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Women's Health

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Study: 'Thyroid Support' Supplements May Be Risky

Researchers Say Supplements Contain 'Significant' Amounts of Thyroid Hormone
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 28, 2011 - Nine out of 10 "thyroid support" pills tested by Mayo Clinic researchers contain "risky" levels of thyroid hormones.

A wide range of supplements that claim to support or improve thyroid function are available online and in retail stores. Some list only herbs as ingredients. Others are capsules filled with dried, ground-up thyroid gland from pigs or cows.

People take the supplements because they may feel tired, or for unexplained weight gain -- symptoms they interpret as a sign their bodies are making too little thyroid hormone.

When a number of his patients told him they were taking the supplements, endocrinologist Victor Bernet, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla., became curious. Might they contain the same thyroid hormone as Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid, Unithroid and other prescription drugs used to treat thyroid hormone deficiency?

Yes, Bernet says - and it’s risky. "Even a little too much T4 can give a person palpitations, could give atrial fib and blood pressure issues and such," he tells WebMD. "We have people coming in feeling nervous, can't sleep, decreased exercise tolerance, hearts running overtime."

T4 (thyroxine) is the active ingredient in Synthroid and other prescription drugs used to treat thyroid deficiency.

Bernet and colleagues tested 10 different supplements, selected because they appeared to be the most popular products sold for "thyroid support." Five of the products listed animal thyroid gland as an ingredient, five did not.

The result: nine of the 10 pills contained T4. At the dose recommended on the label, four of the pills delivered T4 at doses ranging from 8.6 to 91.6 micrograms per day. A typical daily dose of prescription T4 is 50 to 150 daily micrograms, Bernet says.

Nine of the supplements carried another thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine, or T3. Five delivered daily T3 doses of more than 10 micrograms per day. "That's more than half of what the body would normally make in a day," Bernet says.

"Thyroid hormones are medications that should be bought only under prescription," Bernet tells WebMD. "I do not recommend anyone take any of these supplements. ... This is a general warning to patients that 90% of those products we randomly picked have clinically significant amounts of thyroid hormone."

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