Here's what the American Thyroid Association (ATA) has to say about natural thyroid medications in its online brochure on Thyroid Hormone Treatment.
Desiccated (dried and powdered) animal thyroid (Armour®), now mainly obtained from pigs, was the most common form of thyroid therapy before the individual active thyroid hormones were discovered. People can still buy it over the Internet--legally if it's sold as a food supplement, but illegally if it's sold as a medicine...Let's take a look at all the inaccuracies and falsehoods the ATA managed to fit into just two sentences.
First, Armour Thyroid is a brand name for prescription desiccated porcine thyroid. It is not synonymous with "desiccated animal thyroid."
There are many forms of desiccated animal thyroid -- including porcine (pig), bovine (cow), and even desiccated thyroid from sheep.
Some animal thyroid is sold over-the-counter, without a prescription in the U.S. and abroad. These are called "glandular supplements." Porcine thyroid sold as a non-prescription glandular in the United States can not, by law, contain the natural form of the hormone T4 / thyroxine. Understandably, most physicians in the U.S. do not recommend the use of non-prescription glandulars for thyroid hormone replacement.
Porcine desiccated thyroid that includes T4 is a prescription-only product. Armour Thyroid is one brand of prescription natural desiccated thyroid prescribed in the United States. The two other brands currently being manufactured in the U.S. include Nature-Throid and Westhroid. These drugs are not "animal" thyroid, they are porcine thyroid, and they are not "mainly obtained from pigs." They are obtained from pigs, and no other animals.
The American Thyroid Association is wrong when they claim that "people can still buy it over the Internet-legally if it's sold as a food supplement..." Armour Thyroid and other prescription brands of natural desiccated porcine thyroid like Nature-Throid and Westhroid are not sold as food supplements. They are FDA-regulated prescription drugs, and like any prescription drug, they require a physician's prescription to legally dispense, and can only be purchased from a pharmacy.
The American Thyroid Association is again wrong when they say that "people can still buy it over the Internet-...illegally if it's sold as a medicine..." If a patient has a prescription for a natural desiccated thyroid drug like Armour, Nature-Throid or Westhroid, then it is entirely legal to use an Internet pharmacy to fill that legal prescription.
(Note: What is illegal is to purchase any prescription drugs without a prescription, whether you buy them on the Internet or not. But that is true for any drugs, and the fact that it's illegal to buy drugs without a prescription is not specific to thyroid drugs.)
Let's have a quick recap of the many ways the American Thyroid Association has gotten it totally wrong:
- Armour (and other prescription natural desiccated thyroid drugs) is porcine (pig) thyroid -- not "mainly obtained from pigs."
- Armour is not synonymous with "desiccated animal thyroid" -- Armour is ONLY porcine thyroid.
- People can NOT legally buy prescription porcine desiccated thyroid drugs over the Internet.
- Prescription porcine desiccated thyroid drugs are FDA-regulated medications, NOT food supplements.
- Prescription porcine desiccated thyroid drugs are NOT sold legally over the Internet as food supplements.
- Prescription porcine desiccated thyroid drugs CAN be legally sold as medicines on the internet, by approved pharmacies to patients with prescriptions.
Could the American Thyroid Association -- the nation's primary thyroid professional organization -- be demonstrating a tendency toward lazy research and poor fact-checking?
Or is the huge check Abbott Laboratories -- maker of Synthroid -- writes each year to the American Thyroid Association having the desired effect? After all, the American Thyroid Association did receive more than $704,000 from Abbott in 2008. (Don't believe me? Check out their tax return, online in PDF.)
I tend to suspect that the American Thyroid Association knows exactly what it's doing. But it has an interest in muddying the water, and helping hike up the market share for levothyroxine drugs. After all, doesn't every pig at the trough (again, pun intended) want to make sure the trough doesn't dry up?
Are you interested in making sure that natural desiccated thyroid drugs are not railroaded off the market by big pharma and endocrinologists who are "under the influence?". Learn more about the efforts to help legitimize prescription natural desiccated thyroid drugs and ensure that they remain on the market at the following sites:
- The Armour Thyroid and Nature-Throid Shortage Information Center
- Save Natural Thyroid Coalition Website
- Save Natural Thyroid Coalition Yahoo Listserv
Want to Follow the Thyroid Money Trail?
- Who's Making Money From Synthroid?
- Is Your Endocrinologist Under the Influence?
- American Thyroid Association -- 2008 Tax Return (PDF)