Race appears to be a factor in determining a person’s risk of developing autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a new study says.
African Americans and Asians are much more likely to develop Graves’ disease than whites are, according to the study published in the issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
On the other hand, whites have an increased risk of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis when compared to other ethnic groups, the researchers found.
The findings are based on analysis of medical records from all United States active duty military personnel aged 20 to 54 from 1997 through 2011.
“These stark race differences in the incidence of autoimmune thyroid disease raise the important question of why?” said lead author Donald McLeod, an endocrinologist and researcher at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Queensland, Australia.
“If we can work this out, we may unlock the mechanisms of autoimmune thyroid disease, and potentially yield insights into other autoimmune disorders.”
The thyroid gland plays a crucial role in regulating the body’s metabolism, influencing how quickly a person burns calories, how fast their heart beats, and how alert they feel.
Graves’ disease occurs when the immune system begins producing an antibody that tricks the thyroid into producing too much hormone. It’s the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, and affects about one in every 200 people, according to the US National Institutes of Health.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis happens when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland itself, causing hormone production to fall and causing hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s affects as many as five per cent of adults, according to the NIH.