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Most people with hypothyroidism need lifelong prescription thyroid medication to replace the loss of thyroid hormone in their bodies. But, with the vast array of supplements and medications available over the counter, many people wonder if they even need a prescription for thyroid hormone replacement. Here's what you need to know about over-the-counter products that promise to support your thyroid.
The short answer is no, but of course, there is a detailed explanation to follow.
Treating the thyroid is highly complex and requires close observation and management from a trained health provider. FDA-approved medications for treating the thyroid are only available by prescription. The FDA provides strict regulations to verify that drugs are safe and effective.
The medication you use to treat your thyroid needs to be regulated and tested for safety and efficacy. Many supplement companies claim to provide non-prescription drugs to "naturally" raise your thyroid hormone levels if you have hypothyroidism. However, the FDA does not regulate supplements, so there is no evidence they are safe or effective.
When treating hypothyroidism, you need to have consistent thyroid hormone concentrations in your body. So it is not safe to use any product that is not strictly regulated.
Natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) was the first treatment for hypothyroidism. It has been in use since the early 1900s. The medication is made from dried pig thyroid glands and contains the active thyroid hormones T4 and T3. NDT was the most common medication used to treat underactive thyroid for the first half of the 20th century. However, it fell out of favor with many providers because there was a lack of understanding of how it worked, and synthetic versions of T4 became more popular.
Even though it is not popular with some endocrinologists, NDT can benefit people taking T4 who have normal thyroid levels but still struggle with symptoms. The reason it can help these patients is that it also helps raise T3 levels.
The FDA has approved some medications with NDT, including Armour® Thyroid, and Nature-Throid®. However, you will need to work through your health provider to get a prescription for these medications.
Now, here lies the controversy in using animal glandular tissue for thyroid treatment in humans.
We know that natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) can be a beneficial medication for many people. However, it is only safe and effective if the FDA has approved it. Again, an FDA stamp of approval means that a drug is thoroughly tested and concentrations are consistent between all batches of the medication.
Many non-prescriptive brands use dried glandular tissue from other animals (like cows) to help heal the same glands in humans. Of course, humans have been ingesting animal tissues for millennia to heal their organs, so this form of treatment is nothing new. Indeed, this practice stems from the theory that "like heal like."
But, supplement brands do not need to pass strict regulations through the FDA. Therefore, a company can create a supplement and sell it without jumping through any regulatory hoops to get it on shelves.
Companies that use thyroid glandular tissues in their support supplements can cause more harm than good if they contain active thyroid hormones—which they are not allowed to do. But, because there is no regulation of dosing in supplements, many companies include active thyroid hormone in their products.
In a 2014 study, nine out of ten thyroid glandular supplements tested positive for containing greater than the recommended daily dose of T3. The same study also found that five out of ten glandular supplements had both T3 and T4. Furthermore, this study found that some plant-based (botanicals) thyroid supplements also contained active thyroid hormones.
Glandular supplements may tamper with your thyroid hormone levels. As such, it is best to avoid these products and consult with your doctor for the safest, most effective treatment plan for you.
There is not a perfect medication that works for every patient with hypothyroidism. That is why it is so essential to work with a thyroid doctor who listens to you and considers your symptoms, history, and lifestyle, in addition to your lab results, when treating your thyroid condition.
Find a provider who is open to many treatment options
Some people do very well on synthetic forms of thyroid hormone, like levothyroxine and Cytomel, whereas others respond better to natural desiccated thyroid. What matters is that you work with a provider who is open to finding the treatment option that works in the safest, most effective way for your specific thyroid condition.
Shop around online for affordable prices
Over-the-counter products are not always cheaper than prescriptions, despite what we think. Many online resources can help you price compare to get the most affordable prescription medications, including SingleCare and GoodRx. These companies can show you cash pay prices and often have coupons you can apply to your prescriptions.
Find an online thyroid doctor to get your prescriptions
You can meet with an online endocrinologist and get your thyroid medication online when working with Paloma Health. Our trusted thyroid doctors are open to exploring all treatment options to help you optimize your thyroid health.
Schedule a consult with one of our online thyroid doctors to create an individualized treatment plan that is convenient, affordable, and effective.