On April 11, 2016 an article, Doctors Hear Patients’ Calls for New Approaches to Hypothyroidism, appeared in the Wall Street Journal regarding the growing influence of patient preference on treatment selection for hypothyroidism (sluggish thyroid). The article was written by the WSJ health columnist Melinda Beck. I might have missed it but thanks to a motivated patient I received a copy within a week after its publication. With a glance I knew this report could be a highly significant addition in the on-going debate between specialists treating hypothyroidism (endocrinologists) and advocates of alternative approaches. Continue reading
By Gary Pepper, M.D.
According to experts, 10 to 20% of hypothyroid individuals fail to respond completely to T4-only (levothyroxine, Synthroid) treatment. Dr. Anthony Bianco, the president of the American Thyroid Association, and his associates believe this is due to genetic variations in the way thyroid hormone is converted in the body from T4 into T3. T3 is the much more potent form of thyroid hormone and unless the cells of the body receive enough T3, normal function cannot be achieved and symptoms of low thyroid such as fatigue, mental fogginess, constipation, muscle aches etc, persist. Based on the research conducted by Dr. Bianco and colleagues it is thought that in those with the genetic trait making T4 treatment ineffective, blood tests would show low T3 levels. Continue reading
Metabolism.com received this message from one of our readers. Her story seems typical of the sort of dilemma so many people face today. The best advice usually comes from others who face the same problem. It would be helpful to hear what others would do in her situation.
I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease in 2009, I had RAI in 2011, after my daughter turned 3 months. Being pregnant with Severe Grave’s was the scariest thing in my life at the time. I gained weight prior to my pregnancy, during, and after RAI. My family doctor told me no matter how much you ate while severe Hyperthyroid you should have been anorexic, so something else is wrong. Continue reading
Why Patients Aren’t Receiving the Most Effective Treatment for Hypothyroidism
By Gary Pepper, M.D.
For the past 3 to 4 decades endocrinologists worldwide have adhered to the belief that only synthetic T4 (the most abundant of 4 thyroid hormones produced by the thyroid) is appropriate therapy for a sluggish thyroid even though it is known that a substantial number of those treated with T4 only continue to suffer from persistent symptoms of the disease. This may be because under normal conditions the thyroid produces two principle hormones T4 and T3. In 2013 an NIH study showed that 50% of those with hypothyroidism preferred treatment which includes T3 and our group reported that 78% of a subgroup of patients preferred T3 containing medication to treat hypothyroidism . Continue reading
Mainstream endocrinologists seem to be moving grudgingly toward acceptance of combination T4 plus T3 therapy for hypothyroidism. A great example of the mixed feelings harbored by endocrinologists in this regard is the title of a recent editorial, “ Combo (treatment) a Last Resort for Hypothyroidism” . Although the author, Dr. Bruce Jancin of the University of Colorado, recognized the value of combination T4 plus T3 therapy, he did so with the least possible enthusiasm. In his article the doctor acknowledged the weakness of scientific studies showing negative results with combination therapy and pointed out the findings of the Watts Study which provides a genetic rationale for why some people need to have T3 added to T4 to return to proper thyroid hormone balance. Continue reading
Michelle shares her success story with T3. Michelle’s story demonstrates how combination therapy with T4 and T3 can be clinically superior to T4 (Synthroid, Levothyroxine) alone. In her story she mentions Wilson’s syndrome which I personally think is a “made up” diagnosis to help Dr. Wilson’s retirement fund but I do think her experience is fairly typical of a lot of people with hypothyroidism who eventually discover they need T3 added to conventional treatment with T4 to achieve best results.
OMG! Maybe I’m not crazy after all!
I’m 47 in December and can’t remember the last time I felt good or even okay. Same thing – doctors repeating same tests, thinking I’m exaggerating, sent to Psychiatrist…Over the past 6 years or so, major stress, low immune (sick all the time), worsening depression, borderline diabetes, high blood pressure, peri-menopause. Got to the point that I’m sooo exhausted. Don’t want to do anything. Lab diagnosis finally showed up hypothyroidism so doctor put me on Synthroid – I was so happy that I cried. Devastation set in after 6 months as this was not the miracle I thought it would be.
Started taking my temperature 3 to 4 x a day as suggested to me by a naturopath I had seen but couldn’t afford to keep going to. Again, measurements taken 3 x daily for a week averaged to 97.0. Talked to doctor about Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome; she did not believe in it and sent me for more blood tests which came back normal.
