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Childhood Obesity Could Add Risk of Thyroid Damage

December 3, 2008

Obesity among children increases the risk of damaging their thyroids, which can also result in a metabolism damage, researchers in Italy reported on Wednesday.

Dr. Giorgio Radetti of the Regional Hospital of Bolzano in Italy and colleagues studied 186 overweight children for a period of three years.

The team took images of the children’s thyroid glands and also analyzed their thyroid hormone levels and thyroid antibodies. The thyroid works to secrete hormones which regulate the body’s metabolism and other functions, researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism

Low thyroid function can be linked to weight gain, although stimulating the thyroid does not automatically cause weight loss. Losing weight, however, has been shown to restore thyroid function in some cases.

Researchers noted inflammation in the thyroids of 73 child participants. What’s more, they did not have a condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which T-cells mistakenly attack the thyroid.

“Our study shows that alterations in thyroid function and structure are common in obese children and we may have uncovered the link,” Radetti said in a statement.

“We found an association between body mass index and thyroid hormone levels which suggests that fat excess may have a role in thyroid tissue modification.”

Radetti added that while the ultrasound images were somewhat ambiguous, “the findings do suggest the existence of a low-grade inflammation state, which has been known to characterize obesity.”

More study is needed to show whether losing weight would normalize the thyroid and return the children to health, he said.

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