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Thyroid Guards

In December of 2010, Dr. Oz presented information on his television show regarding the use of thyroid guards to protect the thyroid gland during dental x-rays and mammograms. He cited the rapid increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer in both men and women since 1980 as a reason why one would use a thyroid guard to limit radiation exposure during diagnostic exams. On occasion, someone will e-mail me the information Dr. Oz presented during that show, so I thought it was time to do a little more research on the subject.

First, letís look at a significant event that took place in the early 1980ís that had a tremendous impact on thyroid health. Prior to 1980, bread producers in the United States included iodine as an ingredient in bread. In the early 80ís the government instructed bread producers to stop using iodine, mistakenly believing the quantities we were consuming were no longer safe and necessary in our diets. Instead, a substance called bromine was used in place of the iodine. Bromine is very toxic to our bodies and actually interferes and competes with iodine utilization in the body.

Removing iodine from bread and replacing it with bromine was a watershed event. It severely increased the levels of iodine deficiency, while adding a highly toxic substance to our diets. During the past 30 years, thyroid autoimmune disorders, hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer have been on the increase. I believe that this event has much more to do with the increasing levels of thyroid cancer, as opposed to exposure to radiation from diagnostic exams.

However, I also believe that limiting thyroid exposure to unnecessary radiation is prudent. After Dr. Oz aired the first show regarding the use of thyroid guards, experts presented additional information regarding the actual value of using thyroid guards.

Letís look at radiation exposure from dental x-rays first. Today dentists routinely use dental x-rays as a screening process to detect a variety of dental problems. The amount of radiation exposure from dental x-rays is actually smaller today than it was years ago due to advances in technology. The teeth and glands in the cheeks and jaw line receive more radiation exposure during dental x-rays than the thyroid gland. However, all reputable dentists should have a lead apron and thyroid guard to protect the patient during dental x-rays. If the technician fails to provide you with the thyroid guard, ask for it. There is no risk of the thyroid guard interfering with the outcome of the dental x-rays and it is just an added layer of protection. Personally, I suggest limiting the amount of dental x-rays you receive. Make sure they are really necessary instead of just getting them as part of your annual check-up.

The consensus of the expert opinions regarding the use of a thyroid guard during mammography is contrary to Dr. Ozís original recommendation. Radiologists and technicians report that the thyroid guard can actually interfere with the mammogram images. There is an increased risk of missing a potential problem area in the upper chest and under the arms when a thyroid guard is used. While thyroid guards are available, usually upon request by the patient, doctors are generally not in favor of their use.

In summary, start reading the ingredient labels to avoid breads that include bromine or brominated ingredients. Use a thyroid guard during dental x-rays, but discuss the use of a thyroid guard and possibly do not use the guard during mammograms to avoid inaccurate test results.
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