Thyroid function and metabolic syndrome in the population-based LifeLines cohort study


The metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a combination of unfavourable health factors which includes abdominal obesity, dyslipidaemia, elevated blood pressure and impaired fasting glucose. Earlier studies have reported a relationship between thyroid function and some MetS components or suggested that serum free thyroxine (FT4) or free triiodothyronine (FT3) levels within the normal range were independently associated with insulin resistance. We assessed how thyroid function relates to MetS prevalence in a large population-based study.


Data of 26,719 people of western European descent, aged 18-80 years from the Dutch LifeLines Cohort study, all with normal thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), FT4 and FT3 levels (electrochemiluminescent immunoassay, Roche Modular E170 Analyzer), were available. MetS was defined with the revised National Cholesterol Education Programs Adults Treatment Panel III (NCEP ATP III) criteria. We calculated prevalence of all MetS components according to TSH, FT4 and FT3 quartiles.


At similar TSH levels and age (mean 45 yrs), men had significantly higher levels of FT4, FT3, blood pressure (BP), heart rate, total and LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides (TG), and creatinine, but lower HDL-cholesterol compared to women (all p < 0.001). In total, 11.8% of women and 20.7% of men had MetS. In men, lower FT4 levels were associated with higher prevalence of MetS and all MetS components. In women, lower FT4 quartile was only associated with a higher prevalence of elevated TG, waist circumference, and MetS. However, when corrected for confounding factors like age, BMI, current smoking and alcohol consumption, a significant relationship was found between FT3 and three MetS components in men, and all five components in women. Moreover, the highest quartiles of FT3 and the FT3FT4 ratio predicted a 49% and 67% higher prevalence of MetS in men, and a 62 and 80% higher prevalence in women.


When corrected for possible confounding factors, higher plasma levels of FT3 are associated with several components of the MetS. Only in men, lower FT4 is related to MetS. In the highest FT3 and FT3FT4 quartiles, there is a 50-80% increased risk of having MetS compared to the lowest quartile. Further studies are needed to assess the possible causality of this relationship.


Epidemiology; Metabolic syndrome; Thyroid; Triiodothyronine

year of publication



  • BMC Endocr Disord.


  • Wolffenbuttel, BHR
  • Wouters, HJCM
  • Slagter, SN
  • van Waateringe, RP
  • Muller Kobold, AC
  • van Vliet-Ostaptchouk, JV
  • et al.

full publication

click here to view the full publication