If NDT Is Good Enough for a Former First Lady, Surely It’s Good Enough for Me?

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Yes, Hilary Clinton has an underactive thyroid. Yes, she takes Armour, a brand of NDT for it. 

To recap, Hilary Clinton is the former first lady of the USA and she was also the 67th United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. Since then, Hilary has become the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of the United States in the 2016 election.

Conflicting opinions arrive with every election cycle, which echoes the conflicting opinions among healthcare professionals in regards to appropriate treatment of hypothyroidism, and this is where Hilary taking NDT for her hypothyroidism joins both politics and hypothyroidism together in an interesting discussion.

Most healthcare professionals will spout unwavering support for T4-only medicine such as Levothyroxine and Synthroid, whereas a growing number of thyroid patients insist that they feel/would feel better on Natural Desiccated Thyroid (NDT), just as Hilary does. The use of NDT, which dates back to the early 1900’s, was long the only choice for hypothyroidism treatment before falling out of favour when pharmaceutical companies started mass-producing isolated T4-only medicine in the 1960’s, patenting them. NDT such as Armour, which is the brand Hilary uses, meets the stringent guidelines of the US Pharmacopeia and is available on prescription in most countries.

However, T4-only medicine does not alleviate hypothyroid symptoms for all patients. It just doesn’t, no matter what the doctors say, as they prescribe more and more drugs to mask the remaining symptoms. Due to many mainstream doctors refusing to acknowledge NDT’s effectiveness, a growing number of hypothyroid patients are taking to going private to access NDT medication, or self-sourcing, which is obviously far from ideal.

I’m a key example of how a hypothyroid patient can do so disgustingly badly on T4-only medicine like Levothyroxine, yet make drastic improvements on NDT.

Why is NDT often not favoured?

Let’s start with some basic science; NDT contains real thyroid gland from pigs, and unlike synthetic T4-only medicine such as Levothyroxine and Synthroid, NDT is natural and gives you exactly what your own thyroid would be giving you; T1, T2, T3, T4 and Calcitonin. When you have hypothyroidism, you’re typically low in any of these hormones, namely T3 and/or T4.

Unfortunately, many doctors inadequately treat a lot of patients’ thyroid conditions with T4-only medication, when they need a medicine which contains all the hormones shown above in NDT, which then leaves them hypothyroid.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Slow movements, speech and thoughts
  • Itchy and/or sore scalp
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry and tight feeling skin
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Pain, numbness and a tingling sensation in the hand and fingers
  • Numbness in limbs
  • Irregular periods or heavy periods
  • Brain fog/confusion/memory problems
  • Migraines
  • Hoarse voice
  • A puffy-looking face
  • Thinned or partly missing eyebrows
  • Itchy eyes
  • Poor stamina
  • Long recovery period after any activity
  • Arms feeling like dead weights after activity
  • Inability to exercise, or withstand certain exercises
  • Being overly emotional
  • Inability to tolerate cold – cold hands and feet
  • High or rising cholesterol
  • Acid reflux
  • Easy bruising
  • Swollen legs that impede walking
  • Shin splints
  • Difficulty standing on feet
  • Joint stiffness and pain
  • Fertility issues

NDT is not commonly prescribed for hypothyroid patients, despite there being research available and many patients on it who show the positive impact of this medication. Frustratingly, down to outdated information, misinformation and myths, NDT has a somewhat bad reputation these days, which stops many thyroid patients from receiving this medicine when it would likely solve so many of their symptoms and ‘other health conditions‘.

The NAH report that one of the false beliefs that continues to circulate is that NDT can transfer diseases from animals to humans (I’ve had an endocrinologist say this to me), as well as the ratio of T3 to T4 being too high and that it causes heart conditions and hyperthyroidism. All these statements have been found to be false (given that the NDT is used responsibly) yet they are still spouted by many practitioners. There is a sufficient lack of evidence to these claims, yet there is evidence that NDT works well for many patients.

The AACE and ATA even stated in their 2014 Hypothyroidism Guidelines that:

“There is no evidence to support using natural desiccated thyroid hormone in preference to Levothyroxine in treating hypothyroidism…therefore desiccated thyroid hormone should not be used for the treatment of hypothyroidism.”

After making this bold claim, interestingly, they didn’t present any research proving Levothyroxine’s superiority over NDT, nor did they present any research showing the risks of taking NDT. They failed to mention that there is no evidence to support using Levothyroxine over NDT either. Because there is none. However, they didn’t say ‘therefore Levo should not be used for the treatment of hypothyroidism’, did they?

Interestingly, their survey results of over 12,000 people published in May 2018 has since contradicted this. It says:

The survey demonstrated a distinct subset of patients who are dissatisfied with their therapies and their physicians. On a scale from 1 to 10, overall degree of satisfaction with therapy was rated 5. How much hypothyroidism has affected their lives received a score of 10.

Second, patients taking natural preparations, rather than synthetic hormone replacement therapy or combination therapy, were more satisfied with their treatment. DTE (animal-derived natural thyroid preparations or desiccated thyroid extract) was the original form of treatment and received a satisfaction score of 7. DTE was widely replaced in the 1960s when L-T4 (levothyroxine, a synthetic hormone replacement therapy) could be mass-produced inexpensively; its patients gave it a score of 5. The combination therapy of L-T4 along with synthetic T3 (liothyronine or cytomel) received a satisfaction score of 6. Patients taking DTE were less likely to report problems with weight management, fatigue/energy levels, mood, and memory compared to those taking either the L-T4 monotherapy or the combination therapy.

Many thyroid patients would say that Big Pharma are to blame for Levo-pushing doctors we face. But that’s a discussion for another day!

A study conducted by Thanh D. Hoand, DO, who presented his research at the Endocrine Society Annual Meeting in June 2013, backs up the positive effects of treating hypothyroidism with NDT. Dr. Hoang’s research proved that NDT is a viable alternative to Levothyroxine. Almost half, 49%, of the seventy patients involved in the study preferred NDT treatment compared to just 19% of patients who preferred Levothyroxine.

Hopefully Hilary Clinton’s notoriety will bring greater awareness to thyroid conditions and treatment options, including the ‘unconventional’ Natural Desiccated Thyroid. After all, if such a medicine is good enough for the someone who could have been the president of the United States, isn’t it good enough for the rest of us?

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.

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Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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Rachel Hill, Thyroid Patient Advocate, blogger and author, has Six 2018 WEGO Health Award Nominations. She is a highly ranked writer appearing in the Top Hypothyroidism Websites and Top Thyroid Websites and has worked with The National Academy of Hypothyroidism, The BBC, The Mighty, Yahoo, MSN, Thyroid Refresh and ThyroidChange, to name just a few. She is well-recognised as a useful contributor to the thyroid community and also contributed the foreword to Emily Kyle’s The 30-Minute Thyroid Cookbook.

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