Taking Thyroid Medication When You Don't Need It - Is it Dangerous?

Taking Thyroid Medication When You Don’t Need It – Is it Dangerous?

Thyroid Medication Is for Treating Low Thyroid Function

Are you thinking about using thyroid medication even though your thyroid function is technically "normal"? 

If so, this article is for you. 

Thyroid medication refers to any medication which contains ACTIVE thyroid hormones

These hormones are incredibly powerful and play an important role in regulating many important systems in your body including both your metabolism and your weight

Thyroid medication is prescribed by doctors for people with LOW thyroid function. 

These medications (such as levothyroxine, Tirosint, Cytomel, and liothyronine) are prescribed to INCREASE thyroid function in people who have low thyroid function. 

People in this position are said to have hypothyroidism or a sluggish thyroid. 

But what about people who are interested in using thyroid hormone even though their thyroid function is completely normal?

It might sound weird, but there are some good (and bad) reasons to consider doing this. 

Today you are going to learn:

  • Why some people want to use thyroid medication to assist with weight loss
  • Other potential conditions in which using thyroid medication off label could be beneficial
  • The potential side effects and consequences of using thyroid medication off label
  • Why not everyone on thyroid medication necessarily has to stay on it forever

Let's dive in...

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Why Some People Want to take Thyroid Medication even if they don't need it

Why would you want to use thyroid medication if you have a normal thyroid? 

The answer is actually quite simple:

Thyroid medication has been used in the past, by certain people, to help assist in both weight loss and fat loss. 

Your thyroid gland controls around 60% of your metabolism (1) which means that if you can INCREASE thyroid function in your body you will be able to increase how many calories you burn on a day to day basis. 

This effect is so well known that thyroid hormone used to be added into weight loss supplements to give them an "extra" boost. 

And, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. 

People who have too much thyroid hormone in their body, a condition known as hyperthyroidism, experience weight loss and fat loss without making any other changes. 

Obviously, taking thyroid medication to try and assist with weight loss is not a good idea and we will talk more about that later.

But there are other reasons you may want to use thyroid medication even if you have normal thyroid function. 

A good reason to use thyroid medication would be to treat extreme depression and bipolar disorder. 

There are a number of studies (2) which show that thyroid hormone can be used to augment medications for BOTH of these conditions. 

Some people have made the argument that these people probably don't have enough thyroid hormone in their system which is why they benefit from it, but no one knows for sure. 

What we do know is that if you have treatment-resistant depression, meaning you have tried several prescription drugs to treat depression which have failed, thyroid hormone is actually a viable option to help manage your depression. 

This same thing also applies to people with bipolar disorder. 

Other groups of people who may consider using thyroid medication off label include people with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and chronic pain syndromes. 

Thyroid medication, particularly T3 thyroid hormone, has been shown to be effective in helping patients manage all three of the conditions listed above. 

Not Everyone on Thyroid Medication Actually Needs to Be

Another group of people who may be asking if they need to be on thyroid medication is those already taking it!

We have a number of recent studies which show that thyroid patients who were previously diagnosed with thyroid conditions in their early life may not actually NEED it later in life. 

This is particularly true for people who are in nursing homes and who are elderly. 

Studies have shown that a large number of people who fit this criterion can safely stop taking their thyroid medication. 

How does it happen? 

Well, it's quite simple. 

The conventional thought is that once you start taking thyroid medication you MUST be on it for the rest of your life. 

So doctors never actually think to check if you can go off of it, they just keep prescribing it to you for decades and decades. 

Researchers eventually thought to check if thyroid medication was necessary for these people and they ultimately found that many people who are elderly can actually stop taking their medication without any concerns. 

I wouldn't say that this is common among younger women who are taking thyroid medication but it does apply to those who are much older in age (70+ years old). 

Side Effects of Taking Thyroid Medication if your body has normal thyroid function

Still thinking about using thyroid medication?

Before you do, make sure you understand the potential consequences and side effects of taking the plunge. 

Remember:

Thyroid hormone, depending on which one you use, is a powerful prescription medication and may cause some serious problems if your thyroid function is already normal. 

Side effects from taking thyroid medication can vary from non-existent to quite severe and it all depends on what type of thyroid hormone you are taking and how much you are taking. 

I would be lying if I said that all doses of thyroid medication are equally dangerous. 

I would also be lying if I said that all obese people should avoid thyroid hormone at all costs. 

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I think there's a reasonable argument to be made that people who are overweight (40+ pounds) could temporarily use thyroid medication to help assist with weight loss. 

Having extra weight on your body ABSOLUTELY will cause potential problems down the road including heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, etc (3).

So the argument could be made that trading some temporary side effects of using thyroid hormone for weight loss would be worth the risk if the end result was 40+ pounds of weight loss. 

If you decide it's something you want to consider then you can discuss that with your doctor. 

But for now, let's get back to thyroid hormone and its potency. 

There are two types of thyroid medications that you could potentially use:

  • T4 thyroid hormone (found in medications like levothyroxine)
  • And T3 thyroid hormone (found in medications like Cytomel and liothyronine)

Any thyroid medication which contains T3 is MUCH more powerful and potent compared to T4. 

So if you were using T3 thyroid hormone you would be more likely to experience side effects even with smaller doses. 

And it's this T3 thyroid hormone which is more likely to help assist with weight loss, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain syndromes. 

If you do decide to use thyroid medication, it's probably your best bet. 

But what about the consequences?

Short-Term Consequences

Short-term consequences are side effects that you may experience within 1-2 days of taking thyroid medication. 

These side effects are DOSE DEPENDENT. 

Meaning if you use a small enough dose they may not even be present, but as your dose increases, they are more likely to appear. 

Short term consequences of taking thyroid medication with normal thyroid function include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Weight loss

These side effects indicate that your body is in a hyperthyroid state and this state is actually dangerous to your body and your cells. 

You may be able to get away with a small dose of thyroid medication that revs up your metabolism without putting it into overdrive and that would be your goal if you are using thyroid medication off label. 

Potential Long-Term Consequences

Long-term side effects from using thyroid medication off label are more dangerous and tend to occur only if you've been using/abusing thyroid medication for years and years. 

Long-term consequences of taking thyroid medication with normal thyroid function include:

Long-term exposure to thyroid medication can have a negative impact on both your heart and bone structure. 

The good news is that these side effects appear to be mostly reversible (provided they do not reach a certain point). 

You can expect these side effects to start showing up after years of using thyroid medications at high doses or off label. 

Final Thoughts

Thyroid medications are usually reserved for people with low thyroid function or people who have known hypothyroidism. 

Even though this is the case, there are some people who have completely normal thyroid function who still want to consider using thyroid medication off label. 

These people usually are interested in the metabolism-enhancing effects that thyroid medication provides. 

And even though using thyroid medication for this purpose can be dangerous, there may be situations in which it is a good idea. 

In addition, thyroid medication can be used off label to treat a number of additional medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndromes, and chronic fatigue syndrome. 

Before you use thyroid medication in this way, make sure that you look at ALL potential side effects and consequences. 

Now I want to hear from you:

Are you currently thinking about using thyroid medication off label?

If so, what goal are you trying to achieve? 

Are you using it for weight loss, for depression, for bipolar disorder, or something else?

Are you planning on discussing it with your doctor or are you planning on getting it some other way?

Leave your questions or comments below! 

References (Click to Expand)

what happens if you take thyroid medication when you don't need it?

Dr. Westin Childs

About Dr. Westin Childs

Hey! I'm Westin Childs D.O. (former Osteopathic Physician). I don't practice medicine anymore and instead specialize in helping people like YOU who have thyroid problems, hormone imbalances, and weight loss resistance. I love to write and share what I've learned over the years. I also happen to formulate the best supplements on the market (well, at least in my opinion!) and I'm proud to say that over 45,000+ people have used them over the last 4.5 years. You can read more about my own personal health journey and why I am so passionate about what I do here.

37 thoughts on “Taking Thyroid Medication When You Don’t Need It – Is it Dangerous?”

  1. Hi Dr. Childs,
    Thank you, this was informative as always. At almost 50 I’ve been on Thyroid meds for ~ 6 years (Liothyronine and Levothyroxine, 30mcg, 150mcg respectively), prescribed to me by a clinical nurse specialist for my thyroid, after I decided not to go back to my endo. What I didn’t realize was that she is familiar with it because already uses T3 only meds in her practice to treat depression. I’ve struggled with anti depressant combinations since my early 20s, and I can’t help but wonder now if the liothyronine has been beneficial for me in this area because It’s been a few years since I’ve experienced some of the extreme lows that I had been prone to. I was on a higher dose of t3 but struggled with consistent dosing. Between meals, thyroid meds, supplements and anti depressants, it’s difficult to appropriately space things out.
    The only question I have, and my apologies if it’s been asked, I just can’t seem to find anything on the topic. Can I take my liothyronine and Levo at the same time, or are they also supposed to be spaced apart?
    thanks as always
    Melissa

    Reply
  2. I have been taking levothyroxine for years after the left side of my thyroid being removed because of a goitre the size of a large orange 8cm by 6cm. Started on 150mg now on 125mg. I have always had problems losing weight and feeling extremely tired at times and the stomach bloating. The last 6 months I have lost half the thickness of my hair, felt tired and my TSH is 0.02 and T4 22.0. Never had my T3 levels checked. Also going through menopause. One other thing is my iron storage is always very low but I have not had a period since January 2020. Iron tablets do not agree with me. Having so many things going on but don’t seem to have any help from my UK doctor. Do you think I should ask for a full thyroid test and would I feel better taking T3 as well? I really enjoy reading all of the information you send it’s really interesting and easy to read and understand. Many thanks Jayne

    Reply
    • Hi, Jayne, as you’re in the UK have you joined the thyroid forum on Health Unlocked?

      Posts to the forum are answered, on the whole, by very knowledgeable people. They ask you to post your thyroid blood test result/medication/symptoms and offer lots of good advice. Their approach to thyroid treatment is very close to Dr Child’s views.

      Reply
  3. Hi Dr Charles, I have been diagnosed with suspected hypothyroidism due to high TSH reading, and have another blood test due in May. Since the diagosis I have been on the palio diet and vitamin, mineral and iodine treatment in an effort to alter my condition before the next bloods. Wondering if you have a medication that would help. My weight has not altered, and I have few symptoms, some joint ache which comes and goes. I would prefer not to be on pharmaceutical medication but my endo doc has suggested I will be on permanent medication. Not happy.

    Reply
  4. Thanks for mentioning hair loss. People are always associating hair loss with hypothyroidism, but I notice it more when my thyroid revs up, and I lose a few pounds (my thyroid function changes with the seasons).

    Reply
  5. Dr Child’s

    I see a naturopathic who has me taking Thyro LF which the ingredients look similar to the T3 Conversion Booster. I have told him I have been experiencing being cold all the time, fatigued more than usual, losing hair in the shower and weight gain. I have a family history of thyroid disorders but my thyroid levels are within normal range (TSH 2.26, Free T4 1.29 and Free T3 2.5). I am going to have my naturopathic test me with your supplements but wondering if taking thyroid adrenal reset and T3 booster would be considered too much in conjunction with my Thyroid LF? Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Reply
    • Hi Robin,

      It’s hard to say because I’m not familiar with that supplement. I know for sure that the combo of T3 conversion booster + thyroid adrenal reset complex is quite safe and effective, though.

      Reply
  6. Hi,
    I’m Hypothyroid and have been on thyroid meds for 7 years.
    I’m feeling more Hyper. Lately and think I might like to lower the dose. I’m on 88 mcg Synthroid and 5mcg Cytomel 2 times a day. My TSH IS 0.01. Suppressed. My other hormones seem screwed up because of thyroid.
    I try taking 3 mg of iodoral but it seems to much. Maybe I don’t need that.
    Im also treating adrenals with more calming supplements to lower cortisol as my Dr. says that’s what’s driving reverse t3.
    I’m completely out of balance and can’t really get the help I need.
    Thanks for reading this.

    Reply
  7. I’ve never lost any weight from my thyroid meds T4 and T3 and have been on for years at varying doses for hypothyroidism. Can’t imagine someone using for weight loss but maybe if you don’t need them it is why it works that way perhaps.

    Reply
    • Hi JCO,

      The weight loss is dose dependent and most thyroid patients take very low doses so they never see weight loss.

      Reply
  8. Hi Dr Childs,
    After being diagnosed 18 months ago in South Africa with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis on the basis of high thyroid antibodies (initially 499 and around 200 for the two main ones), I started on low dose Naltrexone, and the numbers halved within a few months. My TSH was around 2.6 then, and my free T3 and T4 in the “normal” range – though not optimal. Later in 2020, here in Australia, I asked my integrative practitioner for a prescription for levothyroxine and T3. The idea was that the medication would help to support the thryroid.
    I should also explain that I had a parathyroidectomy in June 2020, after which the surgeon confirmed that he’d seen nodules that showed the thyroid to be under attack – but fortunately the thyroid was still of a good size. I have never experienced thyroid symptoms as such. I feel fine on the medication, but then again, I felt fine before! And my thyroid panel numbers look okay: TSH 1.75, and free T3 and free T4 in the normal (yet not optimal) range. I am female, aged 61, fit and active. Do you think the thyroid medication could be doing me any harm?

    Reply
  9. Hi Dr Childs,

    Thank you for the information, but there is a lot of clarity. Im New Zealand and am working with a doctor here who prescribes me whole thyroid. I started on 30mcg, then 45mcg, and now on 60mcg. I felt a bit hyper at 60mcg but it’s only been a week and those symptoms are definitely settling.

    However along with working with my doctor, I have also analysed a lot of your content and especially your “optimal” markers. My doctor has too. As your measurements are US measurements and I’m in NZ, I have converted them so that I can compare my results to what you consider optimal. So according to your optional ranges I am still hypo.

    I know you can’t give specific medial advice but this is just a general question – is my situation one where I need to be concerned about heart enlargement? This is the first I’ve heard about that potential happening. I am 40 pounds overweight for sure, and weight loss is one of the driving reasons for wanting to take whole thyroid but also because of my dwindling energy levels and all the other hypo symptoms.

    I appreciate you shining a light on the issue but I think it would be responsible to also provide some potential solutions and guidance in reference to heart enlargement. It can be very alarming and stressful for your readers to read about this, as was the case for me.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Veronica,

      It’s hard to say but a quick echocardiogram will give you valuable information about your heart size 🙂

      Reply
      • Not a helpful rely Dr Child’s. An echocardiogram provides a snapshot of your heart as it currently is. Anyone on thyroid medication will need to be on it for a while. You mention enlargement as a long-term potential so how can this be avoided? Is it dose dependent? This is pretty serious stuff so you should at least provide some pointers for people who turn to your website, supplements and programs (like I have).

        Reply
        • Hi Veronica,

          There’s no way to predict if thyroid medication will cause cardiac enlargement so the best option is to just keep an eye on it via periodic echos. Cardiac enlargement is certainly dose dependent but some people are more sensitive to it than others which is why checking periodically is the best option.

          Reply
  10. I am 75. I have been taking thyroxine for years. I was on 75mg. I could not sleep so dropped to 50. I still cannot sleep.
    So I alternate… one night taking Night nurse and I sleep for eight hours and the next night I take nothing and sleep just a couple of hours no more. I am not really tired and still have got plenty of energy except in late afternoon. I have been taking Low dose Naltrexone 4.5. It is widely said that one needs less Thyroxine if taking LDN.
    Therefore As I am aged 75 and taking LDN do you think I can cut my Thyroxine to 0? Could you please advise.
    Nicole

    Reply
  11. Hi. Have you ever heard of someone taking thyroid medication and it shuts off their production. I have low thyroid and everytime doctors put me on medication to get my range optimal it shuts off my production and my levels lower.

    Reply
    • Hi Kathy,

      Yes, it does that to everyone. Taking thyroid medication shuts down your body’s ability to produce it and this effect is dose dependent.

      Reply
  12. Hi Dr. Charles
    I have been hypothyroid for about 30 years. I’m 70 at the moment and I have been on a combination of Levothyroxine and Dessicated Thyroid for years. Even though I was feeling fine, I was never able to lose weight even though I always ate healthy and exercised regularly. So last year I went on Keto diet and lost about 25 lbs. I was pretty excited but I suddenly started having thyroid issues and now a year later I still struggle to find the right dosage of meds. Right now, my T3 and T4 are in a very good range but my TSH is within normal range but on the lower side. My doctor suggested lowering my dosage, but I still have hypothyroid symptoms.

    Reply
    • Hi Nora,

      It’s definitely not a good idea to lower your thyroid dose if you are still experiencing hypothyroid symptoms.

      Reply
      • Thanks Dr. Childs. Mr Doctor has suggested that I take 2 Dessicated instead of the 1 Synthroid and 1 Dessicated. At this stage I am scared to change anything, but I do realize that I am still having symptoms and I need to change something. What is your take on this suggestion? Thanks a lot

        Reply
  13. Thyroidectomy.
    After pappilary thyroid cancer 2016. 5 11. 235 lbs chubby build big frame

    2021 280 lbs 300 mcg of synthroid tsh 0.03
    Free t4 26 and free t3 6.2. Both in high range

    I take berberine alpha lipoic acid zinc vitamin c complex vitamin b complex selenium biotin tumeric ginger black pepper extract pills. 1600 ish calories per day limited carbs and dairy
    Symptoms of hypothyroidism
    Lethargy muscle cramps immediate lactic acid from any exertion. Steady hair loss

    Attempted saxenda and it rendered me imobile and bed ridden

    Water retention appears to be an issue as well swelling pain and inflammation general discomfort and constipation

    Cant get blood work for rt3 as no drs anywhere near me will check in canada no labs accept patient submissions even with fee
    Drs will not add or titrate. T3 meds

    Feeling helpless i have consumed your entire website and videos

    Thankful for the information. I do see mild improvements but nothing restoring quality of life

    Reply
  14. Hi Dr. Child’s,

    I’ve been waiting for this answer for the longest time! I’ve got to lose weight. My thyroid function is “normal”, but not optimal. I have about 70 lbs I need to lose. I’ve been “weighing” the pros and cons and think I need to lose weight above all right now. (I also have Hashimoto’s). I’ve taken my diet down to the minimum and have gotten rid of all potential triggers. I’m frustrated and lack energy to do anything.
    I am going to start using t-3 for weight loss, but only temporarily. I probably won’t discuss it with my Dr because she wouldn’t get on board with it.
    I won’t abuse it, but I’m desperate at this point and have tried everything.

    Reply
  15. I had done RT thyroidectomy in 31st Dec 2018 as there was a big nodule . I am using eltroxine 75 mg daily after my surgery. I have a very small nodule in LT thyroid . My levels of T3,T4,TSH are normal in range before thyroidectomy and after thyroidectomy and still today the three levels are normal in range. But the problem only is that I have gained weight upto 7 to 8 kgs after thyroidectomy . I am 82 kg now and before surgery my stomach was flat but now a days it is coming outside day by day. I do my yoga exercises daily. I don’t have any other problem but gaining weight day by day. How to control my weight and how to flatten my stomach as before. Please suggest what to eat or what to eat not for controlling my weight. thanks a lot

    Reply
  16. Dr. Childs,

    Iv’e written a few times. Any way I can receive a reply via my email?

    I have had severe weight loss past few yrs. I feel it is from overworking although now I am retired ,relaxing more and eating quite alot and cannot gain it back? My tsh is 16, ft3 slightly high and ft4 slightly low. I am on approx 5 15 mg tabs each morning that I chew and swallow with water and wait to eat for an hour or 2. Hair is brittle but does better with lots of kale juice but have heard should have no raw brassica family dark leafy only cooked as they are goitrogenic yet I have no goiter and they help my hair? Can you share your thoughts please? I truly appreciate it. Barbara

    Reply
  17. Also, I am trying to decrease and get off the Armour by ingesting kelp daily. Ultrasound doc says my thyroid has shrunken, is scarred due to inflammation over the decades and is hardly working but I want to heal it and get it to work again ( I have studied healing and feel it can regenerate if I use less Armour and give it more what it needs to work- organic iodine as well as destress and slow down? Your thoughts and feelings please. I would so appreciate your viewpoint but can it be sent to my emails please or how would I know you have replied? Thank you so much. Barbara

    Reply

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