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Will You Do Better on Armour Thyroid?

For years, some doctors were skeptical when thyroid patients said they felt better on Armour Thyroid than levothyroxine. Now we know why.

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland can’t produce enough thyroid hormones to keep metabolism normal throughout the body. This problem is surprisingly common, affecting nearly 5 percent of US adults. Doctors generally treat it by prescribing levothyroxine, also known as T4. You may recognize some of the brand names for levothyroxine, such as Levothroid or Synthroid. For many people, levothyroxine works well, but some individuals don’t thrive on it. They continue to have symptoms such as fatigue, depression, heavy menstruation or sensitivity to cold. Do they feel better if they take Armour Thyroid instead? We offer several reader testimonials here.

Armour Thyroid Helped Ease Depression:

Q. I have taken Armour Thyroid for 15 years. Prior to that, I struggled desperately with clinical depression. Besides that, I couldn’t lose excess weight.

Two weeks after starting Armour, my depression lifted. I lost 30 pounds over a couple of months with no change in diet.

It was a struggle to get and stay on Armour over the years, as physicians resisted natural medicine. However, I do not want to go back to being so depressed. I view that as life threatening.

Do doctors take hypothyroidism seriously? I don’t think so. When I was diagnosed, I received a phone call: “get this Rx (for Synthroid) and take it for the rest of your life.” The physician’s office did not offer me any chance to discuss this chronic condition; just pop a pill and go away.

A. Levothyroxine (Euthyrox, Levothroid, Synthroid, Tirosint) is the standard treatment for people whose thyroid glands do not produce enough hormone. In most cases, people convert this hormone to the active form (T3) pretty well. But we have been hearing for years from some readers who say they don’t feel good on levothyroxine alone.

Now research corroborates their reports. Scientists presented findings from a randomized controlled trial at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society. In their research, 75 people took levothyroxine, combination therapy or desiccated thyroid extract (like Armour) for three months each. Nearly half of them preferred the natural thyroid gland extract. The study was very similar to one the scientists conducted earlier and produced very similar results (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, May 2013).

Low Thyroid Hormone Levels That Respond to Armour Thyroid:

Q. My hypothyroidism was undiagnosed for 10 years. I had very severe depression and weight gain; my life was completely off the tracks. I was finally diagnosed, but all the doctors wanted me to take Synthroid. Based on what I’d read online, that idea did not appeal to me.

I finally found a doctor I really like. He insisted on my taking Armour, as he felt it was more appropriate. In two weeks after starting it, my depression just disappeared. Eventually, so did 30 pounds. The other doctors still want me on Synthroid but I refuse to change from Armour Thyroid. It feels like it saved my life.

A. Although many doctors prefer to use levothyroxine (Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid, Thyquidity, Tirosint) alone to treat people with hypothyroidism, experts now recognize that not everyone responds equally well to this treatment (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Sep. 1, 2020). While many people do fine on levothyroxine, some proportion continue to experience symptoms (Thyroid, Oct. 2020).  Such individuals may feel better on combination therapy.

Desiccated thyroid extract (Armour, Nature-Throid) contains both levothyroxine (T4) and the active hormone triiodothyronine (T3). Genetic differences in the way that enzymes convert T4 to T3 may account for individual variations in people’s response to therapy.

Could Armour Thyroid Help More Than Levothyroxine?

Q. I took levothyroxine for 20 years after I developed hypothyroidism. My dosage kept increasing and then the doctors started decreasing it.

Despite constant monitoring, I experienced fatigue and unexpected weight gain. My doctor suggested switching to Armour thyroid. What a difference! I am back to feeling good again, not drained or fatigued, and the weight dropped off immediately. I changed nothing in my usual lifestyle except starting Armour thyroid.

A. Until quite recently, doctors believed that hypothyroid patients needed only levothyroxine (Synthroid, aka T4). Most people convert T4 to the active hormone triiodothyronine (aka T3) through the enzyme thyroid deiodinase. Research now shows that some individuals have genetic variants of deiodinase that are less efficient (Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity, Oct. 2018). Such patients often feel much better on a regimen that provides T3 as well as T4. Desiccated thyroid extract like Armour Thyroid or Nature-Throid contain both.

