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Why Don’t Doctors Like to Prescribe Desiccated Thyroid Gland?

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.”


“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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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