There are numerous thyroid medications on the market with a variety of brand names. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell what the differences are between them. There are some excellent articles on thyroid medication written by healthcare professionals and patients including one on the website Stop the Thyroid Madness, which outlines different brands and their ingredients. The synthetic version of thyroid hormone has been prescribed consistently since the 1970s but recently there has been renewed interest by patients seeking thyroid hormone extracts.
What is Desiccated Thyroid?
The word desiccated means “to remove the moisture from” something, usually to preserve it. Desiccated thyroid is usually made from the dried and powdered thyroid glands of pigs, which contain all active and inactive forms of thyroid hormone. There is not a significant amount of processing required to make this into a medication for human use. The first medications that were used to treat hypothyroidism were made with desiccated thyroid.
Desiccated thyroid is often contrasted with synthetically produced thyroid hormone. This type of thyroid is made in a pharmaceutical lab and is called levothyroxine. Levothyroxine is the synthetic equivalent of thyroxine, also called the T4 hormone. The synthetic version of T4 is one of the most frequently prescribed medications in the United States.
While many patients find success with the use of levothyroxine, there are a growing number of patients that are choosing to use desiccated thyroid. Many patients report that they feel better when taking medications made with a naturally derived thyroid extract. Even though medical professionals have tended to avoid them in the past, many are now prescribing thyroid extracts for their patients.
Is Desiccated Thyroid Better than Synthetic Thyroid?
There are no long-term studies demonstrating the superiority of desiccated thyroid over synthetic thyroid. It is entirely based on patient preference and the experience of healthcare professionals. It is theorized that the desiccated thyroid might be more effective because it contains all forms of the thyroid hormone as well as thyroid co-factors, which more closely mimics the body’s normal thyroid production.
Some of the concern with desiccated thyroid hormone in the past had to do with variations in dosages. Even now, there will always be some small variation between each dose. This is inevitable when you are using a natural source, as not every gland will have the same levels of hormone. However the processes for manufacturing thyroid have become more sophisticated, and there is now much less variation between doses.
Patients Prefer Desiccated Thyroid
When prescribing a thyroid medication, the main determinant for many healthcare professionals is how a patient feels when they take it. In studies it has been shown that patients prefer desiccated thyroid to synthetic thyroid medication. In a randomized, double-blind study, patients with hypothyroidism were given desiccated thyroid and levothyroxine in two phases. For each phase they were given either one of the medications but not told which one they were given. The researchers reported that 49% of the patients preferred the desiccated thyroid extract.
Desiccated Thyroid Brands
There are numerous brands of thyroid medication available. It is important to remember what they have in common before discussing their differences. All desiccated thyroid contains T4, T3, T2, T1, and calcitonin. The raw ingredient used in all of them is exactly the same – Thyroid USP. That means no matter what brand you choose, they are using thyroid that meets the same standards according to the U.S. Pharmacopeia. This also includes desiccated thyroid obtained from a compounding pharmacy.
Some of the more popular brands of thyroid include:
- Nature Throid – Popular thyroid medication from RLC Labs
- WP Thyroid – Known for having only two natural fillers, also from RLC Labs
- Armour Thyroid
- NP Thyroid
Compounded Desiccated Thyroid
The raw material used to make manufactured thyroid drugs can also be used by a compounding pharmacy. A compounding pharmacy will most often make thyroid in capsules. There are a few benefits to having desiccated thyroid made in this way. The first is that it is easy to change the dosage to any amount needed. Each medication is made individually for the patient, so the dosage can be adjusted to their needs.
When our compounding pharmacy makes desiccated thyroid capsules, we only use one filler. A filler is always necessary when dealing with desiccated thyroid because of the small microgram measurements used for dosages. We do not use any other kind of additives that are found in many manufactured thyroid medications.
WP Thyroid is the exception among those that are commercially available. It contains only two natural fillers: inulin and chicory root. However currently WP Thyroid is backordered and many patients can not wait until it becomes available again. In the meantime, our pharmacy has been filling prescriptions for thyroid extract in capsules with one filler, which has been well-tolerated by patients. Our compounding pharmacy also carries Nature Throid, which experienced a temporary shortage, and will be carrying WP Thyroid when it is available.
- Stop the Thyroid Madness
- Desiccated thyroid extract compared with levothyroxine in the treatment of hypothyroidism: A randomized, double-blind, crossover study – Clinical Thyroidology for Patients