Help Us Protect Natural Thyroid Hormone

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compoundPatients need access to compounded thyroid extract, not just the synthetic and incomplete version. Action Alert!

The human body produces five different thyroid hormones, though today most patients are treated with levothyroxine (also called l-thyroxine), a synthetic product that contains only one of the hormones, thyroxine, also called T4.

A new clinical trial has found that hypothyroid patients prefer natural, full-spectrum thyroid extract to T4-only preparations. Although there were no differences in documented symptoms or neurocognitive measures, 49% of the volunteers in this randomized, double-blind study preferred desiccated thyroid extract (DTE) while only 19% preferred the T4 hormone (33% had no preference). An analysis of those who preferred DTE found that they lost an average of four pounds while on DTE, and reported better concentration, memory, and sleep, and greater happiness and energy.

In addition, this was a crossover study, where each volunteer essentially acts as his or her own control, by taking both drugs: first one, for eighteen weeks, then the other, for sixteen weeks.

In 2012 the American Thyroid Association published guidelines advising doctors that “there are no controlled trials supporting the preferred use of desiccated thyroid hormones over synthetic-l-thyroxine in treatment of hypothyroidism or any other thyroid disease.” Perhaps this new study will cause them to reconsider.

Why might people feel better on desiccated thyroid hormone than on synthetic, T4-only preparations?

Both human and pig thyroid glands (from which DTE is derived) produce T1, T2, T3, T4, and calcitonin. T4 is a storage hormone that must be converted into T3 to be metabolically active. Calcitonin regulates blood levels of calcium. And T1 and T2 seem to be a mystery and are widely believed to have no clinical value.

Mainstream medicine preaches that it is sufficient to supplement only with T4; that the body will convert an appropriate amount of T4 into T3; and that T1, T2 and calcitonin aren’t needed. While this may be true for some hypothyroid patients, clearly there are many others who get better only when they take DTE. Mainstream exponents such as Wikipedia disparage DTE, saying, “The use of thyroid extract became associated with those whose medical practices deviated in many ways from standard care,” and “Those prescribing it were considered to be unscientific and irrational practitioners.” Right—considered by whom?

Much rests on the assumption of conventional medicine that the body will convert enough T4 into T3, although many things can interfere with the conversion process. The health site for Discovery Communications reports:

Nutritional deficiencies such as iodine, iron, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, riboflavin, pyridoxine, and B12, along with the use of certain medications including beta-blockers, birth control pills, estrogen, iodinated contrast agents, lithium, phenytoin, and theophylline, can inhibit the conversion of T4 into T3. Other factors that can cause this inhibition include aging, alcohol, alpha-lipoic acid, diabetes, fluoride, lead, mercury, pesticides, radiation, stress, and surgery.

Another problem is that too much T4 can convert to something called “reverse T3,” which has only 1% of the effect of T3, but also binds to the T3 receptor, thus blocking T3 from doing its job:

Factors that may lead to a preferential conversion to reverse T3 include high cortisol, glucocorticoids, stress, excess estrogen, and nutritional deficiencies such as selenium, iodine, zinc, and iron.

All of these factors are common. Some—such as aging, stress, fluoride, and pesticides—are so ubiquitous that it is easy to imagine that a large percentage of thyroid patients are inadequately converting T4 to T3, and thus need a thyroid preparation that contains some T3. There is also the possibility that T1 and T2 are performing functions in the body that we are not yet aware of, and that they need to be supplemented along with T3 and T4 (as they are with DTE).

The basic screening test for hypothyroidism is the TSH test, which is short for thyroid-stimulating hormone. TSH is secreted by the pituitary gland when it senses that thyroid levels in the blood have dropped too low, so low levels of TSH generally mean that there is plenty of thyroid hormone in circulation. But for a variety of reasons, the pituitary can sometimes fail to produce enough TSH (even though thyroid levels are low), in which case a low TSH level would give the false impression of having plenty of thyroid. And even under optimal circumstances, TSH levels can fluctuate.

