Thyroid is Still Not an Issue for Oprah

Oprah's Last Shows, and Thyroid is Still Not an Issue for the Daytime Diva

oprah thyroid problems
Despite her own thyroid diagnosis, and an estimated 50+ million American thyroid sufferers, Oprah's program had surprisingly little mention of thyroid disease. Kevin Winter, Getty Images Entertainment

At the end of May 2011, superstar Oprah Winfrey's long-running network daytime television show came to a close. News reports covered the star-studded lineup of her final programs, experts took a look back and reporters even wrote "open letters" to Oprah.

In the thyroid world, the end of Oprah's daytime show brought to an end a quarter-century of hopes that the influential talk show host -- who announced several years ago that she herself suffers from a thyroid problem -- would help raise awareness of thyroid disease.

It's a question that, as a thyroid patient advocate, I've asked many times in the past 15 years. Oprah did show after show about perimenopause, menopause, chronic fatigue, low sex drive, infertility, depression, PMS, fatigue, stress, and of course, weight gain and dieting. And yet the word "thyroid" was mentioned on Oprah's television show only a handful of times, and often never discussed at all in the context of these related hormonal issues. Frankly, it's inexplicable.

I remember one show in particular, where Oprah focused on the many causes of fatigue in women -- and they were talking about lupus and fibromyalgia, which are indeed conditions that can cause fatigue, but are not especially common. Did the show even mention hypothyroidism? Not once. There is something wrong with that.

"Maybe Oprah didn't know," some people say. But Oprah Winfrey and her staff can not plead ignorance. I personally was in touch with her producers, and her friend and colleague Gayle King numerous times.

I wrote a number of articles that highlighted the need for Oprah to bring thyroid into the important issues she was featuring on her show.

Dr. Oz was available to Oprah, and he is generally knowledgeable about thyroid disease. Even Dr. Christiane Northrup was her adviser, who -- although she once advised women with thyroid disease to take bubble baths and blow kisses at ourselves in the mirror to help hormone balance -- actually does understand how to medically diagnose and treat hypothyroidism and thyroid imbalances.

And then there are the thousands of letters sent by thyroid patients to Oprah to encourage her to include thyroid disease in the discussion, to cover thyroid disease. If anything, Oprah has been inundated with requests for her to champion thyroid awareness, and information to help.

Oprah's silence was deafening.

All that changed whenOprah announced in the fall of 2007 that she had a thyroid condition. The world's most famous -- and perhaps influential -- woman had a thyroid condition, and it was causing fatigue and weight gain. While no thyroid patient wishes their disease on others, the silver lining to patients was the idea that finally this overlooked, stigmatized condition was going to get the attention it deserved.

Oprah explained how she "cured" her own thyroid problem by doing something that doctors advise against -- drinking a lot of soy milk. She announced publicly, "I was taking thyroid medicine, but I've decided not to continue." She did a high-profile show, revealing that she had decided to follow the controversial Suzanne Somers in taking reproductive hormones that didn't include thyroid treatment. And Oprah, seemingly suffered from the same stigma and tunnel vision about thyroid disease that affects many in the medical world.

Besides Suzanne Somers, who was Oprah listening to? Personally, I blame Dr. Phil, who back in the days when he was on her show, screamed at a women some variation on "whaddya wanna do, stick a big ole sign on yer back sayin' 'I got a thyroid problem' as an excuse fer bein' fat!?'" I think it traumatized Oprah to ever acknowledge that thyroid and weight can be connected...

Oprah Winfrey has a right to do whatever she wants about her health. But thyroid patients and Oprah viewers have a right to feel disappointed.

Oprah Winfrey was in a position to help women. She had the power to save lives, to transform the health and lives of millions of women.

And she did not use that power. She ignored thyroid disease, she relegated it to the stigmatized sidelines.

Imagine if Oprah had done a show about the many symptoms of thyroid disease, and the difficulties getting diagnosed!

Imagine if Oprah had done a show on TSH tests, the "normal range controversy," the Free T4/Free T3 issues, the synthetic vs. natural thyroid issue!

Imagine if everyone in the audience received a comprehensive thyroid test panel as a free gift, instead of Oprah's favorite espresso machine!

Imagine if Oprah had said "Every woman out there who is tired, depressed, overweight, has no sex drive, fertility problems, erratic periods, hair falling out, etc. - get these specific thyroid tests, and here is how to understand them!"

Just imagine the power she would have had.

Oprah Winfrey could have changed the national conversation on thyroid. She could have had a lasting impact on the thyroid health of a generations of women. But she didn't.

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