomenshealth. I’m not familiar with armour thyroid — and I’m certainly not an expert on this at all other than the considerable reading I’ve done because of my own treatment. I am convinced that doctors don’t do enough testing (and subsequent treatment) for thyroid problems. And I hope that Oprah has helped by highlighting her own struggle and story.


  2. Wow. This is a very interesting post. I think many americans struggle with weight a lot. I think if someone is doing all of the steps consistantly to lose weight, but are not seeing results theyshould really consider getting their thyroid checked.

    Thanks for sharing this information!

    • The thyroid really is something to have checked routinely. And as I mentioned, Oprah’s public discussion of this should help. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Pingback: Diets and Fat Tuesday « PR on the run

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