In 2002, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), recognizing that many patients are misdiagnosed, lowered the upper end of acceptable TSH levels from 5.0 to 3.0, doubling the number of people needing treatment for hypothyroidism. Under the old guidelines, these people had been considered totally normal, and many had been denied treatment despite predisposing family histories and symptoms such as weight gain, depression, fatigue, hair loss, constipation and high cholesterol, all of which can be caused by low thyroid.

Is it any wonder that best-selling thyroid author Mary Shomon’s motto is, “We’re patients, not lab values”?

Speaking of the acceptable TSH ranges, Shomon notes:

This narrow-minded means of diagnosis has been the “standard of care” for conventional doctors and endocrinologists for decades, based on a near-slavish reliance on the TSH test—often to the exclusion of clinical evidence, symptoms and medical observation.

On About.com, Shomon has questionnaires to assess the risk of both hypothyroidism (too little) and hyperthyroidism (too much).

Another approach followed by some integrative doctors is to use an underarm temperature test, which may be more reliable than the TSH test. One simply measures underarm temperature before getting out of bed. A temperature below 97.4 for several days running generally indicates a problem.

In 2009, thyroid patients on DTE were thrown a loop when the two major makers of DTE—Armour and Nature-throid—both experienced mysterious shortages and could not meet demand at the same moment. Many patients spent hours on the phone, calling pharmacy after pharmacy to find a source of DTE. Fortunately, compounding pharmacies were able to fill in, as they can make DTE in any dose, using the same raw materials as Armour and Nature-throid (although at a higher price).

We’ve been telling you over the past few months (here and here) about a bill moving through Congress to outlaw certain compounded medications. This bill is a blatant move by pharmaceutical companies to eliminate the competition from compounding pharmacies and force people to buy the mass-marketed version of the drugs. That would mean that in the event of future shortages of DTE, people might be forced to switch to the T4-only preparations that leave so many patients with unresolved symptoms.

If you haven’t sent an Action Alert yet on the compounding bill, it’s not too late. We’re asking the Senate to vote No on S.959, to ensure that we don’t lose access to the important therapies supplied by compounding pharmacies. Please take action today!

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  • Cheryl Braunwarth

    I had my thyroid removed in L.A. in 1968. I was put on desiccated thyroid until the synthetic came on the market and I was told only synthetic thyroid was now available. I am now 67 yrs old and have osteoporosis throughout my spine, hips etc. I did a cleanse while living in New York to clean out the build up of chemical and toxins from years of taking synthryoid. I am in Canada at this time and cannot talk to my g.p. doctor as she only believes in the synthetic thyroid.
    I believe that a large part of my osteoporosis getting worse all the time is because I cannot find anywhere that will sell me the desiccated thyroid in Canada or the U.S.A. I am a dual citizen of both countries. I get the same amount of the synthetic as a lot of others who actually have a thyroid and no matter how much calcium etc. I take, the osteoporosis is always getting worse.
    Can you help me? Is there somewhere that I can get the desiccated thyroid? And how would I be able to test for the correct amount?
    Thank you in advance for your attention to my medical problem
    Sincerely
    Cheryl Braunwartbh

    • Karen Chappell

      I was also at a loss a few years ago when Armour was taken off market. Found a similar medication called Westhroid which worked just as well. I believe I got it from Women’s International Pharmacy, please google it and check, still need a script though. Good luck.

  • Geraldine Vaccaro

    As one who had Thyroid cancer and had my entire thyroid removed I take Synthroid. At the advise of a friend I started taking the natural thyroid hormone from Armour with disastrous results. Getting 10 hot flashes in one hour is a disaster. The T3 causes hotflashes and that is nothing I want to put up with. Besides it stinks. I always prefer going the natural route. But Armour as absolutely not for me. BAD!!! Natural hormones cannot be as specifically dosed as do synthetic. In this case I will stick with synthetic.

    It have very high cholesterol, cannot take any statin drugs and control everything with Ayurvedic Herbs…Fish Oil and Niacin Non Flush..I also control my blood sugar with Ayurvedic herbs..!!!

    • Emmett G.