FINALLY (after 20 years at same doctor’s office) was lucky enough to be accepted under the care of a physician who hadn’t heard of WTS but had heard about the T4 not converting into the T3 (you all know the fault in the system)… so right then and there wrote me a prescription for Cytomel and told me to stop the synthroid. As the WTS website recommends sustained T3, I’m taking half the dose every 12 hours.
I started today and feel like a kid on Christmas Eve a million times over! I am so hopeful that this can get to the root of so many ailments. So many that I feel that I’m not even living my life, that I’m just here putting in everything I have just to get through the day.
With the lack of memory and concentration I have right now, I hope I remember to come back to this site and update you all!
When I became an endocrinologist in 1981 I was truly excited about the field. At that time it seemed that the science of endocrinology was expanding rapidly and new discoveries were on the horizon particularly in regards to the way hormones effect the brain, mood and the immune system. Was I ever wrong! It’s thirty years later and none of those expectations were realized. In fact, I find that the field of endocrinology has barely budged since then and in some areas has actually lost ground.
Bringing on this round of pessimism on my part, is a recent “development” in the area of treatment for hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid). Ever since I was in training there have been two medicines, propylthiouracil (PTU) and methimazole (Tapazole), which are the mainstays of medical treatment for hyperthyroidism. Both medicines have been available since the 1940’s and show excellent efficacy and tolerability (and they are cheap!). Almost all endocrinologists I have met use these two drugs interchangeably although in pregnancy propylthyiouracil is favored due to rare birth defects in fetuses exposed to methimazole.
The “development” which I find so discouraging is the recent action by the FDA to place a very strict (black box) warning on the use of PTU due to the possible occurrence of a rare form of liver injury attributed to the drug. After almost 70 years of exemplary use, this has given rise to extensive debate in the endocrinology literature about how to restrict PTU use.
While it is true that methimazole is equally as effective as PTU to treat hyperthyroidism, I have personally seen numerous cases of fairly severe allergic reactions to methimazole. Fortunately it has been easy to continue medical treatment by simply switching to PTU. If we can’t use PTU freely then the only other options are surgical removal of the thyroid or eradication of the thyroid using radioactive iodine, neither of which is free of potentially adverse outcomes.
I have never encountered severe liver injury with PTU nor has any of the colleagues I have polled. It has to be very, very rare. This is obvious because it has taken 70 years to get around to recognizing it formally. Can we really call it progress that we now have one less simple option for treating hyperthyroidism, a common and relatively benign disease? Let me take my cynicism to the next level. I won’t be surprised if a major pharmaceutical company soon announces the development of a new drug for treating hyperthyroidism. If I’m right the new drug will add nothing of real value that wasn’t previously available but is many times more expensive then the drug it replaces.
So goes endocrinology into the new century, the stogy old lady of medicine.
Suzi has hypothyroidism and high blood pressure. She sends the following story describing how t3 treatment appeared to help normalize her blood pressure. This is the first time I have come across this effect and thought it would be helpful to share her story on the main blog. Does anyone else have a similar (or contradictory) experience?
Hi Dr. Pepper,
I was diagnosed hypothyroid 2 years ago and given levothyroxine. On diagnosis I had lots of symptoms and my BP was 175/115 despite my whole family having low BP. After some months on T4 I did feel an improvement in a lot of ways and my BP got better. Then after a year, things started going wrong, as if my body didn’t like T4.
I tried reducing my dose of T4 back down to 75µg but went hypo. But each time I increased above 75µg my BP increased again, then on 112µg it became a serious problem, especially the diastolic. I still had fatigue, constipation, red eyes, swollen legs and so on.
About 3 weeks ago I started on 10µg T3 and reduced my T4 from 112 to 75µg and pretty much immediately felt clearer headed and more energy, the constipation went etc….. My BP has gone down by an average of 20, which I know because I check it regularly myself. I’m doing a 24-hour BP monitor this week too, because my doctor put me on Amlopidine 6 weeks ago after being shocked by the monitor results from then while on 112µg T4 (only took Amlopidine for 2 weeks after terrible side-effects incl. overwhelming fatigue and massively swollen legs).
So, it looks as though my body goes weird on T4 tablets when the dose is above 75µg, but if I stuck to that dose I’d be really hypothyroid. The T3 has changed my life completely!!
