Natural desiccated thyroid products
Desiccated (dried and powdered) animal thyroids have been used to treat hypothyroidism for over 100 years because they contain the T3 and T4 metabolic hormones. The traditional medical world has mostly switched to synthetic T4-only medication, but there are still a few remaining medication brands and several over-the-counter supplemental forms.
Janie Bowthorpe of Stop the Thyroid Madness has a great overview of the common medications and their ingredients, saving me the trouble of writing this section :)
Thyroid UK also has a more UK-focused list of medications and their ingredients.
Since they aren't over-the-counter, Janie's how to find a good doctor page is a good resource, along with Mary Shomon's top thyroid doctor directory and RayPeatForum.com's medication discussion subforum.
Supplements containing desiccated thyroid
First, some disclaimers:
The supplement products are in a regulatory gray area in the US, so they have a few downsides:
- I think the main reason for the careful prescription control of thyroid hormone medication (and rise of T4-only prescriptions) is to avoid the risk of people taking too much either accidentally (or for weight loss) which can be dangerous. These "nutritional supplement" versions could mislead people into treating them casually rather than carefully monitoring the dosing and keeping them away from children.
- From what I can tell reading people's reviews, the potency seems to vary a lot, even in the same brand over time. And brands are unable to make any specific claims about potency or compare themselves to the more-standardized medications, so they're not like a lot of supplements where you can take a predetermined dose without any experimentation.
- Some brands intentionally remove the T4 for legal reasons. I include this in the product notes when I'm aware of it. I don't know if the T3 levels are reduced when T4 is removed. Some people argue that desiccated thyroid is useful for T1, T2, and calcitonin even if the T3 and T4 are removed, but this article seems like a reasonable rebuttal to me.
- I don't have any evidence for this, but there's always the theoretical risk that stimulants have been added to give people the impression the product is working. Such "spiking" is not unheard of in the supplement industry.
I worked out the price-per-gram of desiccated thyroid (NDT) for the products that provide the weight of the ingredients. However, it's not a fair comparison because each brand will probably have a different potency based on the source of the thyroids and the processing methods.
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I don't have a good sense of which brands are actually working for people, so please leave a comment if you've tried any.
Enough of my disclaimers, here's the products I've found, sorted alphabetically.
- Ingredients: Beef thyroid powder, freeze dried, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, magnesium stearate.
- Advertised as hormone free.
- Ingredients: Thyroid (40mg, bovine, lyophilized/freeze-dried from New Zealand / Australia), hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, L-leucine.
- Works out to about $4.44 per gram of NDT.
- Ingredients: freeze-dried New Zealand grassfed desiccated beef thyroid with liver (30mg thyroid, 470mg liver), collagen (bovine gelatin) capsules.
- Works out to about $8.52 per gram of NDT.
- Ingredients: freeze-dried New Zealand thyroid (bovine, 30mg per capsule), freeze dried New Zealand liver (bovine), New Zealand bovine gelatin capsules.
- Works out to about $11.10 per gram of NDT.
- Ingredients: raw desiccated New Zealand bovine thyroid (65mg or 130mg depending on product), rice flour, cellulose, dicalcium phosphate, silica, gelatin, purified water.
- They say, "processed by low temperature lyophilization to ensure and preserve natural constituents."
- Works out to about $2.56 per gram of NDT with the 130mg version.
- Ingredients: Bovine or porcine desiccated thyroid USP, tocopherols/MCT oil.
- This is intended as a research product.
- I've noticed some problems with the desiccated thyroid settling out of, it's probably important to shake it frequently.
- Forum discussion / product announcement. Disregard the first few pages discussing the "serving" size and the DMSO ingredient, they're referring to an old formulation of the product. The first post has been updated with the current formulation.
- Works out to about $8.55 per gram of NDT.
- Ingredients: thyroid tissue (50mg, freeze dried), adrenal tissue (20mg), pituitary tissue (10mg), thymus tissue (5mg), spleen tissue (4mg), capsule (gelatin), magnesium stearate (vegetable source), kelp (probably included to add iodine), flogard (a precipitated silica flow/anti-caking agent).
- Works out to about $3.03 per gram of NDT.
- Ingredients: whole gland thyroid powder from pasture-fed New Zealand cattle, L-aspartic acid, Coleus Forskohlii, vegetable capsules (probably hydroxypropyl methylcellulose), silica, certified organic coconut oil powder.
- Two dosages available, 150mg and 300mg. They say they designed the 300mg only for people whose thyroid has been removed, and suggest avoiding more than two 300mg capsules without "the guidance and care of a qualified clinician."
