A VEGETARIAN diet has been linked to the soaring number of Scots suffering from thyroid problems.
The latest official figures show that NHS Scotland spent £8 million treating thyroid conditions in 2011 compared with just £2.2 million in 2001. Over the same decade, the number of prescriptions for thyroid problems soared from 1.2 million to 2.2 million.
Experts believe a lack of iron from reduced red meat consumption and large amounts of soya in some vegetarian meals has contributed to the increase of more than 300 per cent in Scotland’s thyroid drug bill.
The combination can cause the thyroid, which controls metabolism, to malfunction, causing rapid weight gain or loss. It is now estimated that one in five Scots will suffer from a thyroid condition during their lifetime.
Lyn Mynott, chief executive of charity Thyroid UK, said a lack of proper nutrition and a meat-free diet were contributing to a rise in the numbers of people seeking support.
She said: “We know there is an increase in cases of thyroid problems as we have an increasing number of people coming to us. You can also look at prescription cost analysis to see this trend.
“Your thyroid needs iron and a lot of people don’t eat meat and are eating a lot more soy.”
Mynott added: “When people are put on medication for thyroid conditions, in most cases they will be on it for life. This is certainly a bigger problem than it used to be.”
Peter Taylor, senior lecturer in physiology at Dundee University, agreed that a diet with high levels of soya, and low in foods containing iron, can be a cause of thyroid problems.
He said: “If your diet is low in iodide and iron selenium and you have very high levels of soya in your diet then it is possible that this will contribute to thyroid problems. Soya can compete with your body’s ability to process iodide.”
Dr Damian Dowling, of New Medicine Group, in London, said: “There are things in soya that can limit the body’s intake of iron and other important nutrients and minerals. Soya can disrupt the hormone function, particularly in woman, and can disrupt the thyroid directly.”
The popularity of soya products is on the rise in Scotland; around two-thirds of all manufactured foods contain soya. Soya can be ingested as whole beans, soya flour, soya sauce or soya oil, and soya flour is widely used in foods including breads, cakes, processed foods, ready meals, burgers and sausages, and baby foods.
But William Shand, chairman of the Scottish Vegetarian Association, said: “The vegetarian diet is far healthier than a meat-based diet and these claims are just another example of scaremongering.”