Are Thyroid Glandular Supplements Safe? | Dr. Westin Childs
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Are Thyroid Glandular Supplements Safe?

Thyroid glandular supplements can be tempting if you already have existing thyroid disease. 

But are these supplements safe? Will using them be helpful or harmful to your thyroid?

The answer is that more times than not they may actually cause damage to your body. 

Learn more about how these supplements work, better alternatives available, and the symptoms associated with using them:

More...

What are Thyroid Glandulars?

Thyroid glandulars are a type of over the counter supplement which contains the thyroid gland of an animal. 

People often take vitamins which contain glandulars in an attempt to 'heal' or promote better function of their own organ systems. 

There's only one problem with this approach:

It doesn't always work and it may be dangerous.

Don't get me wrong, it can potentially work for many people after all we already use nearly the same type of logic when creating some thyroid medications. 

NDT (Natural Desiccated Thyroid) is one such example in which nearly the exact same process occurs but in this process, the goal is to leave in the thyroid medication. 

But what's the difference between Natural Desiccated Thyroid and thyroid glandulars?

The only difference is in the ingredients. 

Natural Desiccated Thyroid is a prescription medication which contains ACTIVE thyroid hormones (T4 and T3). 

Thyroid glandulars are supplements which contain thyroid glands from animals but which do NOT contain active thyroid hormones. 

It gets slightly more confusing though when you realize that some producers of thyroid glandulars accidentally (or intentionally) put active thyroid hormones into their over the counter supplements. 

From a patient perspective, this may sound ideal, but it's actually not. 

If you aren't careful, you could accidentally be consuming a supplement which contains thyroid medication. 

Doing this may cause symptoms and may cause more harm than good. 

Problems with Using Thyroid Glandulars

My general recommendation is to stay away from thyroid glandulars because they tend to be risky when compared to other more proven supplements and vitamins used to treat the thyroid. 

In a recent study (in 2014) researchers took a look at 10 supplements which claimed to contain thyroid glandulars and found that 9 out of the 10 supplements actually contained active thyroid hormone (triiodothyronine and thyroxine) (1). 

The average dose provided in these supplements was around 10mcg of active hormone each day but one supplement was found to have as much as 25mcg of Thyroxine in it. 

When you break down the average dose most people take with thyroid medication, the dose isn't actually all that high coming in at around 10% of what thyroid medication contains. 

But it's still a big deal because even this small amount of medication can cause issues for certain sensitive individuals. 

Whether the manufacturers leave in the hormone intentionally or not is not known but the point is that many of them may have it. 

Leaving the thyroid hormone in the supplement may make the supplement more attractive to customers, but it also comes at the cost of making it more dangerous. 

Potential problems with thyroid glandulars include: 

  • Supplements are not regulated by the FDA (at least not as closely as medications) - What this means for you is that they are not held to the same standard as medications. It's possible that some capsules could contain 5 mcg of thyroid medication while others may contain 10mcg or more. This variability leads to long-term problems for patients. 
  • They may contain active thyroid hormones - We've already discussed why this is not a good thing. Taking thyroid medication can be a good thing, but it needs to be in a controlled environment. 
  • They may cause potentially serious side effects - Some people are very sensitive to even low doses of thyroid hormone. Taking extra thyroid hormone when it isn't necessary can also lead to the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. 
  • They may cause problems with your current medication - Supplements of all types have been shown to potentially interfere with thyroid medication. This is true of supplements which contain zinc and iodine (2). 
  • They may harm your metabolism if used long-term - Taking an unnecessary amount of thyroid hormone (especially if your thyroid doesn't need it) may cause metabolic damage and lead to weight problems down the line. 

Side Effects to Watch out for

It's important to note in this section that thyroid glandulars which contain active hormone will cause completely different symptoms than those supplements which do not contain active hormone. 

The side effects from these supplements tend to come from the active hormones and not the other ingredients. 

They usually stem from an excess of thyroid hormone when not necessary. 

For instance:

What if you are already taking enough thyroid medication by mouth to optimize your thyroid function?

If you take glandulars which contain EXTRA thyroid hormone then you can push your body into the hyperthyroid spectrum. 

Symptoms of thyroid glandulars which contain active hormone may include: 

  • Hair loss
  • Jittery sensation
  • Tremors
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Abdominal bloating or pain
  • Potential worsening of Hashimoto's antibodies - Animal tissues may cause an immunogenic reaction. 

