What Is Wilson's Syndrome?

Marty Paule

Wilson's syndrome, also referred to as Wilson's temperature syndrome, is a controversial diagnosis of thyroid gland dysfunction indicated by subnormal body temperatures and other nonspecific symptoms, such as weight gain, fatigue, and hair loss. Supporters of the Wilson's syndrome diagnosis contend that, in some cases, the body is unable to adequately convert the endocrine system hormone thyroxine (T4) to trilodothyronine (T3). Some alternative medicine practitioners arrive at this diagnosis even if the patient's thyroid function appears normal using standard thyroid activity tests. Conventional medicine does not accept Wilson's syndrome as scientifically valid, and has raised concerns about the safety and efficacy of prescribing time-release T3 supplementation in response to the diagnosis.

Wilson's temperature syndrome is a controversial diagnosis of thyroid gland dysfunction indicated by subnormal body temperatures.
Wilson's temperature syndrome is a controversial diagnosis of thyroid gland dysfunction indicated by subnormal body temperatures.

E. Denis Wilson M.D., a Florida physician, first used the term "Wilson's syndrome" in 1990 as an explanation for a wide range of symptoms including headache, depression, low sex drive, and many more. Wilson maintained that the syndrome can can be indicated by "virtually every symptom known to man." When patients respond positively to a prescription of time-release T3, Wilson viewed this as confirmation of the diagnosis. Wilson maintained that the syndrome is primarily caused by stress and may persist long after the stress has been alleviated.

Headaches are among the symptoms of Wilson's Syndrome.
Headaches are among the symptoms of Wilson's Syndrome.

In 1992, Dr. Wilson's medical license was suspended for six months and he was fined $10,000 US Dollars (USD) by the Florida Board of Medicine for "fleecing" patients using a "phony diagnosis." He was ordered to take 100 hours of continuing medical education and refrain from prescribing thyroid supplementation based on a diagnosis of Wilson's syndrome. The syndrome has also been challenged by the American Thyroid Association (ATA), which found that Wilson's biochemical theories conflicted with established knowledge about thyroid hormone production and involved imprecise, non-specific symptoms.

Wilson's Syndrome is a controversial diagnosis of thyroid gland dysfunction.
Wilson's Syndrome is a controversial diagnosis of thyroid gland dysfunction.

The ATA went on to refute Wilson's contention that the normal mean body temperature upon waking is 98.5°F (36.94°C), stating it is instead 97.5°F (36.39° C). In a 2005 statement, the ATA found that a "thorough review of the biomedical literature has found no scientific evidence supporting the existence of 'Wilson's Syndrome'." The ATA observed that the many nonspecific symptoms Wilson attributed to his diagnosis are commonly associated with social and psychological stress, anxiety, and depression. It was also noted that Wilson's set of symptoms appear in the alternative diagnoses of other conditions, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and Epstein-Barr virus syndrome.

Fatigue and weight loss are considered nonspecific symptoms of Wilson's syndrome.
Fatigue and weight loss are considered nonspecific symptoms of Wilson's syndrome.

Wilson's temperature syndrome continues to be used in some alternative medical practices. It is also taught as part of the curriculum in some naturopathic medicine schools. While the syndrome does not have the support of orthodox medicine, certification of doctors and naturopaths in the use of the Wilson's syndrome diagnosis is available. A dedicated website also exists to educate consumers and health care providers about Wilson's temperature syndrome.

Wilson's syndrome was originally an explanation for a variety of symptoms that included low sex drive.
Wilson's syndrome was originally an explanation for a variety of symptoms that included low sex drive.

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