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Metabolism. 2002 Jan;51(1):105-9.

Thyroid function in physiological aging and in centenarians: possible relationships with some nutritional markers.

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Department of Internal Medicine and Medical Therapy, University of Pavia, Italy.


Changes in thyroid function are often described in elderly subjects; however, their pathophysiologic significance and the possible contributory role of both malnutrition and nonthyroidal illness are still debated. The aim of this cross-sectional study was to investigate thyroid function in relationship to some markers of the nutritional status in a group of healthy old subjects and in some centenarians living in nursing homes. Patients included 24 clinically healthy elderly women (age, 71 to 93 years), 24 clinically healthy centenarian women (age, 100 to 106 years), and 20 healthy young subjects (age, 22 to 33 years). Blood samples were drawn from each subject for the evaluation of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), free triiodothyronine (FT(3)), free thyroxine (FT(4),) reverseT(3) (rT3), autoantibodies against thyroglobulin (AbTg) and against thyroid peroxidase (AbTPO), and for the main humoral nutritional markers. TSH and thyroid hormones were assayed by fluoroimmunometric method; rT3 and thyroid autoantibodies by radioimmunoassay (RIA) and enzyme chemiluminescent immunometric assay, respectively. The mean values of TSH, FT(3) and FT(4) fell within the normal range in both groups. However, by comparison to old controls, in centenarian subjects, TSH levels were significantly lower, whereas rT(3) concentrations were slightly, but significantly, increased. Autoantibodies positivity was found in 4.16% of centenarians and in 10.4% and 13.6% of old and young controls. Thus, the incidence of thyroid autoantibodies was lower in centenarians than in old controls. Except for transferrin, lower than the normal range in centenarians, all of the other nutritional markers evaluated fell within the laboratory range of normality. Total cholesterol levels were significantly reduced in centenarians by comparison to old controls. Our results showed an age-related decline of the TSH levels and a significant increase of the rT(3) concentrations in centenarians by comparison to old controls. These findings may be related to an age-dependent reduction of the 5'-deiodinase activity rather than to important changes of nutritional markers.

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