Jet Li’s Battle With Hyperthyroidism

Jet Li
Jet Li before (Photo courtesy of

By GEORGE NAVA TRUE II / Content Editor

Martial arts superstar Jet Li has taken on many foes both on- and off-screen. But his biggest battle so far has been with hyperthyroidism, a disease that has plagued “The King of Kung Fu” for almost 10 years.

A recent photo taken in Chengdu alarmed fans when it showed the 55-year-old actor and retired wushu champion looking frail and unrecognizable. It was a far cry from the boyish-looking Chinese martial artist whom people knew from blockbusters like Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die, and The Expendables franchise.

Although Li’s manager Steven Chasman says that fans merely saw a bad photo of their idol, he revealed that his client has been battling hyperthyroidism for many years. Chasman said it’s not a life-threatening disease and Li remains in great shape. Li himself assured fans that he is okay.

The controversial Twitter photo of Jet Li (right) that alarmed fans.

Rapid Heart Beat

However, Li – whose real name is Li Lianjie – admitted that he has gained weight because he can’t exercise due to his illness. He said he is taking medication to control his rapid heart beat. Li revealed that his resting heart rate is around 130 to 140 beats per minute (bpm). Doctors say the normal rate is between 60 and 100 bpm.

What is hyperthyroidism and why is it making things difficult for Li? This is another name for an overactive thyroid that produces too much thyroxine (T4). Doctors at the Mayo Clinic say this is one of the two main hormones that maintain body temperature, regulate the way fats and carbohydrates are used and control the heart rate.

The thyroid gland normally releases enough hormones for the body to function well. If too much T4 is produced, this may be due to Graves’ disease. This is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism where the immune system produces antibodies that mistakenly attack the thyroid gland.

This is the Jet Li that fans remember (Photo courtesy of

Other Causes

Other causes of hyperthyroidism, according to the Mayo Clinic, are toxic adenoma or Plummer’s disease. These are characterized by benign tumors that may cause the thyroid to enlarge. Thyroiditis or the inflammation of the thyroid gland can also lead to hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism can be difficult to diagnose, so check with your doctor if you experience the following symptoms: sudden weight loss, rapid heart beat or palpitations, nervousness, irritability, increased appetite, and sweating. Other symptoms to look out for are changes in menstruation or bowel habits, fatigue, goiter, and thinning hair. While the disease can occur at any age, the Mayo Clinic says the usual victims are people aged 60 or older. The condition also appears to run in families.


Untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to congestive heart failure or a rapid heart rate. The patient may suffer from osteoporosis or brittle bones and have bulging, red, or swollen eyes. He may have blurred or double vision and become blind in the long run.

The good news is that there are several ways to treat hyperthyroidism. The Mayo Clinic says this will depend on the patient’s age, health, and the cause and extent of the problem. Treatments include beta blockers to normalize the heart rate, anti-thyroid medications, and radioactive iodine to slow the production of T4. Surgery is reserved for pregnant women, those who can’t take anti-thyroid medications, and people who aren’t suited for radioactive iodine.

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