I know all too well about the confusion about thyroid medications. Does this one work better than the other? Am I going to have awful side effects? Will I be on it for the rest of my life? These are all valid concerns. Since January is Thyroid Awareness Month, I’m going to tell you about the only thyroid medication as a medical doctor and thyroid patient I recommend to those with hypothyroidism– desiccated thyroid extract.
After being diagnosed with Grave’s disease while I was in medical school, conventional medicine gave me three options:
- Take a medication known as propylthiouracil (PTU), which has awful side effects
- Use radioactive iodine to ablate (blow up) my thyroid
- Have my thyroid surgically removed
I initially decided to take Propylthiouracil (PTU) when I had Graves’ disease. However, it devastated my liver. I was confined to bed rest until my liver healed. It nearly cost me my life and medical school.
Once my liver was healthy, I decided to have my thyroid ablated. I still regret that decision today. If I had known what I know now, I would have made a different choice. Conventional medicine failed me, and it is my mission not to have it fail you too!
I will tell you about desiccated thyroid extract medications, their benefits, risks, and my proven solution to hypothyroidism. First, let’s discuss hypothyroidism medications.
What to Know About Hypothyroidism Medications
Before I begin, it is essential to understand that thyroid medications are not the same as harsh immunosuppressants used to treat autoimmune conditions. Thyroid medications are replacement hormones that are necessary to live. If your thyroid is too damaged from thyroid disease, you may need supplemental thyroid hormone for the rest of your life. I had my thyroid ablated, so I must take thyroid medication daily. I’ll tell you why I take desiccated thyroid extract in just a minute.
If you are one of the millions who have to take thyroid medications, it doesn’t mean you cannot reverse hypothyroidism or have failed. I have learned over the last 20 years as both a thyroid patient and a thyroid-prescribing physician that when it comes to thyroid medication, it can be just as much an art as it is a science.
Before I get into thyroid medications, let me tell you about thyroid function and optimal hormone levels.
How the Thyroid Works
Imagine your thyroid as your body’s power generator. Your thyroid sends energy to every cell in your body through its hormones. These hormones determine each cell’s energy level and reproduction, keeping your organs powered up and managing your overall metabolism. Creating, regulating, and delivering these hormones begins in your brain.
The hypothalamus, responsible for managing hunger, thirst, sleep, hormones, and body temperature, among other vital functions, monitors the level of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream. If it determines low energy levels, it sends out Thyroid Releasing Hormone (TRH) to your pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland at the base of your brain, releases Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) directly to the thyroid.
Your thyroid then produces thyroid hormones using an amino acid called tyrosine and iodine. It converts the tyrosine into thyroglobulin and attaches between one and four iodine atoms, creating T1, T2, T3, and T4, respectively. The primary output of your thyroid is T4, thyroglobulin, plus four iodine atoms– a storage form of the hormone. It is circulated throughout the bloodstream and stored in tissues, so it’s available when needed.1
When your thyroid isn’t working correctly, you can develop either hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
Many doctors who suspect you have something wrong with your thyroid only check your Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels, which indicate if you have hypo- or hyperthyroidism. If you are lucky, your doctor will test your Free T4 levels to see if they are low on the storage form of thyroid hormones. While these tests do a great job of uncovering the nature of your thyroid disease, they only tell you a small part of the story.
Testing Your Thyroid
I recommend a doctor test for all hormone levels to get a complete picture of a patient’s thyroid health and medical needs.2 The results should be read for optimal levels, not “normal” levels. Here’s what I mean:
- TSH Levels: This test checks the activity of the pituitary gland. A high TSH level indicates hypothyroidism, whereas a low TSH level indicates hyperthyroidism. The optimal levels of TSH should be 1-2 UIU/ML or lower.
- Free T4 (FT4): FT4 refers to the unbound T4 found in the bloodstream. High FT4 levels indicate hyperthyroidism, whereas low FT4 levels indicate hypothyroidism. Optimal FT4 levels should be values greater than 1.1 NG/DL.
