Since I became a thyroid patient advocate in 1996, a week doesn't go by that I don't receive a frantic email from a fellow thyroid patient asking about Armour Thyroid. This week was no exception:
"Dear Mary. When I went to fill my prescription for Armour Thyroid, the pharmacist said I should talk to the doctor about getting on Synthroid, because Armour is going off the market! Help!!! What should I do!?? Is this true!?"
Is That So?
Don't worry! Armour Thyroid is NOT going off the market.
Armour is an FDA-approved drug. Armour, made from the desiccated thyroid glands of pigs, has been on the market for more than 100 years. Since the early 1900s, Armour Thyroid was the only treatment for hypothyroidism until synthetic levothyroxine -- in the form of the brand Synthroid -- was introduced about 50 years ago.
Synthetic levothyroxine was introduced with great fanfare. Endocrinologists quickly jumped on the bandwagon to embrace the synthetic product, which was heavily marketed from the beginning. Marketing pitches presented levothyroxine as more "modern" and "better" than the natural thyroid, and condemned Armour as "old-fashioned."
In addition, it became "common knowledge" among endocrinologists that Armour Thyroid, because it was made from animal thyroid, was "not as consistent" as the synthetic product. Interestingly, there is no definitive research comparing natural desiccated thyroid drugs to levothyroxine, so the various "common knowledge" has been rooted not in science, but in marketing and advertising. There is no documented medical rationale for dismissing Armour Thyroid. (Levothyroxine, however, does have a demonstrated history of serious potency and stability problems. Source.)
Why then, do rumors surface regularly, like clockwork, that Armour Thyroid is going off the market?"
First, Synthroid is the the top-selling levothyroxine drug. Synthroid is a highly profitable product for manufacturer Abbott Laboratories. 44,056,176 prescriptions were written for Synthroid in 2004. (RxList.com). Protecting that market share has to be an important objective for the sales force. To that end, pharmacists and physicians regularly report to me that drug representatives for Synthroid periodically tell them that "Armour is going off the market." So, your pharmacist or doctor may be honestly reporting something they have heard from a drug rep, without actually knowing whether or not this is true.
Second, many doctors financially benefit from their relationship with Synthroid, and some have a vested interest in seeing the downfall of its competitors. It may be as simple as the doctor getting a regular supply of free drug samples, brochures, lunches, goody baskets, and other giveaways. Or, your doctor may be one of the thousands who receives free, all-expenses-paid trips to medical meetings, hefty honoraria and speaking fees, unrestricted research money, and more from the drug companies. But if your doctor says that Armour is going off the market, you should question his or her motives.
Third, Armour Thyroid is almost always far less expensive than the levothyroxine drugs, and in particular, Synthroid. Since Armour does not typically get involved in drugstore "incentive programs" that offer bonuses and rebates to drug distributors and pharmacists, it's often in your pharmacy's best interests to steer you away from Armour and toward Synthroid, for their own financial benefit. For example, as of February 2007, 30 tablets of Armour, 60mg, 30 tablets is $7.99 at Drugstore.com, compared to 30 tablets of an equivalent dose of Synthroid, 100mcg,which would cost $14.70, almost double the cost of the Armour. So if your drugstore or pharmacist tells you that Armour is going off the market, you should question his or her motives.
In the end, the best thyroid drug for you is the one that works best, and safely, for you.
(And if there is any real evidence that any thyroid drugs are going off or on the market, you can sure you'll hear the official news here are my site, and in my newsletters.
Mary Shomon, About.com's Thyroid Guide since 1997, is a nationally-known patient advocate and best-selling author of 10 books on health, including "The Thyroid Hormone Breakthrough: Overcoming Sexual and Hormonal Problems at Every Age," "The Thyroid Diet: Manage Your Metabolism for Lasting Weight Loss," "Living Well With Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You...That You Need to Know," "Living Well With Graves' Disease and Hyperthyroidism," "Living Well With Autoimmune Disease," and "Living Well With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia." Click here for more information on Mary Shomon.