Thyroid Problems

Q. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism a long time ago and prescribed Synthroid (levothyroxine). It improved my lab numbers (TSH) but never got them to normal.

As an aside, I have been under treatment for depression for decades. A new psychiatrist recently checked my thyroid and determined that the levothyroxine was not doing the job and recommended desiccated thyroid. Within a month the depression lifted, I started losing weight and am feeling better than I have in decades. Why don’t doctors prescribe desiccated thyroid more often?

A. Many doctors believe that desiccated thyroid (Armour, Nature-throid, Westhroid) varies too much from one batch to the next to be reliable. But a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (May, 2013) revealed that when Armour Thyroid was compared to Synthroid, almost half the participants felt better, scored higher on cognitive tests and lost more weight on the natural thyroid supplement.

Here are some other stories from visitors to our web site:

“My hypothyroidism was initially found before I was 20 years of age. Nothing was done about it because the tests did not show that it was ‘out of range.’ Skip from 1966 to 1991 when my TSH was at 224 and I was immediately put on Synthroid. The Synthroid brought the TSH down, but not enough to get me anywhere near normal;  changes in the dosing were made to see if that would work. Because I was also one of those women who had been told that my long term chronic depression needed treatment, I had been under the care of various psychiatrists since 1981.

“In 1999, I started with another psychiatrist and told him of the medical history and the trials with Synthroid that were not having a good outcome. He tested for T3 and determined from that and the other Thyroid tests that Synthroid simply was not doing the job. He contacted my Internal Medicine specialist and requested that I be place on ‘dessicated thyroid’ immediately. The psychiatrist actually warned me that it could take years for my system to have a full response to the attempts to normalize things again.
“The amazing thing is that the depression lifted within a month and was noticed because I had just had a death in the family (my dad) and I had lost my mom the year before. Friends noticed that I was not depressed. I was handling things extremely well and was displaying far more energy than they had seen in years. The huge amount of weight that had been gained is slowing going away. I don’t miss it. I am having a great time trying on clothes that have stayed in my closet waiting for me to fit into them.

“I am now almost 67 years old and haven’t felt this good since I was in my 20s. Whether Armour was the answer is no longer a question. My current doctor knows that he can adjust the dose, but he will never get me onto a synthetic levothyroxine. How stupid of the research people to not want to chase down the cause of so many problems that could so easily be helped by simply letting go of the ‘rote’ lessons learned from the big pharma sponsors of the medical schools and medical specialty groups.” D.R.L.

“I have been on thyroid medication since the 1960’s. I was started on natural desiccated thyroid. I had to be tested regularly to make sure my levels were OK. Then a doctor decided to put me on Sythroid (levothyroxine) because it was easier. I have had all kinds of problems since.

“I cannot get the doctors to change it back to desiccated. I have talked with them about it. I have fatigue, hair loss, arthritis problems, finger nail problems, memory problems, nerve problems, etc. A neurologist told me that most of it was due to the thyroid and the medication I was on. I wish I could just find a doctor who will change it back to desiccated thyroid. Maybe then the rest of my life would be a little better.” Dolores

Not everyone benefits from desiccated thyroid, but some people notice a marked difference between such a formulation (that contains both T3 and T4) and synthetic levothyroxine (that only contains T4).  People who would like to learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid problems and details on natural approaches may wish to consult our Guide to Thyroid Hormones. 

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  1. ebm

    They have been making it again for quite a while. Also available from Canada with a prescription.

  2. Larry/Kittiver

    Great discussion

  3. sally

    Is there any truth to the rumor that desiccated thyroid might come from England & might possibly be tainted with Mad Cow disease?
    People’s Pharmacy response: Standardized desiccated thyroid (Armour, Westhroid, Naturethroid) comes from pigs. Getting the dose right can be a challenge with any thyroid hormone treatment.

  4. Frank

    I just refilled my prescription for Armour at Costco last week. It’s not covered by some insurance plans (like mine), but it wasn’t expensive. It requires a prescription, however. If your doctor is saying they no longer make it, that is untrue.

  5. MLC

    I thought Armour was no longer being made. Is it back on the market? Where can i get it if I can talk my doctor into changing.