      You are a very rare person. I’ve known hundreds of people with low thyroid and have done my research. The vast majority of hypothyroid people do FAR better on Armour. You are the first person I’ve heard of that it didn’t work for. I don’t know why that is, but it has been proven that natural thyroid is far better than the synthetic, especially for the vast majority of people. Just because you had a bad experience with it, doesn’t mean everyone else should go without it. People can and do die from untreated low thyroid.
      BTW, you don’t need to worry about not getting the exact amount in Armour; it’s all carefully measured – so that isn’t the reason it didn’t work for you.

  • Volindah Costabell

    The drug I take is DTE. I have enough problems with drugs n short supply. I see no reason to disallow this drug from being made by compounding pharmacies. Looks like a politicall move to me – nothing to do with health.

  • As a licensed holistic physician, I consistently see better clinical results from compounded natural thyroid than from synthetic thyroid hormone replacement.

    For the sake of my patients and many others, please preserve unrestricted access to compounded thyroid preparations.

    Yours,

    Shani Fox, ND
    Portland, OR

  • B Delaney

    I hope I can continue to have access to Armour Thyroid. I’m allergic to Synthroid, and had some problems not too long ago when the pharmacies were unable to obtain Armour for a while. We need options.

  • Victoria Chick

    Thank you for your advocacy. My prescription for Armour Thyroid is written as an either/or prescription allowing compounding by my local rural compounding pharmacy when Armour Thyroid is not available or the pharmacy is sold out. This has been a life saver numerous times.
    I have been blessed to find physicians who will listen to me about the basal temperature test even though my T4 test shows low normal. Being on natural thyroid replacement changed my life for the better. I did have a 25 hour urine test done which showed a vastly deficient picture than the T4 test did (used by most physicians). I paid for the test myself and assume insurance companies don’t pay because it is more expensive or that in medical school Dr.s are trained to use nothing but T4. So many ailments and conditions are caused by thyroid imbalance that drug companies with products targeting specific problems would see a reduction in sales if thyroid issues were addressed first.

  • Joan McGregor

    I have been on thyroid for year, but have had numerous problems with manufactured medication. Finally they switched me to compounded formula and I have done quite well for the last few years. If they do not allow compounded thyroid medication I would not be able to be a functional person.

  • Cindy Bye

    Please do not restrict my compounded medications! Many of us rely on these medications as drugs are either harmful (in some cases) or do not work for us. I am already chronically ill, please don’t take away something that does work.
    Thank you for your attention.

  • valeria giannini

    I was denied thyroid treatment for over 30 years because “my numbers were normal”. Mind you my body temperature was well under 97 degrees all and a dangerously high fever for me was 99. I was exhausted, with dry lifeless skin and hair, poor sleep, poor energy, and poor concentration.

    I finally found a doctor who agreed to give it a shot, but he insisted on giving me Synthroid (T4 only). That didn’t help at which point he said, see, you don’t need it.

    A year later an integrative MD ran tests she found that my TRH was off, meaning that the hypothalamus was working too hard to get the pituitary to release TSH to get the thyroid to do its job. That’s something that not many people test for. Also my free T3 was off, meaning that I didn’t have bioavailable thyroid hormone in my bloodstream. I’m thriving on a low dose of Armour and when the supply ran low I was VERY nervous.

    The gov’t’s job is not to keep Abbott Labs happy. Armour has been in use since the late 40s. Just consider it GRAS and leave it up to docs to decide how and when to use it.

  • Any person treated with both natural and synthetic will tell you that they feel much better on the natural hormone.

  • Synthetic thyroid hormones do not help my symptoms. I need to take the brand medication. Why take it away?

  • uriel dana

    My thyroid was removed several years ago and I was treated with levothyroxine by the head of Metabolics at the VA hospital. It was so toxic to my system I repeatedly asked for Armoral even though I am a vegetarian. It is very difficult to find and being phased out everywhere. After fighting for this option for over 2 years he reluctantly prescribed it and I have been so much better with this product. Levothyroxine is a very poor choice for some of us. I found I could barely function on it even though I am a vegetarian, do not smoke or drink, do not use fluoridated water or toothpastes, and excercise regularly.

  • Is there any natural desiccated thyroid available to patients that is sourced from pigs that were raised on a non-GMO organic diet?