- Works out to about $2.35 per gram of NDT.
- Ingredients: vitamin A (as beta carotene), riboflavin (vitamin B2), calcium (as calcium citrate and calcium bisglycinate chelate), iodine (from kelp, 400mcg), magnesium (as magnesium oxide), zinc (as zinc citrate and zinc bisglycinate chelate), manganese (as manganese citrate and manganese bisglycinate chelate), potassium (as potassium gluconate hydrochloride), thyroid tissue (bovine, 150mg), L-tyrosine, Irish moss seaweed (Chondrus crispus), parsley (Petroselinum crispum, leaf), adrenal gland (tissue, bovine), pituitary (tissue, bovine), horsetail (Equisetum arvense), spleen (tissue, bovine), rice flour, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (vegetable capsule), magnesium stearate.
- Works out to about $3.32 per gram of NDT.
- Has historically been available in a choice of bovine or porcine, although the porcine is currently not listed on the site. The remaining ingredients in the capsule version are gelatin from free-range sources, L-Leucine, L-Lysine, and silica. For the tablet version they are dicalcium phosphate (as a binder) and pharmaceutical glaze (for easier swallowing).
- They say, "tissue processed by the Low Temperature Method to preserve natural constituents."
- Works out to about $2.82 per gram of NDT.
- Metavive I and II (porcine)
- Ingredients: Metavive I is 15mg porcine thyroid, Metavive II is 30mg porcine thyroid. The remaining ingredients are certified organic rice flour and a vegetable cellulose capsule.
- The pigs are raised hormone/antibiotic free and outdoor/pasure raised. The thyroids are freeze dried and low-temperature processed.
- The 30mg works out to about £9.61 per gram of NDT.
- Metavive III and IV (bovine)
- Ingredients: Metavive III is 32.5mg bovine thyroid, Metavive II is 65mg bovine thyroid. The remaining ingredients are certified organic rice flour and a gelatine capsule.
- The cows are raised hormone/antibiotic free and outdoor/pasure raised. The thyroids are freeze dried and low-temperature processed.
- The 65mg works out to about £4.44 per gram of NDT.
- Advertised as thyroxin (T4) free. I don't know whether T3 is also reduced by the process they use.
- Ingredients: kelp (300mg providing 900mcg of iodine), raw thyroid concentrate (60mg, thyroxin free), raw adrenal (30mg), raw pituitary (10mg). raw spleen (10mg), gelatin, rice flour, vegetable lubricant.
- Works out to about $4.26 per gram of NDT.
- Advertised as "free" of thyroxin (T4). I don't know whether T3 is also reduced by the process they use.
- Ingredients: thyroxin-free thyroid tissue (bovine, 200mg), microcrystalline cellulose, gelatin, medium-chain triglycerides oil (palm), magnesium stearate, silica.
- Works out to about $0.86 per gram of NDT.
- Advertised as "free" of thyroxine (T4) because of the FDA's restrictions on its sale. I don't know whether T3 is also reduced by the process they use.
- Ingredients: Thyroid substance (200mg, thyroxin-free, vacuum dried, defatted, uncut BSE-free New Zealand bovine glands), microcrystalline cellulose, silicon dioxide, magnesium stearate, hypromellose, polyethylene glycol, hydroxypropyl cellulose.
- Works out to about $1.20 per gram of NDT.
What about thyroid "support" supplements?
I didn't include the various "thyroid support/helper/booster/plus" type products that look similar to the desiccated thyroid products above. They have a different goal: they're meant to indirectly support the creation of thyroid hormone instead of actually including it. They often include things like:
- Iodine: I do think it's important to manage iodine levels, but many of the products are in an arms race of trying to top their competitors' iodine content. Many of them have more iodine than I'd be comfortable taking long term even if I wasn't getting any from food.
- Tyrosine: this is important for creating thyroid hormones, but I suspect everyone gets enough for that from food. I haven't seen any studies showing supplemental tyrosine increases thyroid hormone production, though I've admittedly not looked very hard, so please leave a comment if you know of any.
- Miscellaneous vitamins and minerals: some of these may be helpful, but I'd argue that they're better purchased individually to address a person's individual needs and dosages.
- Miscellaneous herbs: as above, I think these may be helpful, but are probably better purchased individually. I think that's particularly important with herbal supplements: their quality/contamination/mislabeled-product issues are even worse than general vitamin and mineral supplement issues I notice.
In general I'd argue for researching the individual ingredients in the "support" supplements rather than the shotgun approach.