Myth vs Fact

Wilson's Temperature Syndrome

  • Editors
  • Stephanie Lee, MD, PhD

    Douglas Ross, MD

Sluggishness, poor concentration, assorted aches and pains—most of us experience these symptoms from time to time. If they persist or grow severe, we want a diagnosis quickly so we can find some relief. With thousands of accepted medical diagnoses, however, pinpointing the precise cause of our problems can be a challenge.

Wilson's SyndromeOne umbrella diagnosis suggested for literally dozens of common ailments from fatigue, to depression, to headaches, is “Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome.” This syndrome is not to be confused with Wilson’s disease—a medically recognized condition caused by a defect in copper metabolism.

This fact sheet was developed to dispel the myths currently circulating on the Internet about Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome and provide factual information on its history and relation to medically proven diseases.

What is “Wilson’s temperature syndrome”?

E. Denis Wilson, M.D., described Wilson’s temperature syndrome in 1990 as the presence of multiple symptoms along with a low body temperature and slowing metabolism, caused by illness, injury, or stress. By metabolism, we mean converting calories and other nutrients from the foods we eat into the energy needed for all life processes. The many possible symptoms attributed to Wilson’s syndrome are common and non-specific, meaning they can occur in many diseases or even be part of a normal, busy life. Dr. Wilson contends that the syndrome represents a form of thyroid hormone deficiency, even though low hormone levels are not reflected in blood tests.

The medical community points out, however, that this syndrome is not an accepted medical diagnosis based on scientific evidence and clinical trials. Instead, this disorder attributes symptoms to a biochemical theory unsupported by research.

Thyroid Hormones

The thyroid gland, located in the neck, produces two key thyroid hormones.  One is L-thyroxine—called T4—the more abundant but less active hormone.  The other is tri-iodothyronine—called T3—the active hormone. Most T3, however, is made outside the thyroid gland as the body converts T4 to T3. This process occurs in muscle, the liver, kidneys, and other organs, accounting for more than 80 percent of T3 production. T3 influences virtually every organ system in the body, coordinating countless biochemical processes that sustain life and keep us well.  Some T4 is also converted into an inactive form of thyroid hormone, called reverse T3 or rT3.

Dr. Wilson’s Theory

During periods of stress or illness, more T4 than normal is converted into the inactive rT3. According to Dr. Wilson, prolonged stress leads to excess rT3 in the body, which in turn interferes with the normal conversion of T4 to biologically active T3. As a result, the active form of T3 cannot be made in quantities needed to adequately fuel the cells’ energy needs. This thyroid hormone deficiency—one that is not apparent in blood tests—lowers body temperature, triggering many non-specific symptoms.

Advocates of Wilson’s temperature syndrome suggest this condition can be reversed by taking special time-released preparations of T3 called Wilson’s T3 (WT3). Most pharmacies do not sell WT3; it must be obtained from a specialty compounding pharmacy. Several cycles of WT3 protocol reportedly can elevate body temperature to 98.6 degrees F. After several months, the patient is weaned off this therapy and, the theory goes, normal production of T3 resumes. The total amount of T3 recommended by Dr. Wilson is much higher than the amount of T3 needed for normal thyroid function.

Further, by purchasing specialized herbal and nutritional supplements — called WTSmed supplements — along with WT3, Dr. Wilson claims this therapy can help ease symptoms such as rapid heartbeat that may accompany high doses of T3. These combined therapies are called Restorative Medicine.

A Critical Assessment of Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome

In summary, Wilson’s syndrome—a supposed thyroid hormone deficiency that is not supported by science—describes common symptoms that many people experience. Doctors worry that some of these symptoms may be due to serious medical problems that can be treated successfully, but require prompt medical attention. Pursuing hormone therapy for Wilson’s Syndrome might distract patients from seeking a proper diagnosis of a treatable medical condition. Inappropriate therapies, unfortunately, may cause serious health consequences.

For more information on Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome, please read the public health statement issued by the American Thyroid Association at: http://www.thyroid.org/professionals/publications/statements/99_11_16_wilsons.html

Please also visit the Mayo Clinic website at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/wilsons-syndrome/AN01728