  • Shelley Ahern

    I am not happy with Obamacare health insurance. You know that won’t let me have thyroid test. Darn it.

  • Janis Wasser

    I rely on natural thyroid medication. The others add me sickener.please do ot take away my freedom to have optimum health.

  • Rachelle Tanner

    This meddling is absurd & potentially disastrous. I have taken several forms of thyroid. The synthetic T4 doesn’t work on everybody. You people clearly don’t have anybody’s health as a priority. It’s is only about money & control. Potentially population control, as I will not take the synthetic versions ever again. Can a human body function properly without it? No. Stay out of it.

  • Emmett G.

    I’m one who wasn’t diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I went for 15 yrs being seriously ill, while none of the 20 doctors I saw in those years could diagnose me. Finally, after doing my own research, I realized it was hypothyroidism. About that time, they lowered their range on lab tests for hypothyroidism. Then I was given Synhthroid, which didn’t work for me, at all. Finally, after years, I went on NDT and began to feel better. It has taken another 10 yrs to fix all the other health problems I developed due to having low thyroid for so long.
    There is absolutely not one reason to take NDT off the market, it has never caused one single problem for anyone. Big Pharma should NOT be catered to at the expense of people’s lives. People die from hypothyroidism and I will be suing the agency responsible, if they take NDT off the market. Pain and suffering, loss of livelihood won’t come cheaply if I sue. There are many others like me, we will start a class action lawsuit.
    Altogether I lost 30 years of my life, due to the idiot doctors inability to practice simple medicine and diagnose simple low thyroid. I’m NOT going through that again.

    • I had a client who came to me because of her deep rage about a family issue. When she mentioned she was on thyroid medication, I asked her if she would let me regress her and talk to her body consciousness. I am an internationally board certified regression therapist.

      Her body told her that it had made her sick to take the focus off her anger because it was excessive. It then provided the most loving and healing information that I was stunned. She applied the information given to her and a few weeks later, she mentioned that she did not need her medications anymore. It was basically about learning to love herself and do loving things for herself instead of being so focused on what her parents were not able to supply for her needs growing up. My forthcoming book, explains this story and more about real health solutions, “Paradigm Busters, Reveal the Real You”.

  • ISTHATA

    I had a thyroidectomy in 2006. The surgeon claimed that replacing my own hormone would be easy, she said ” Just one little pill a day”… but without it I would die.

    HA!

    I turned out to be allergic to the various versions of synthetic t4, itched all over, and felt like I was dying, could barely find the energy to go to the bathroom, lots of heart irregularities and so on.

    I had great difficulty getting my doc to switch me to natural dessicated thyroid, then was prescribed way too little for years. Finally was on a reasonable dose of Armour when in 2009 the shortages had me spending hours each day trying to locate some pharmacy, some where that might have the next months supply.

    Then when Armour finally became available again, they had reformulated using a filler that my body can’t process ….as did the only other manufacturer in this country at the time!

    Result was a downward spiral into hypo, including 30,000 premature ventricular contractions of my heart a day!

    Whoops, Whoa… I needed blood to my brain on a very regular basis!

    Finally I discovered Erfa Thyroid from Canada, which still had the old fillers, and started ordering it. Big relief… for a while.

    The price started off being $60.00 for a 3 month supply. Within reason.. though not exactly easy for me, and there was constant worry that the customs folks would confiscate the shipment, despite letters from my doc that I needed it to survive and had no other options.

    I just checked the current Erfa price : it has gone from $60.00 to $380.00! Completely out of the question for me…

    And of course, even though I have both Medicare and Medicaid, Congress has prohibited either of those programs from covering ANY Natural dessicated thyroid!

    NO matter that I will die without it!

    Luckily, Acella began manufacturing NDT without using the micro-crystalline cellulose that my body can’t process and I heaved a sigh of relief.

    The price was possible , though not easy for me. Then shortages of that drug began. The price rose from$ 42.00 to $ 56.00 during the early months of 2013.

    Luckily my Kroger pharmacist went out of his way to locate a years supply of the drug and stash it away for me, in hopes that the shortages are temporary. So at the moment I can almost relax. (I haven’t checked the price for a couple of months.)