These are not universal symptoms that every single person who uses glandulars will experience. 

Instead, they are a list of the potential negative side effects that some people may experience if their glandulars contain active thyroid hormones. 

If they do not contain these hormones then you may not experience any negative symptoms at all, perhaps only positive symptoms. 

What should you do if you are currently taking thyroid glandulars?

Does this all mean that you should stop using glandulars if you are already taking them and feeling well?

No, I'm not suggesting that. 

I am suggesting that you don't get started with thyroid glandulars, to begin with, but if you are already taking them and doing well then you may want to stick with them. 

Why?

Because stopping them may cause your symptoms to regress and you to feel worse. 

But, you should take the time to ask your Doctor (or the company selling the supplements) if they are third-party tested for active thyroid hormones. 

If you find out that they do indeed contain thyroid hormones such as triiodothyronine or thyroxine then you would want to stop using them. 

If they don't contain those hormones then you should be 'good to go' to continue using them. 

What About Adrenal Glandulars?

You can also get supplements which contain adrenal glandulars. 

Like thyroid glandulars, these supplements are created in the same way using the organ or tissue from an animal. 

They are then dried up and packaged into a supplement form. 

The main difference between adrenal glandulars and thyroid glandulars is that adrenal glandulars have the main hormones taken out (hydrocortisone or cortisol). 

So when you take adrenal glandulars they contain proteins and other compounds inside of the adrenal gland which can be used to help nourish your adrenal glands. 

This is why so many people turn to adrenal glandulars to treat adrenal fatigue. 

The idea is that by providing your body the basic building blocks to produce more adrenal hormones it will help your body out and cut back on the demand. 

This is only true if you are taking adrenal glandulars which do NOT contain cortisol or hydrocortisone though. 

If you take a supplement which contains the active hormone hydrocortisone then you are going to cause much more harm than good. 

Taking exogenous hydrocortisone (by mouth) will temporarily shut down your normal HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis (3). 

It will also cause problems with your thyroid in the process as both of these hormone systems are linked together. 

I'm a huge fan of using adrenal glandulars, but only if they are sourced from the right animals and only if they don't contain active hormones. 

The adrenal glandular supplement that I recommend for thyroid patients can be found here and it is the one that I've been using for years. It works very well and does not put an excess strain on either the adrenals or the thyroid gland. 

Thyroid Supplements that Work

Most people are looking to take a supplement for their thyroid because they may feel helpless in their current situation. 

Maybe you feel that your doctor isn't listening to you. 

Maybe you feel that no matter what you do you still feel terrible. 

These scenarios often lead people to search for quick fixes such as thyroid glandulars. 

I would caution against this approach, however!

Why?

Because there are better ways to improve thyroid function and they have to do with getting on the right type of supplements, medications, and improving your lifestyle. 

If you haven't already, I would urge you to take a look at this post which outlines how to use thyroid medication properly. 

If you feel that your thyroid medication is optimized, or if you are just looking for a more natural approach, then you can also find information about that here. 

My recommendation is to use supplements which contain known and proven ingredients designed to help your thyroid function. 

Ingredients in this category include Zinc, Iodine, Selenium, Guggul, Vitamin A (4), Vitamin D (5), and Ashwagandha/Rhodiola (6). 

It is possible to take many of these nutrients in one supplement but for some, you may want to take them by themselves. 

I recommend taking a look at this supplement which contains many of the listed ingredients and one in which I know works quite well

This approach is far superior and much less risky than using thyroid glandulars! And, it has helped many other thyroid patients. 

Conclusion

The bottom line?

If you are considering using thyroid glandulars to improve your thyroid health then you may want to think twice. 

In many cases, these glandulars can contain active thyroid hormones which may cause more harm than good. 

These ingredients may interfere with your current medication or cause unwanted side effects. 

Thyroid glandulars should also be differentiated from adrenal glandulars which are not exactly the same thing

Many thyroid patients can potentially benefit from the use of adrenal glandulars (if used correctly) as well as other thyroid enhancing nutrients. 

The best way to supplement for your thyroid is to use scientifically proven ingredients (at optimal doses). 

Now I want to hear from you:

Are you currently using thyroid glandulars?

Are you considering using them in the future?

Have you felt better while using them?

What about adrenal glandulars?

Leave your questions or comments below! 

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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