EarthTalk: Does the environment affect thyroid cancer?
Dear EarthTalk: Instances of people withthyroid problems seems to be on the rise. Is there an environmentalconnection?
– Dora Light, Waukesha, Wis.
The American Cancer Society reports that thyroid cancer is oneof the few cancers that have been on the rise in recent decades,with cases increasing six percent annually since 1997. Manyresearchers, however, attribute these increases to our havingsimply gotten better at detection. Regardless, exposures to stress,radiation and pollutants have been known to increase a person’srisk of developing thyroid problems.
Thyroid disease takes two primary forms. Hyperthyroidism occurswhen the thyroid produces too much of the T3 and T4 hormones thatregulate metabolism. this can cause a racing heart, weight loss,insomnia and other problems. in cases of hypothyroidism, the bodyproduces too few hormones, so we feel fatigued and may gain weight,among other symptoms. according to the American Thyroid Association(ATA), many people with thyroid problems don’t realize it, assymptoms can be mistaken for other problems or attributed to lackof sleep.
Thyroid problems in children can delay or impair neurologicaldevelopment. Doctors are not sure why some people are prone tothyroid disease while others aren’t, but genetics has much to dowith it. One recent UCLA study found that genetic backgroundaccounts for about 70 percent of the risk. however, researchershave begun to find links between increased risk of thyroid diseaseand exposure to certain chemicals, especially among women.
“Pesticide use and Thyroid Disease among Women in theAgricultural Health Study,” published in the American Journal ofEpidemiology in 2002, found that Iowa and North Carolina womenmarried to men using such pesticides as aldrin, DDT and lindanewere at much higher risk of developing thyroid disease than womenin non-agricultural areas. according to Dr. Whitney S. Goldner,lead researcher on the study, 12.5 percent of the 16,500 wivesevaluated developed thyroid disease compared to between one andeight percent in the general population.
It’s not just farm women who should worry. Trace amounts ofchemical pesticides and fertilizers most certainly end up in someof the food we eat. the nonprofit group beyond Pesticides warnsthat some 60 percent of pesticides used today have been shown toaffect the thyroid gland’s production of T3 and T4 hormones.Commercially available insecticides and fungicides have also beenimplicated. Likewise, some chemicals used in plastics and flameretardants contain toxins shown to trigger thyroid problems inthose genetically predisposed. and a 2007 study at the Universityof Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio found thattriclosan, an anti-bacterial agent found in everything from handsoaps to facial tissues to toys-it’s present in the bloodstreams ofthree out of every four Americans-could be causing some mothers’thyroid glands to send signals to fetuses that may in turncontribute to autism.
An increasing number of doctors now believe that hypothyroidismcould be precipitated by a dietary deficiency in iodine, a traceelement found in the thyroid’s T3 and T4 hormones and essential insmall amounts for good health. Besides eating more seafood,switching to iodized salt and/or taking iodine supplements canboost iodine intake without the need for medications. but too muchiodine is not healthy, so always consult with your doctor beforeembarking on any new health or diet regimen.
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