Too many patients, as documented in an on-line study of 12,000 individuals conducted by the American Thyroid Association published in June 2018, (https://doi.org/10.1089/thy.2017.0681) , complain of persistent symptoms of hypothyroidism despite what their doctors believe is successful treatment with levothyroxine (brands include Synthroid, Unithroid, Tirosent, Levoxl). We believe something needs to be done to resolve this conflict between patients and their doctors.
During 2 decades of practicing endocrinology I had not encountered an instance of an over the counter product containing enough active thyroid hormone to make a difference in thyroid levels. In the last month I consulted on two new patients who appear to have developed toxic thyroid levels due to non-prescription products. The first involved a â€œMetabolic Complexâ€ obtained from New Zealand. This seemed like a fairly random event in which a non-prescribing health practitioner was able to obtain an unregulated product which was passed on to the patient. Not likely to become a common issue. This second instance is more worrisome since it involves a product purchased directly by the patient from the internet, and supposedly â€œvegetarianâ€ in nature.
Here is the story. A woman with a history of hypothyroidism for about one year taking synthetic prescription thyroid hormone decided to find a more natural solution to thyroid hormone replacement. She stopped the thyroid hormone replacement prescribed by her local physician and purchased a product via the internet advertised to improve thyroid gland â€œhealthâ€. Prior to starting the OTC product her thyroid blood tests indicated low thyroid levels, as expected. About a month after starting the thyroid supplement her thyroid levels were clearly above normal, entering the thyrotoxic range. Fortunately she returned to her physician who alerted her to the problem and asked her to stop the thyroid supplement and one month later she was back to being hypothyroid again. It was at this time I first consulted with her and found her to have the expected symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, poor memory, dry skin and water retention (edema). I restarted her on prescription thyroid hormone replacement.
I wanted to see the product bottle myself but was unable to obtain it. Instead I went on-line and tried to track down the productâ€™s manufacturer and list of ingredients. It was a frustrating exercise since the names of the products and the manufacturers and distributors changed from one website to another. I narrowed my search to one product manufactured in California and another in Canada. Perhaps I will be able to get the original pill container and nail this product down but for now it remains a bit mysterious.
Members of metabolism.com have asked me to pass on the name of these products. Now come on…do you think I want to make this situation worse by giving the information away to juvenile delinquents? I am hoping government regulators will become more vigilante to what appears to be a growing problem. In the mean time I advise everyone to be on the alert to similar products being marketed to an unsuspecting public.
Gary Pepper, M.D.
Some of the details of this report have been changed to protect the identity of my patient. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice or therapy.