  6. KH

    I have been on Synthroid for 40 years. I definitely have problems that have grown over the years.. I have had two doctors. The first one retired and the second one is obviously not interested in learning about alternative methods for treating hypothyroidism.
    I go for my TSH blood test and it comes back within the normal range. So the Doctor prescribes my usual .125 mg synthroid and sends me on my way. When I show him my swollen feet and legs and the stasis dermatitis now forming on my lower legs..he says..”oh you have venous insufficiency. Wear compression stockings and elevate your legs as much as possible.”
    When I had two separate incidents of depression and anxiety, the first doctor had me on Paxil. I took myself off that after one year when my legs swelled up even more than usual. Then with the new doctor in 2009, I was put back on anti-depression medication Cipralex for another year..Once again my legs swelled up and I took myself off that one as well. I suffer with constipation, osteoporosis, lack of energy and lower back pain and have not been able to lose weight for years. My muscles ache all the time and my feet hurt constantly when I walk very far.
    If only my doctor would let me try the natural desiccated thyroid or at least let me try a combination of Synthroid and cytomel (T3). I am 66 years old in a few weeks and I feel like I am 80. I read all the articles and am very aware of the foods I should and should not eat. I go to the health store and buy the thyroid support remedies that include iodine, selenium and copper, zinc etc.. This is suppose to help T4 to be converted to T3 so that the hormone can penetrate the cells.
    I don’t think I have Hashimoto’s disease..but I really don’t know because the doctor has never had my thyroid antibodies tested. All he asks for is the TSH and as long as the result comes back within the normal range which in Canada is .3 to 3.00 then he is happy and assumes all is well with my thyroid. I asked him if I could try the Cytomel along with Synthroid but he felt I was doing just fine and didn’t want to make changes. It is not an easy matter to ask to switch to another doctor here in Canada either.

    • Theresa R
      Atlanta, GA

      KH, my first reaction was to get another doctor, but you have different circumstances. In the US, it is a matter of picking up the phone and making an appointment. But back to the point of doctor preferences – Here in the US it seems as though doctors from the North or North East are more likely to support the natural route, Armor. Otherwise, doctors in the South and West prefer synthetic hormone, Synthroid. It is a controversy within the field of endocrinology.

      Perhaps a good first step for you is to have an open discussion with your current doctor to let him know you are very serious about this issue. See if he will do labs for Free T3 and Free T4, just ask, with resolve! The “Free” labs will tell you how much of that hormone is available (Free) in the blood (versus it being bound to the blood vessel walls). Another good tip from my doctor was to not accept results “within normal range” (WNR) Because let’s say your result for TSH is .4 – well that is WNR, but it is on the very low side, which tells you that you can increase your dosage for a better norm.
      Just FYI – I am a thyroid cancer survivor, 12 years now! When all of my symptoms started I did a ton of research. My mom (also had thyroid cancer) did much better on Armor, but when I tried it I didn’t feel any better. Every one of us is truly unique. The best you can hope for is developing good communication and relationship with your doctor. Sounds like it will be hard, but so very important! Best wishes!!

  7. MLW

    I read this article about desiccated thyroid (ArmourThyroid) which I was taken off of by my doctor and put on Synthroid, because I was told they no longer make Armour–true? if not, were can I get it?

  8. GR

    Is dessicated thyroid available over the counter or generally available at Health or Herbal stores? Would this be an appropriate treatment for a dog diagnosed with hypothryoidism but extremely allergic to Soloxine the canine equivalent of Synthroid?
    People’s Pharmacy response: Rather than dosing your dog with a “supplement” of unknown strength, we recommend discussing this problem with the veterinarian.

  9. L.A.

    As a psychotherapist, I ask each new patient during the assessment interview what their thyroid and vitamin D levels are. If they have not had a physical in the past year I ask them to make an appointment and to specifically ask the doctor to check these two functions.
    If they have had a recent physical I ask them to have the lab results forwarded to me. I have found patients with depression who are suffering from thyroid disease and/or low vitamin D levels (I explain that Vitamin D levels need to be at 50 or over for mental health). Often, when these thyroid and/or Vitamin D deficiencies are treated, the depression also is healed.

    • Sky

      I hope that if you are having people supplement with Vitamin D, that they are also supplementing with magnesium. Processing D requires magnesium, as do a lot of other processes in the body, and many people are already deficient.

  10. RDW

    I have been on Armour thyroid for over 40 years for low thyroid and have never had to vary the dosage from the 1 grain I was originally prescribed. I have tried synthetic thyroid and always had heart palpations no matter how low a dosage was prescribed. I now refuse to try synthetic thyroid and luckily my doctors are ok with that because my thyroid tests always come back good with the Armour thyroid.

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