Oprah Winfrey’s troublesome thyroid

Adventures with the bathroom scale and swings in energy eventually got her focused on her thyroid.

by Dr. Mark Starr — 

Oprah Winfrey’s metabolism has been up and down — and up again. Adventures with the bathroom scale and swings in energy eventually got her focused on her thyroid.

In her magazine, she wrote: “My body was turning on me. First [it was] hyperthyroidism, which sped up my metabolism and left me unable to sleep for days. (Most people lose weight. I didn’t.) Then hypothyroidism, which slowed down my metabolism and made me want to sleep all the time. (Most people gain weight. I did! Twenty pounds!)”

We can’t know from afar the nitty-gritty details of Oprah’s physical condition, but we do know that changes in metabolism and weight gain are red flags that the thyroid is not doing its job. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), followed by hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), commonly occurs in someone with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that occurs when we make antibodies that cause inflammation of the thyroid gland. Conventional doctors are taught that there is no known cause of this illness. However, a careful review of recent literature points toward iodine deficiency as a major contributing factor.

The rising incidence of Hashimoto’s correlates with falling iodine levels in our populace (see: or Adequate amounts of iodine are necessary for our thyroid and immune systems to function properly. Damaged thyroid gland cells dump their contents into the bloodstream whenever illnesses occur. Iodine is necessary to make external and intracellular proteins that are spilled into the blood non-allergic. Without adequate iodine, the body thinks these proteins are foreign, and attacks the thyroid gland.

Daily requirements of iodine required to attain optimal health are many times the RDA that doctors are taught during their formal training. The amount of iodine in table salt usually prevents the formation of most thyroid goiters (dysfunctional and enlarged thyroid glands). However, it is far less than what recent research indicates we need for health.

Another complicating factor is that the medical profession lost touch with natural desiccated thyroid, which has been used successfully to treat hypothyroidism for over a century. Synthetic thyroid was first mass produced and marketed to doctors 30 years ago. Desiccated thyroid usage has been abandoned by mainstream doctors. Long-term studies on thousands of patients show a tremendous reduction in heart attacks with proper usage of desiccated thyroid.

One research article showed that fatigue was reduced by two-thirds when 40 patients were switched from today’s synthetic thyroid to desiccated thyroid. Other classical symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as depression, cold intolerance and headaches also improved.

In Winfrey’s case, fatigue and weight gain are a red flag for low thyroid. Unfortunately, most doctors are unaware of the recent research on iodine. They also are not taught to use desiccated thyroid, even when patients are doing poorly on the synthetic form. Consequently, hypothyroidism and iodine deficiencies tend to go undiagnosed and are treated improperly until a crisis like Hashimoto’s befalls you.


Mark Starr, M.D.(H), is a lecturer and author of Type 2 Hypothyroidism: The Epidemic. He is board-certified by the American Board of Pain Medicine in practices in Paradise Valley, Ariz. 480-607-6503 or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number 1, Feb/Mar 2009.

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