    If Acella’s NP-Thyroid disappears my only option will be Compounding Pharmacies.

    It seems the FDA…

  • Kat Nunya

    My family has a 100+ year history of thyroid disorders–specifically Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism. The AMA and medical community have little to no regard to patients as humans as I have seen repeated over and over again. As far as I’m concerned, they killed my auntie. Murdered her. Stole her life. They removed her thyroid and then refused to give her any thyroid medication; kept telling her she was ‘fine’, she just needed to eat better, exercise, lose weight. She was a perfectly fit veteran of the armed forces and her weight increased and increased and other medical issues set in until she got so large no one wanted to see or treat her for anything, and then she died. I have seen multiple doctors who are like ‘wow, some family history. Hmmm yes, you have a thyroid goiter so large it would be tough to intubate you if there were an emergency. No, we’re NOT going to treat you — your labs are fine. You want natural desiccated thyroid? No No…” . I know doctors that have literally lost their license for treating patients with thyroid and the medical board said ‘we can’t allow you to do that, you are treating outside of AMA guidelines’. We MUST STAND UP against the big pharmaceutical companies that control our government and our doctors

    • Wilbert C. Streeter D.O.

      I am a Licensed D.O. in the state of IN and have been in practice for over 35 years. Synthetic thyroid was taken off the market years ago because it was deemed dangerous. However those who make it have more money than those who took it off the market and thus it is still being prescribed and sold under the guise of “better quality controlled.” Unless one is made in a chemistry lab, I fail to see the rationale behind the use of a chemical thyroid over a natural thyroid extract. Of course the synthetic chemical made in the lab is better quality controlled than that made in the thyroid of a beef or pork, but I fail to see the benefit of using it or requiring its usage, unless of course, the pharmaceutical companies make more money on the synthetic brand. I can tell anyone who will listen that the synthetic thyroid is dangerous to the patient taking it–weight gain, muscle and joint pain, and total dependence upon synthetic thyroid for the rest of his/her life once it is prescribed for that patient. Wilbert C. Streeter, D.O.

  • Leah Foley

    I am a clinical herbalist and have had many folks come to me with thyroid issues (severe tiredness, loss of hair, weight gain, etc.) where some of them actually had nodules on their thyroid. After going to their doctor and/or endocrinologist and finding their thyroid testing on the low side of normal they were told to sit tight or were given Synthroid with no effect. Also, I think it is appalling that those M.D.’s who risk prescribing natural thyroid are being treated as outcasts by the industry because they are not following the usual “protocol”. Aren’t all doctors bound to heal their patients?

    I want to thank Alliance for Natural Health for writing one of the best descriptions of why thyroid issues are missed by so many M.D.’s. and bringing the medication problems with Senate Bill 959 to the fore. We need to advocate for our own rights as patients by writing to our congressmen and senators.

  • Wayne

    Thyroid is a problem with many variables. While the article mentions some problems due to high cortisol, it fails to mention a serious problem with low cortisol: inability to utilize the available thyroid hormone and continuing hypothyroid symptoms, perhaps high reverse T3 as well. Some clues to the interaction and measurement of the resulting metabolic disturbance can be found at http://www.drrind.com/therapies/metabolic-temperature-graph
    My experience with the Broda Barns under arm temperature test taken with high precision was that it varied too much to be useful. There are many reasons that body temperature may be low and being hypothyroid is one of them.

  • Thanks for helping to spread this message!

    I (Karilee Shames) have no thyroid and need natural medicine – as do most of our thyroid pts!

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  • Christa Bain

    I had thyroid ablation in 2004 and I have been on synthroid and liothyronine and armour thyroid. Synthetic drugs mask a lot of your symptoms. My mother can only take the natural drug. We both went through the whole problem of getting the Armour in 2009, my mom couldn’t take anything else and became very sick. It is apparent that this is a drug that is a mandatory component for some people to survive. You need to vote on keeping DTE on the market. It shouldn’t be left up to the pharmaceutical companies to decide what drugs are available to us. Please do not take this option away from us, you have the opportunity to save lives! Make human lives count, not pharmaceuticals bank accounts.