Age-Related Thyroid Decline
and Cardiovascular Disease
Hypothyroidism, the insufficient production of thyroid hormones, has been found to be associated with cardiovascular disease.1 Whether subclinical or "hidden" hypothyroidism - not detectable or discernible by the usual means - is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease has remained a question, but new data are helping the decision along. A recent Dutch study has found that subclinical hypothyroidism is highly prevalent in elderly women and is strongly connected to atherosclerosis as well as other forms of heart disease.2 Researchers say that it may be responsible for as much as one-seventh of all cases of myocardial infarction (heart attack), a figure that puts it on a near-equal level with other causes of heart attacks, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking.
A random sample of 1149 women with a mean age of 69.0 years participating in the Rotterdam Cardiovascular Study were examined for thyroid status, aortic atherosclerosis, and history of myocardial infarction. Of these women, nearly 11% were found to have subclinical hypothyroidism, and a greater prevalence of aortic atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction.
These data are consistent with the work of pioneering cardiovascular surgeon Dr. James Isaacs, of Baltimore, who tested the hypothesis that supplementing with natural thyroid extract could help prevent cardiovascular disease.3 According to his classic study, conducted in 1974, people who took 1/4 grain of thyroid along with vitamins and minerals over a period of 10 years showed significant improvement in cardiovascular function, regardless of whether they were slightly hyperthyroid, slightly hypothyroid, or had normal thyroid function.
Famed alternative physician Dr. Jonathan Wright recommends his whole-thyroid formulation, containing the same amount of thyroid used in the Isaacs study, for people over age 40 who have no overt endocrine disease. He points out that, even if one is not experiencing overt symptoms of low thyroid, all endocrine glands are beginning to slow down at this stage of life. The most common comment from people taking 1/4 grain of his natural thyroid extract, according to Dr. Wright, is, "I just feel a little more energetic overall. My thinking seems a little clearer, and my bowel function is a little better."
Yet another study has recently pointed in the same direction. Last year a French study involving 1434 healthy male patients with no known history of thyroid disease and with normal levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone found that patients with lower levels of the thyroid hormone thyroxine had more cardiovascular risk factors and were therefore more likely to develop atherosclerosis and other forms of cardiovascular disease.4
Even if someone is already taking thyroid supplementation, most can still add a thyroid nutritional supplement to get the benefits of the other glandular extracts that it may contain, according to Dr. Wright. "Unless you are in very brittle condition - and brittle means to an endocrinologist that the amount you take has to be exactly right - you might consider the use of a thyroid supplement, if it adds only a modest amount of the actual thyroid glandular itself, and if it also nourishes the rest of the endocrine network."
- Gonzalez Vilchez F, Castillo L, Pi J, Ruiz E. Cardiac manifestations of primary hypothyroidism. Determinant factors and treatment response. Rev Esp Cardiol 1998 Nov;51(11):893-900.
- Hak AE, Pols HA, Visser TJ, Drexhage HA, Hofman A, Witteman JC. Subclinical hypothyroidism is an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction in elderly women: the Rotterdam Study. Ann Intern Med 2000 Feb 15;132(4):270-8.
- Isaacs JP, Lamb JC. Trace metals, vitamins, and hormones in ten-year treatment of coronary atherosclerosis heart disease. Delivered at the Texas Heart Institute Symposium on Coronary Medicine and Surgery, Houston, Texas, February 21, 1974. LC Call No. RC685.C6.I588.
- Bruckert E, Giral P, Chadarevian R, Turpin G. Low free-thyroxine levels are a risk factor for subclinical atherosclerosis in euthyroid hyperlipidemic patients. J Cardiovasc Risk 1999 Oct;6(5):327-31.