What Is the Difference Between Armour Thyroid and Levothyroxine?

Q. I was on levothyroxine for about 30 years, and then I started having really bad side effects. It made me itch all over, as if bugs were biting me. Heartburn was a constant torment and my hair was falling out.

My doctor suggested Armour Thyroid, which is all natural. It has made a huge difference.

Thyroid Function Test Results:

Before I started on Armour, I stopped taking the levothyroxine for a couple months. By the end of that time I felt really lousy, so I had blood work done. My TSH was 114.4. After taking Armour for six weeks, my level is in the middle of the normal range and I feel good.

Who Might Benefit Most from Armour Thyroid?

A. Levothyroxine (Levoxyl, Synthroid, Tirosint, Unithroid) is a synthetic T4 thyroid hormone. Armour Thyroid is made from dried pig thyroid glands. In contrast to levothyroxine, Armour provides both T3 and T4 hormones.

The thyroid hormone that is active in body tissues is T3. Normally, T4 is converted to T3 to provide what the body needs. That is why doctors prescribe stand-alone T4 (levothyroxine). In fact, most people with hypothyroidism do well enough taking this drug alone.

Conversion Difficulties:

Some people are less efficient at this conversion, however (Abdalla & Bianco, Clinical Endocrinology, Nov. 2014). They often feel better on a combination of the two hormones. You may be one of these. That could explain why Armour Thyroid made such a difference for you. Up to one-fifth of patients with hypothyroidism might benefit from such a combination (Welsh & Soldin, European Journal of Endocrinology, Dec. 2016).  A review of the medical literature concludes that people who have persistent symptoms even though TSH levels are normal may need an individualized treatment plan (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Sep. 1, 2020).

Learn More:

We discuss the symptoms of hypothyroidism, the pros and cons of natural vs. synthetic thyroid hormone treatment and how to interpret lab results in our eGuide to Thyroid Hormones. Not all endocrinologists are enthusiastic about Armour Thyroid, and this online resource explains why. By reading it, you’ll also learn about the various ways people like you can get the extra T3 hormone their bodies need.

You may also be interested in Show 1015: Thyroid Mysteries, Controversies and the Latest Research. In it, Dr. Antonio Bianco explains the results of his studies on the enzymes that convert T4 to T3, and patient advocate Mary Shomon describes how to feel good despite thyroid dysfunction. 

In another podcast, Dr. Bianco explains treatment for people who are not responding as expected to levothyroxine alone. It is Show 1196: What to Do If Thyroid Treatment Doesn’t Work for You.

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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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  • Hoang TD et al, "Desiccated thyroid extract compared with levothyroxine in the treatment of hypothyroidism: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study." Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, May 2013. DOI: 10.1210/jc.2012-4107
  • Ettleson MD & Bianco AC, "Individualized Therapy for hypothyroidism: Is T4 enough for everyone?" Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Sep. 1, 2020. DOI: 10.1210/clinem/dgaa430
  • Idrees T et al, "Liothyronine and desiccated thyroid extract in the treatment of hypothyroidism." Thyroid, Oct. 2020. DOI: 10.1089/thy.2020.0153
  • Bianco AC & Kim BS, "Pathophysiological relevance of deiodinase polymorphism." Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity, Oct. 2018. DOI: 10.1097/MED.0000000000000428
  • Abdalla SM & Bianco AC, "Defending plasma T3 is a biological priority." Clinical Endocrinology, Nov. 2014. DOI: 10.1111/cen.12538
  • Welsh KJ & Soldin SJ, "DIAGNOSIS OF ENDOCRINE DISEASE: How reliable are free thyroid and total T3 hormone assays?" European Journal of Endocrinology, Dec. 2016. DOI: 10.1530/EJE-16-0193
  • Ettleson MD & Bianco AC, "Individualized therapy for hypothyroidism: Is T4 enough for everyone?" Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Sep. 1, 2020. DOI: 10.1210/clinem/dgaa430
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