15 common myths about thyroid disease
- Your thyroid is making you fat
This is commonly believed but untrue. Although your thyroid gland is responsible for your metabolism it is extremely rare for patients to experience significant weight gain if they have an untreated hypothyroid. In severe hypothyroidism the weight gain is water collecting in the tissues (hence the old term “myxoedema”) and it is this weight which is lost with thyroid hormone replacement not fat.
- If you have a thyroid problem it will be obvious to you.
It is easy to miss the fact that several apparently disparate symptoms are all to do with a thyroid problem as these can include extreme fatigue, anxiety, palpitations, changes in pulse or blood pressure, scalp hair loss, weight loss or gain and dry skin. Such non-specific symptoms are often misattributed for hormone related conditions in women such as perimenopause or menopause.
- Thyroid problems only affect older women.
In fact thyroid disease affects both men and women and can present at any age. Although it is true that it is much more prevalent in women.
- You have to give up taking your thyroid medication when you are pregnant
There is no problem continuing to take any prescribed thyroid treatment, in fact your baby is dependent upon you to provide for its thyroxine requirement to develop a healthy brain.
- I won’t be able to get pregnant if I am hypothyroid
This is not true unless you totally neglect to treat the condition. There is a detailed blog post on preparing for a successful pregnancy when you have a thyroid condition just here
- You can’t lose weight if you are hypothyroid
Finding it hard to lose weight is probably more down to your naturally slowed metabolism in your forties and fifties. If you are on medication to treat your thyroid you are effectively on the same level playing field as everyone else although you may be at a disadvantage compared to previously as a consequence of your thyroid condition.
- Taking extra iodine is good for thyroid health
Iodine is essential for the thyroid to function correctly but in fact too much iodine can cause problems too. An iodine supplement of 150mcg daily is recommended for women in the UK pre-conception, during pregnancy and during breast-feeding. Please see this blog post
- If you are sensitive to gluten it can trigger thyroid problems
There is no clear evidence that removing gluten from your diet will not protect you from developing thyroid disease. This myth has probably come about because coeliac disease is not uncommon in those with Hashimotos or Graves Disease and of course people with coeliac disease will need to remove gluten. There has been discussion as to whether the gut environment may be influenced by going “gluten free” and that this change may lessen the autoimmune response - but the evidence in practice appears very limited.
- A lump in your next definitely indicates thyroid disease.
It is true that a goitre is indicative of a thyroid problem but a lump in the neck could equally be a cyst or a swollen lymph node. My best advice is to get it checked by your GP.
- Soy based products will cause problems with your thyroid
Not directly, but soy can decrease the absorption of your prescribed hypothyroid medicine. The answer is to take your medicine in the morning and have soy-based products for dinner.
- A higher level of thyroid hormone medication is better for you.
Some people mistakenly believe this will give them extra energy and will help you lose weight but this is totally incorrect. Your medication is designed to take you into normal parameters and having too much can cause you to shake, have palpitations, insomnia and be more hungry.
- You can manage your hypothyroidism by watching what you eat.
It’s not unusual for people to seek alternative treatments but I’m afraid diet alone will not improve your thyroid function so you will need to take medication.
- My TSH levels are normal so I can’t have a thyroid problem
Because there are many different ways in which your thyroid can malfunction normal TSH levels may not always be accurate. It is important to take into account differences in gender, age, pregnancy or treatment of thyroid disease. A normal test for an elderly person will be very different for a pregnant woman. Your thyroid glands may be producing enough thyroid hormones but your cells may not be able to use them efficiently. A normal TSH does not exclude pituitary dysfunction.
- Thyroid disease is catching
Definitely not! This may have come about because most thyroid disease is inherited and it’s therefore going to be present in family members who may coincidentally live together or spend a lot of time with each other. It is estimated that 70% of autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease) is genetic and then something in the environment triggers the production of antibodies such as virus, pregnancy or menopause, diet, drugs or possibly extreme stress.
- If you have thyroid nodules you have thyroid cancer.
This is not true. A few nodules are malignant but most are slow growing and small when found. Aggressive thyroid cancer is uncommon but these nodules will be large, firm, fixed and fast growing. What’s more thyroid nodules tend run in families and also in those who have had an early childhood in areas that have been iodine deficient in the past - including Europe. For more detail about this condition please read this blog post
I hope this has been helpful.
Although every effort is made to ensure that all health advice on this website is accurate and up to date it is for information purposes and should not replace a visit to your doctor or health care professional.
As the advice is general in nature rather than specific to individuals Dr Vanderpump cannot accept any liability for actions arising from its use nor can he be held responsible for the content of any pages referenced by an external link.