Synthetic Vs. Natural: What Thyroid Medicine Should You Take?

August 21, 2013 No Comments by Scott Isaacs, M.D.


There is a lot of debate about which thyroid medicine you should take. There are those who say that synthetic medications, like Synthroid are superior. You also have those who say that natural medications, like Armour are always better. Both sides go to extremes in claiming the superiority of their medication and the inferiority of the competitor. Being a thyroid patient myself that has tried both, I believe it varies for each person. What may work wonderfully for one person, may make another person feel worse.

What is the difference between synthetic and natural thyroid medications? The main difference is what they are made from. Synthetic thyroid medications are made from levothyroxine sodium while natural thyroid medications are made from dessicated pig thyroid. The other major difference is what thyroid hormones they contain. Most synthetic thyroid medicines, like Synthroid, contain only T4. The natural medications, like Armour contain both T4 and T3. There is a synthetic T3 medication available called Cytomel. Some people take both a synthetic T4 and a synthetic T3 medication to get both thyroid hormones. There is also one synthetic thyroid medication that contains both T4 and T3 called Thyrolar.

Both the synthetic and the natural thyroid medications are made in a lab with consistent amounts of thyroid hormones in them. They both have to meet federal regulations and guidelines. They are also both available in several different strengths.

You can find varying opinions from doctors, books, online forums and thyroid patients about which one you should take. I believe the opinion varies so much because what works for each person varies just as much. I have met people who take every variety of thyroid medications. I’ve come across a multitude of combinations and doses. Some take synthetic T4 only. Some take synthetic T4 and T3. Some only take synthetic T3. Some take natural T4/T3 medication. Some take synthetic T4 and natural T4/T3 medication. The more I’ve heard from people about what works for them, the more I realize how individual the needs of each person are. The general consensus among thyroid patients seems to be what works for one person, may not work for another and that what does work varies from person to person.

I personally have tried generic Levothyroxine, Synthroid, Levoxyl (all synthetic) and Armour (natural dessicated pig thyroid). I felt worse on all the synthetics. I actually became deathly ill and even had emotional and personality changes on Synthroid. I do better on Armour, but still have some problems on it. I personally am still looking for what works best for me, but I now know some thyroid medications that I absolutely can’t take.

A lot of the doctors I’ve seen think Synthroid is the best and don’t understand why I have problems with the synthetic medications. Some have even acted like I couldn’t possibly know what I’m talking about. I have come to trust myself and my body more than a doctor who doesn’t believe me when I say I’m worse on a medication than I was before I took it. I currently have a good doctor that is working with me on my thyroid problem. I am very hopeful that we will find what is best for me.

From experience, all I’ve read and all those I have talked to, I believe thyroid treatment is very individual. I don’t believe there is a “one-size-fits-all” thyroid medication that makes every person who takes it feel better. I do believe some people do well on the first thyroid medication they take and never have problems with it. But if you are one of the people that seems to be doing worse on your thyroid medication than you were before you starting taking it, then it is very possible that you are not on the thyroid medication that works best for you.

If you take this concern to your doctor and you get treated like you don’t know what you’re talking about, then it’s time to find a different doctor. I have personally been through seven doctors and four endocrinologists to finally find the doctor I am currently happy with. Getting off of the thyroid medication that was making me so incredibly sick has given me my life back and I will never make myself take a medication again that I think is making me sick because a doctor told me to.

So the question isn’t really whether you should take synthetic or natural thyroid medication, but what works best for you. Remember that it is your body and you most likely know it better than anyone. If you are not doing well on the thyroid medication you are currently on, there are other options. It may take a while to find what works best for you, but even finding something better can make a huge difference.

by Rachael A. Lund, Yahoo! Contributor Network

For more information, please read my book  Hormonal Balance: How to Lose Weight by Understanding Your Hormones and Metabolism or visit my Facebook page.


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