Low thyroid? Maybe you're an "elephant"

Fri Jun 12, 2009 6:31pm EDT
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Low thyroid activity, one of the most treated conditions in the United States, may actually be a sign of longevity, researchers reported on Friday.

While they said it was far too soon for people taking thyroid pills to stop, they will be looking to see if the thyroid may hold the key to a long life, at least for some people.

Dr. Martin Surks and colleagues at the Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York studied hundreds of people who had lived to be 100, and found evidence that people with low thyroid activity were more likely to be in that group.

"We studied a large group of Ashkenazi Jews with exceptional longevity," Surks told a news conference at a meeting of the Endocrine Society, specialists in human hormones.

They used a large national survey of health to see what the average hormone levels are for people of various ages.

The thyroid, located in the neck, is a kind of master gland, secreting hormones that affect metabolism. Doctors usually check its activity by an indirect measure -- looking at levels of TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone.

High TSH levels suggest the thyroid is underactive, a condition known as hypothyroidism. Low levels suggest it is overactive, known as hyperthyroidism.

People with low thyroid function may lose hair, gain weight and feel sluggish, while those with overactive thyroids may lose weight, feel their hearts race and have trembling hands Both can be easily treated with a daily pill.   Continued...

<p>An African elephant is cleaned by a zookeeper at the zoo of Wuppertal June 3, 2009. REUTERS/ Ina Fassbender</p>