Last week, Oprah came clean about the minor endocrine disorder, hypothyroidism, that she shares with me and up to 25% of everyone else. Now, hypothyroidism (when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormone to regulate the speed of the metabolism) isn’t a big deal – my father has it, my aunt has it, my grandfather who lived until 97 had it – all I do is take a pill every day and get a blood test every year.
But hypothyroidism is a public health problem, since it often goes undiagnosed and causes all kinds of nasty effects, like weight gain, depression, infertility, and hair loss. So I was all excited that Oprah would get a lot more people to get their thyroid function tested and the world would be a happier place and bunnies and unicorns would frolic on the green, green grass.
No, the doctor that Oprah brought on didn’t talk about blood tests or autoimmune disease or synthetic replacement hormones. This was her explanation of why women are hypothyroid:
In many women thyroid dysfunction develops because of an energy blockage in the throat region, the result of a lifetime of “swallowing” words one is aching to say. In the name of preserving harmony, or because these women have learned to live as relatively helpless members of their families or social groups, they have learned to stifle their self-expression…
Thyroid disease is related to expressing your feelings, something that until relatively recently had been societally blocked for women for thousands of years. In order to have your say—and maintain your thyroid energy—you must take a fearless inventory of every relationship in which you feel you don’t have a say.
Really? Because the thyroid is in the neck and the swallowing is also in the neck? I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t any more verbally stifled than your average angsty 13-year-old. (It’s GOOD that I swallowed down some words then. Very, very good.) I’m all for women taking a good hard look at their relationships, but this is pure claptrap. Broadsheet pointed out that Oprah was making hypothyroidism sound like the wandering womb of yore – a female physical complaint caused by her mental inadequacies.
And Oprah has fallen for it. Instead of taking her little pill and getting on with her life and encouraging others to do the same, she has turned a minor problem into a sticky self-help morass. The Oprah doctor’s three solutions for hypothyroid? Exercise, meditation, and sex. Apparently Oprah herself required a month of leisure and reading at her Hawaiian estate to recover from the trauma of an underactive thyroid. (On second thought, perhaps I too need a month in Hawaii to celebrate my 15th year of living thyroid-free.)
Mind and body certainly work together to influence people’s health, but I highly doubt it is as literal as swallowing your words leads killing your thyroid. If your thyroid doesn’t work you need replacement hormones, not squishy platitudes.