Thyroid problems are far more common than you might guess. Pharmacists dispense approximately 120 million prescriptions each year for levothyroxine (Levoxyl, Synthroid, Tirosint, Unithroid). People whose thyroid glands do not work well need to take this hormone to provide what their own bodies do not. However, not everyone thrives on a synthetic hormone. Some people find that a natural thyroid treatment is better for them.
Are You Looking for a Natural Thyroid Treatment?
Q. I have been taking Synthroid since my thyroid was removed two decades ago. I’m not happy with it and have been hoping to lower the dose. But my last test showed an elevated TSH so my doctor wants to increase the dose. I would prefer a natural treatment. Is that possible?
A. With no thyroid gland of your own to produce thyroid hormone, you have to take it in pill form. Doctors usually prescribe synthetic levothyroxine (T4). However, some are willing to prescribe desiccated pig thyroid (Armour Thyroid, Nature-Throid). This dried gland provides T3 as well as T4.
The Story on a Natural Thyroid Treatment:
Many people prefer desiccated thyroid gland (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, May 2013). However, your doctor may not be familiar with its use. Investigators reviewed records for 100 patients of a Pennsylvania endocrinology clinic for more than two years. They found that people do equally well on synthetic and natural therapies (Southern Medical Journal, June 2018). Some people do appear to have fewer symptoms when they are taking a combination T3 and T4 treatment, whether it is synthetic or natural.
On the other hand, a recent review (International Journal of Clinical Practice, Feb. 2018) of several studies concluded that
“Current clinical evidence is not sufficiently strong to support LT4/LT3 combination therapy in patients with hypothyroidism.”
What Readers Say About Natural Thyroid Treatment:
As you might expect, some people do extremely well on this treatment, while others experience side effects. Here are a few comments we have received:
“There are a huge number of us that benefit from natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) like Armour, NP Thyroid,etc. I was on T4 only medications for over a decade and kept telling my doctor I still had the symptoms of hypothyroidism despite their testing results that read out normal. Many doctors don’t listen and treat your lab results and not you! Finally I found a doctor who would listen–ran the right lab tests and prescribed NDT. I am feeling so much better now. I also had to educate myself so I could speak fluently about this topic and insist on what is good for me and not the stockholders of levothyroxine!”
Jen had a similar experience:
“I have been on Armour for most of twenty years prescribed by my family doctor. Several years ago went endocrinologist, and she put me on Synthroid immediately. It was horrible. All kinds of symptoms. Most endo doctors are Synthroid only. I found a new family doctor (DO), as my old one had moved. Back to Armour. Endo doctors like whatever Big Pharma likes. Big Pharma can’t make $$ off of NDT as it’s all natural.”
“Armour Thyroid does not work for everyone, however. It made my heart race. There might be other options such as adding some low-dose T3 to the Synthroid treatment.”
You can learn more about Armour or other desiccated thyroid in our online Guide to Thyroid Hormones. Endocrinologists may be more willing to prescribe desiccated thyroid as they become aware that people taking this natural thyroid treatment are, in general, more satisfied with their medication and their physician than those on levothyroxine alone (Thyroid, June 2018). You may also want to consult Mary Shomon’s blog, www.mary-shomon.com. She is an extremely well-informed patient who offers information from the patient perspective.