If you’re not familiar with desiccated thyroid, here’s a quick rundown. Desiccated (dried) thyroid is a thyroid hormone replacement drug prepared from the thyroid gland from pigs, also known as “porcine thyroid.” Some of the brand names including Armour Thyroid, Nature-thyroid, and WP Thyroid.
Desiccated thyroid is a prescription drug, and it’s regulated by the FDA. It has been on the market and safely used for more than 100 years.
Until synthetic thyroxine (also known generically as levothyroxine, with brand names including Synthroid, Levoxyl, and Tirosint) was introduced in the 1950s, desiccated thyroid was the only thyroid hormone replacement medication.
When synthetic thyroxine was introduced, there was a great deal of excitement about how modern it was, compared to desiccated thyroid, which was considered old fashioned. At that time, many doctors switched patients over to the synthetic medication and never looked back. Meanwhile, synthetic thyroid—namely Synthroid—became a profitable mainstay for the various drug companies that have owned the rights to Synthroid over the years, which have included Boots, BASF, and now AbbVie, a spinoff of Abbott Labs.
All along, like many major drug companies, the makers of Synthroid have sponsored medical meetings, golf outings, symposia, research grants, and speakers’ fees, and have provided free patient literature, pens, pads, mugs, and other giveaways and marketing items.
We now have several generations of doctors who were trained in medical school to understand that synthetic levothyroxine is the only acceptable thyroid replacement medication, and many know the brand-name Synthroid specifically, due to the extensive brand marketing.
Many doctors are not aware that natural desiccated thyroid is still available, or that it can be used safely to treat some hypothyroid patients.
Some believe that prescribing natural desiccated thyroid is difficult. These ideas are unfortunately reinforced by negative opinions from levothyroxine sales representatives, unfounded rumors that desiccated thyroid is going off the market, and other anecdotal information.
Despite the preference for the synthetic levothyroxine, since the 1990s, natural thyroid drugs started to make a resurgence, as interest in natural medicine increased. At that time, patients who weren’t feeling well on synthetic thyroid medication were also becoming more empowered and aware, thanks in part to the Internet. Patients learned that there were options—among them, desiccated thyroid drugs like Armour and Nature-throid.
Let’s be clear: Several million prescriptions a year are written for desiccated thyroid, compared to more than 30 million prescriptions a year for levothyroxine. But frustrated patients who don’t feel well who are coming to sites like this one, reading books, and talking to other patients. As a result, they are becoming increasingly aware that there are options beyond levothyroxine, and, that some patients feel better on desiccated thyroid medications.