- Free T3 (FT3): High FT3 indicates hyperthyroidism, whereas low FT3 indicates hypothyroidism. Optimal levels are values greater than 3.2 PG/ML.
- Reverse T3 (RT3): High RT3 levels suggest a high conversion of T4 to RT3 instead of FT3. This is an indicator of hypothyroidism. The optimal level compares the ratio of RT3 to FT3, and that value should be less than 10:1.
- Antibodies test (TPO – TgAb levels): Since the most common forms of thyroid disease are autoimmune diseases, such as Graves and Hashimoto’s, detection of thyroid antibodies is essential to get an accurate result. There are two antibodies of concern: TPOAb and TgAb. TPOAb refers to the thyroid peroxidase antibodies that target the enzyme that mediates the iodination of thyroglobulin. TgAb relates to the antibodies that attack thyroglobulin. Optimal levels for both antibodies should either be negative or values lower than 4 IU/ML.
Medications for Hypothyroidism
The most common hypothyroidism treatment is synthetic T4 hormone medication, usually prescribed as the drug Synthroid® or Levoxyl®. Synthroid® is the most commonly prescribed medication in America, with 21.6 million monthly prescriptions.
Synthroid® and Levoxyl® provide a steady dose of T4 (the storage form of thyroid hormones) for your body to convert into T3 (the active form) and come in a wide range of doses, making them very convenient.
The downside of T4 medications is that they don’t provide any T3, unlike your actual thyroid. As we’ve discussed previously, many patients have difficulty converting T4 to T3 because of adrenal fatigue or nutritional deficiencies, meaning regardless of how much T4 they take, their T3 levels will remain low, and they’ll continue to experience symptoms. This is why it is so important for doctors to check not just TSH and T4 levels yet also T3. A patient’s lab results can look “fine,” yet they’ll still be low in the hormones that power all their metabolic processes.
If you are a person who is not converting T4 into T3 very well, then T3 can be prescribed to supplement your T4 medication. There are several types of T3 medication, including preformed, synthetic T3 (frequently prescribed as Cytomel®), and compounded T3 medications, which are custom-prepared at the patient’s exact strength and dose requirements, as specified by their doctor.
T3 doesn’t remain active in your body for very long. Preformed T3 medications, such as Cytomel®, are only effective for about 10 hours and must be taken twice daily. They provide a sudden burst and then a decline in active thyroid hormones. I’ve found that many patients feel jittery shortly after taking them as if they took a shot of espresso. They can then feel sluggish or tired as the effectiveness wears away.
There are also a few different thyroid medication options that include T4 and T3, namely desiccated thyroid extracts (which comes from the dried thyroid glands of pigs) and compounded T4 and T3 medication. Let’s talk more about desiccated thyroid extract.
What are Desiccated Thyroid Extracts?
I have tried so many different thyroid medications. Most of them come with harsh side effects and only provide either T3 or T4 hormones. That’s why I only take thyroid medications that include desiccated thyroid extracts
Desiccated thyroid medications, such as Amour®, WP Thyroid®, and Nature-Throid®, provide the full range of thyroid hormones, including T4, T3, T2, and T1. This is particularly beneficial for those patients who have difficulty converting T4 to T3. It may also be helpful for hypothyroid patients trying to lose weight. According to some scientists, T2 is important for weight loss.3
Desiccated thyroid medication also includes thyroglobulin (the binding protein that carries thyroid hormones through your bloodstream). Thyroglobulin slows the distribution of T3 throughout the body so that a single dose lasts the whole day.
I found that desiccated thyroid medications were the right option for my patients because it is the most complete treatment option, and most similar to the body’s natural thyroid process. Beyond my own clinical experience, multiple studies show that some patients prefer desiccated medication to T4-only treatment.
