The thyroid is an important gland in our body that helps regulate many bodily processes, from our metabolism to protein synthesis. However, according to a new study, middle-aged individuals, as well as the elderly with elevated levels of thyroid hormone, may be at risk for developing hardened blood vessels (atherosclerosis) due to plaque buildup, subsequently increasing their risk for heart disease and stroke.
Atherosclerosis is a disease where plaque builds up inside the arteries: the vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other organs. Plaques are usually made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood, and over time, its accumulation can lead to blood vessel hardening and narrowing. This is a big problem, as it limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and even sudden death.
“Coronary heart disease and stroke remain a leading cause of mortality worldwide, despite advances in prevention and treatment,” study author Dr. Arjola Bano said in a news release from the Endocrine Society. “Therefore, identifying additional modifiable risk factors for hardened blood vessels is important.”
The Dutch study led researchers to spend an average of eight years tracking about 9,800 Dutch men and women of whom the average age was about 65. During the investigation, nearly 600 participants were determined to have died due to plaque buildup in the blood vessels, and roughly 1,100 had experienced some kind of problematic event related to hardened blood vessels.
The team followed thyroid levels in these patients and concluded that those who had higher levels of “free thyroxine” or “FT4” were at higher risk for plaque buildup and heart disease complications.
Currently, the established risk status measurement for cardiovascular disease includes a standard lipid profile, which includes total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoproteins) cholesterol, and triglyceride measurement. The introduction of a new marker may aid in making more precise diagnoses of cardiovascular disease in the future, as Dr. Bano and his team did find an association between thyroid hormone and plaque buildup. However, these findings were only presented to the Endocrine Society recently, and it is only seen as a preliminary result until they have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.