Context: In cross-sectional studies, serum TSH concentrations increase with age. This has not been examined longitudinally, and it is uncertain whether the TSH increase reflects healthy aging or occult thyroid failure.Methods: We measured serum TSH, free T-4, thyroid peroxidase, and thyroglobulin antibodies in 1100 participants in the 1981 and 1994 Busselton Health Surveys and derived a reference group of 908 individuals without thyroid disease or thyroid antibodies. We examined changes in thyroid function longitudinally and, in 781 participants, explored associations with the CAPZB polymorphism rs10917469.Results: At 13 yr follow-up, mean serum TSH increased from 1.49 to 1.81 mU/liter, a change in mean TSH (Delta TSH) of 0.32 mU/liter [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.27, 0.38, P <0.001], whereas mean free T-4 concentration was unchanged (16.6 vs. 16.6 pmol/liter, P = 0.7). The TSH increase was most marked in the elderly, such that gender-adjusted Delta TSH increased by 0.08 mU/liter (95% CI 0.04, 0.11) for each decade of baseline age. People with higher baseline TSH values had proportionally smaller increases in TSH, with each additional 1.0 mU/liter of baseline TSH associated with a 0.13 mU/liter decrease (age and gender adjusted) in Delta TSH (95% CI 0.09, 0.16). The Delta TSH did not differ significantly by CAPZB genotype.Conclusions: Aging is associated with increased serum TSH concentrations, with no change in free T-4 concentrations. The largest TSH increase is in people with the lowest TSH at baseline. This suggests that the TSH increase arises from age-related alteration in the TSH set point or reduced TSH bioactivity rather than occult thyroid disease. (J Clin Endocrinol Metab 97: 1554-1562, 2012)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1554-1562
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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