If You Take Thyroid Hormones

Health Tips / If You Take Thyroid Hormones

As the tens of thousands of patients who use Armour thyroid tablets have discovered, the product has simply vanished from pharmacy shelves across America. Without getting into details of why this occurred, let me say first that the product allegedly will be back sometime in mid-2010. Here’s a bit of investigative reporting on the subject. Used to treat underactive thyroid gland, Armour thyroid is often called “natural thyroid.”

Why do some people do better on natural thyroid than synthetic thyroid?

• Synthetic thyroid (Synthroid, Levoxyl) is pure T4 (thyroxine), an inactive form of the thyroid hormone. Your body converts T4 to T3 (triiodothyronine), which is the active hormone. However, some people can’t convert T4 to T3 efficiently, so even though they’re taking what they believe is thyroid replacement hormone, it doesn’t work well.

• Natural thyroid, which is made of dried pork thyroid glands (Armour, the Chicago meat packer, was the first manufacturer), is a mixture of both T4 and T3. Your own thyroid secretes a comparable mixture of T4 and T3. Natural thyroid is simply a closer match to what your own thyroid produces.

If you’re currently taking Armour thyroid, you have four options:

1. Your pharmacist may suggest that you switch to Synthroid (Levoxyl) and tell you there’s really no difference. You can try it and hope for the best. Remember, though, that if you’re doing fine on natural thyroid, you may feel sluggish a few weeks after making the switch.
2. You can order all the natural thyroid you want from Canada. You’ll have to pay for it yourself, but it’s quite inexpensive (100 tablets for $18). Go to www.universaldrugstore.com and register as a new customer. Then email my assistant Liz (Lizz@wholehealthchicago.com). Include your name, address, thyroid dose, and customer number. She’ll then fax them my prescription for 100 tablets with four refills.
3. You can take two separate prescriptions, Synthroid (T4) and Cytomel (T3). This is close to what your thyroid produces and while both are synthetic, this combination does work. Both are generic and available in any drugstore. I find the combination superior to Synthroid alone.
4. Some people respond really well using Cytomel (T3) in a slow-release form. Your dose becomes one capsule twice daily, with the active form of the hormone released slowly day and night. However, this product needs to be prepared by a compounding pharmacist. I use www.thecompounder.com .They probably have more experience making slow-release Cytomel than just about anybody. On the negative side, you pay upfront (about $54), receive an insurance form, and submit it yourself for reimbursement. Here’s an article about using slow release T3.

If you’re interested in having your current thyroid dose converted to slow-release T3, send Liz an email and we’ll fax the prescription to The Compounder. Just remember, any time you change your thyroid dose or your medication is changed, you need a follow-up blood test to ensure it’s doing the job.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD