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

Dr. Westin Childs is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. He provides well-researched actionable information about hormone-related disorders and formulates supplements to treat these disorders. He is trained in Internal Medicine, Functional Medicine, and Integrative Medicine. His focus is on managing thyroid disorders, weight loss resistance, and other sex hormone imbalances. You can read more about his own personal journey here.

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