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Monday, May 5, 2014

Thyroid Diseases Affect Races Differently -- Researchers Admit They Have No Idea Why

It is probably safe to say that most people know very little about their thyroid gland, where it is, what it does, and how important it is to the body. The fact is, this little organ plays a significant role, including how fast our hearts beat. But it is a puzzling little organ that has researchers baffled on why thyroid diseases affect races so differently.

What is the thyroid gland and what does it do?

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the neck below the Adam's apple. It produces hormones that regulate the growth and rate of function of many other systems in the body. It is responsible for brain development, heart beat, burning of calories and general feeling of alertness.

Thyroid diseases

Like anything else in the body, organs can malfunction. Too much hormone production by the thyroid gland produces hyperthyroidism, caused by Graves' disease where antibodies are produced that stimulate the thyroid to secrete excessive quantities of thyroid hormones. Too little hormone production produces a condition called hypothyroidism, caused by an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto's thyroiditis. The bottom line is that the thyroid gland can cause all kinds of problems if its normal regulation is thrown off balance. But the way these diseases affect different races is a mystery.

How thyroid diseases affect races differently

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, Graves' disease is much more common among African Americans and Asians than whites. And among African Americans, black women are twice as likely, and black men are about two and a half times more likely, to have Graves' disease. On the other hand, Hashimoto's disease is much more common among whites than any other race.

Why thyroid diseases depend on race is a mystery, according to researchers and endocrinologists. One author of the study, however, explains how critical it could be to unlock the mystery. As Donald McLeod stated, "If we can work this out, we may unlock the mechanisms of autoimmune thyroid disease, and potentially yield insights into other autoimmune disorders."

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