Perchlorate is commonly found in the environment and known to inhibit thyroid function at high doses. Assessing the potential effect of low-level exposure to perchlorate on thyroid function is an area of ongoing research.
We evaluated the potential relationship between urinary levels of perchlorate and serum levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and total thyroxine (T4) in 2,299 men and women, ≥ 12 years of age, participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) during 2001–2002.
We used multiple regression models of T4 and TSH that included perchlorate and covariates known to be or likely to be associated with T4 or TSH levels: age, race/ethnicity, body mass index, estrogen use, menopausal status, pregnancy status, premenarche status, serum C-reactive protein, serum albumin, serum cotinine, hours of fasting, urinary thiocyanate, urinary nitrate, and selected medication groups.
Perchlorate was not a significant predictor of T4 or TSH levels in men. For women overall, perchlorate was a significant predictor of both T4 and TSH. For women with urinary iodine < 100 μg/L, perchlorate was a significant negative predictor of T4 (p < 0.0001) and a positive predictor of TSH (p = 0.001). For women with urinary iodine ≥ 100 μg/L, perchlorate was a significant positive predictor of TSH (p = 0.025) but not T4 (p = 0.550).
These associations of perchlorate with T4 and TSH are coherent in direction and independent of other variables known to affect thyroid function, but are present at perchlorate exposure levels that were unanticipated based on previous studies.