Many conventional doctors are reluctant to prescribe desiccated thyroid medication. They claim that the levels of thyroid hormones in them are inconsistent and unregulated. Although this was true decades ago, since the 1980’s the exact amount of each thyroid hormone in desiccated thyroid medications is regulated using the same standards as synthetic medications. Today, desiccated thyroid medications are making a comeback because there are less harsh side effects.4
Are there Risks of Desiccated Thyroid Extracts
It is important to note that, while consistent and regulated, the T4 toT3 ratio in desiccated thyroid medications is lower than your natural T4 to T3 ratio (4.2:1 compared to 11:1). This is because pigs produce thyroid hormones at different ratios than humans do. Some patients taking desiccated thyroid medication who want to increase their T4 dose without increasing their T3 will need to supplement with a T4 medication. This is what I have to do.
The strength of the thyroid medication can cause fluctuations in hormone levels, causing potential imbalances. These side effects include:5
- Lack of appetite
- Hot flashes
- Trouble sleeping
- Rapid weight loss
- Rapid mood changes
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- Muscle weakness
Desiccated thyroid medications aren’t intended to be weight loss treatments. You should also talk to your doctor if you’re planning to have children or have pork allergies.6
Finding the proper thyroid medication that works for you is essential to your health. Still, managing your thyroid levels through medication is only part of the process. The real work comes in identifying the underlying factors that caused your thyroid disease and making healthy lifestyle changes to remove them. Let me tell you about my approach to hypothyroidism as a doctor.
A Doctor’s Solution to Hypothyroidism
Managing your thyroid levels through thyroid medication is only part of the process. The real work comes in identifying the underlying factors that caused your thyroid disease and making healthy lifestyle changes to remove them. I call this The Myers Way®.
This proven approach is a lifestyle that relieves and reverses your symptoms of thyroid disease, helps you get off your harsh medication, and enables you to live a healthy, energetic, and pain-free life.
What is The Myers Way®
The Myers Way® rests on four pillars, each of which I tested through extensive research. I have seen amazing results with thousands of patients over my years as a physician while empowering the world to achieve optimal health through Amy Myers MD®.
The Myers Way® starts by healing your gut. Once you’ve healed your gut, it’s time to change your lifestyle by removing gluten, grains, and legumes from your diet.
For many people, 80% of the healing occurs while addressing the first two pillars. If you haven’t seen a complete reversal of your symptoms, you need to dig deeper, and that means reducing your exposure to toxins. Once Pillar III gets addressed, I turn to the next piece of the puzzle: underlying infections and stress.
Supporting Thyroid Function
To support optimal thyroid function while following The Myers Way®, I recommend adding The Myers Way® Multivitamin to your supplement regimen. This specially-formulated multivitamin is jam-packed with micronutrients in the forms your body wants and the amounts your thyroid needs. With optimal levels of thyroid-supporting minerals such as zinc, selenium, and iodine, alongside antioxidants including vitamins C and E and other free radical scavengers, no other multivitamin on the market does more to support your thyroid!
To get the additional benefit of supporting your thyroid health and immune system function, I designed my Hashimoto’s Support Plus Kit that includes The Myers Way® Multivitamin, Adrenal Support, and ZenAdapt™ to facilitate optimal cortisol levels and balanced stress response.
The Final Word on Desiccated Thyroid Extract
I personally lived with thyroid issues, and I want you to know you don’t have to live with the harsh side effects of many synthetic thyroid medications. I’ve spent my career perfecting the art of supporting thyroid health for myself and anyone who wants to achieve optimal thyroid function. That’s why desiccated thyroid extract is the only thyroid medication I will take and recommend.
- How Your Thyroid Works. Robert M. Sargis, MD, PhD. Endocrine Web. 2019.
- Thyroid Function Tests. American Thyroid Association. 2022.
- 2017 study of T2 hormones, blood glucose and other metabolic markers. Thyroid Patients Canada. 2017.
- Clinical Thyroidology for Patients. Angela M. Leung, MD, MSc. American Thyroid Association. 2022.
- Armour Thyroid Side Effects. Healthline. 2023.
- Thyroid Desiccated. RxList. 2021.