Oprah's got a new pet project: thyroid disease.
Yup. Early last week, Oprah showcased her own "wake-up call for women" in learning that her sleep disorders and weight gain were in fact symptoms of a defective thyroid, that butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that is "widely viewed as a euphemism for being fat." Thyroid disorders are extremely common in people with diabetes, especially women.
Some might say it's about time: Would you believe that the NY Times-owned About.com has actually been running a campaign to get Oprah to publicly recognize this common condition? A post from March '07 titled "Why Isn't Thyroid Disease Front Page News?" notes: "For years, Oprah has made women's health issues the focus of her programs. She has dedicated numerous episodes of her popular and influential show to the topics of menopause, low sex drive, weight loss, perimenopause. And yet, time and again, as she and her health experts have listened to women complain of their fatigue, difficulty losing weight, depression, hair loss, and lack of sex drive, thyroid disease has never been mentioned!"
As NY Times health blogger Tara Parker-Pope points out, "The thyroid... has gotten some celebrity attention in the past. Former president George Bush and his wife Barbara both suffered from thyroid problems, as did Olympic track stars Gail Devers and Carl Lewis. But the reality is that nothing compares to Oprah in terms of raising public awareness about anything, whether it's a favorite book, a politician or a disease."
No kidding. Look what Oprah's done for breast cancer awareness and menopause. Now -- finally -- she's writing about thyroid problems in her O magazine. Let's hope this helps alert people to thyroid disease, a chronic condition that can cause exhaustion, sleep problems, weight changes, depression, low sex drive, hair loss, feeling cold or hot, diarrhea or constipation. Nobody's idea of fun. But there may be as many as 13 million Americans walking around with undiagnosed thyroid disease, according to MedScape. The thing is, thyroid disease develops gradually, and the symptoms are so piecemeal they can easily be misdiagnosed or ignored.
About that diabetes-and-thyroid connection, see my little primer on thyroid conditions, and why skipping your thyroid meds is NOT a good strategy for weight loss.
Many of us living with Type 1 diabetes are all-too-familiar with the auto-immune version, aka Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. It is my experience that with proper medication (a simple once-a-morning tablet), this condition isn't the least bit bothersome. But unrecognized, or improperly treated, it sure can make you feel like crap.
* See About.com's Top 10 Signs You Might Have a Thyroid Problem HERE
* Chat about diabetes and thyroid disease HERE
* Check out the Thyroid Disease and Diabetes Support Group at MySpace
Moral of the story: Celebrity endorsements do change the world, after all. Take good care of your butterfly!