Now I’m wondering what the ideal balance T4 / T3 tablets would be? Is that possible to say or does it depend on each individual body and genetics? My typical BP now is around 120/ 95; it goes down after eating, and gets worse when I’m hungry or tired. The T3 reduced my BP so much more than the Amlopidine did, and on T3 I feel great whereas on Amlopidine I felt half dead. I’d like to get my BP back to before I got hypo, so that’d be 110/70.
All I need to do now is find my ideal dose of T4 and T3, could you possibly advise me on that? If I started 20µg T3 instead of 10µg, would you advise a reduction in T4 from 75µg? ( I’ll be doing a TSH, fT3 and fT4 test in about 5 weeks’ time, maybe I should wait till then?).
Thank you so much!
Every so often I like to bring attention to someone who has struggled to get properly treated for hypothyroidism. Not everyone shares the same dilemma regarding treatment of hypothyroidism because T4 by itself may be sufficient in many instances. But for those who continue to experience symptoms of hypothyroidism despite T4 treatment, adding T3 can be a life changing experience.
Here is Sarah’s story:
I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in my early twenties and Synthroid did not help. I did not know at the time that many of my symptoms were due to hypothyroidism. After changing to my long time physician, I told her of my original diagnosis some years back. She did only the TSH and told me I was no longer hypothyroid! So for some 15 years after being in her care and continuing to feel crummy, then for the last 8 steadily gaining weight and feeling worse, I was not on any medication. I begged her for Cytomel several years back and was denied…she said she didn’t treat with that. When I finally was deemed hypo by her, she put me on the smallest dose of levothyroxine. It did not help. I finally went to see a shrink and he put me on 25 mcg of Cytomel. For the first time in my post pubescent life, I feel like living. My dose was upped to 50, and I felt even better but my thyroid levels were off, so we are now working on that and I am back to 25 mcg per day. If you can’t get Cytomel from your regular physician, you might get a psychiatrist to prescribe it. It changed my life and I finally feel alive. I’ve since switched primary physician because she wouldn’t listen to me, and she didn’t like that I was on Cytomel. I don’t know what it is about this medication that regular physicians don’t like and make them refuse to treat with it, especially when so many can benefit from it. I’ve lost only 12 lbs since being on it, but I gained nearly 35 unnecessarily while not being properly treated and was told to eat less and exercise more…I only ate about 1500 calories a day and walked my dog 2 miles each day, so I don’t feel it had anything to do with my diet!
Lots of members at metabolism.com with hypothyroidism ask what is their correct thyroid hormone dosage. For those who are still confused I am posting the latest Q and A addressing this issue.
Member ecchho received radioactive iodine for hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid) and as commonly happens, developed hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid). Despite t4 levels which appear to be normal symptoms persist, so ecchho inquires about ways of dealing with this common problem.
Here is the Q and A regarding ecchho’s post:
Hi Dr. Pepper:
I had Graves disease at 23 and then had RAI at 28 and have been on synthroid for 18 years. I did try ARmour once, but I found it had too much t3 (I think the pig’s ratio of t4 to t3 is much more potent than humans) and I actually had a real hard time regulating. I don’t have a thyroid anymore, and I take 225 synthroid. i still suffer a bit with impossible weight loss (despite running, dieting, etc) and some depression that feels quite hormonal at times. My dr. brought up adding t3 last visit and tested me, and then said, oh, you don’t need any xtra t3, you seem to be converting fine.
what are the levels that the t3 should be, and is this free t3 or t3? thanks.
My reply to Ecchho’s post:
Your question regarding the correct level for thyroid functions, is frequently raised on this website. I would respond to your question with this question, ” What is the correct shoe size?” Obviously, the answer is, whatever shoe size fits best. Similarly with thyroid function, everyone has a different “comfort zone” where their body functions best. That is their “correct” thyroid hormone level. You also refer to a t4 to t3 ratio for pigs versus humans. These ratio’s are averages of several hundred individuals (human or pig)and do not apply to any particular individual. Some people function better at a t3 to t4 ratio which is higher than the average. As pointed out in my article,http://www.metabolism.com/2009/11/07/breakthrough-discovery-thyroid-hormone-therapy-part-2/ , there is recent evidence that due to genetic differences, a percentage of the population does not convert t4 to t3 efficiently and therefore are likely to require t3 supplementation when treated for hypothyroidism.
Rather than spend the money for genetic testing to discover whether the genes for conversion of t4 to t3 are abnormal, some doctors recommend simply adding an appropriate dose of t3 to the standard t4 (levothyoxine)treatment and following the patient for improvement in clinical symptoms. You might want to consider discussing this approach with your doctor.
Gary Pepper, M.D