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Armour Thyroid & Weight Loss: How It May Occur

Armour Thyroid is a porcine-derived thyroid hormone replacement commonly administered as a treatment for hypothyroidism.  In addition, it is regularly prescribed as an intervention for goiters (enlarged thyroid glands), nodular thyroid disease, and thyroid cancer – due to the fact that it is capable of reducing TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) concentrations.  Unlike synthetically engineered thyroid hormones such as synthroid (levothyroxine), Armour Thyroid is considered completely natural.

It is comprised of both T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine) and is extracted directly from porcine thyroid glands; as a result, it emits a noticeably pungent odor.  Although Armour Thyroid has never been approved by the FDA, some patients prefer it over synthetic hormone replacement options for its favorable tolerability and side effect profile.  That said, one noticeable side effect that can occur among those taking Armour Thyroid is weight loss.

In most cases, the weight loss experienced among Armour Thyroid users results from a reversal of untreated hypothyroidism.  Correcting deficiencies of T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine), while simultaneously reducing TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) – tends to increase basal metabolic rate (BMR).  For this reason, many Armour Thyroid users may notice that they lose weight throughout their treatment.

Armour Thyroid & Weight Loss

Individuals diagnosed with hypothyroidism tend to feel groggy, lethargic, and have all-around low energy.  Untreated hypothyroidism tends to facilitate some degree of weight gain not only from excessive fatigue (making it difficult to exercise), but also via a reduced basal metabolic rate.  The extent to which you are deficient in thyroid hormone is usually predictive of your metabolism; the more extreme the deficiency, the less calories you’re likely to burn at rest.

When initiating treatment with Armour Thyroid, a medical professional will prescribe a dosage in attempt to normalize FT4, FT3, and TSH concentrations.  Upon upregulation of T4 and T3 hormones and reduction of TSH, basal metabolic rate increases and weight loss ensues.  During treatment, most Armour Thyroid users are usually able to lose all of the weight that they packed on as a result of underlying hypothyroidism.

In some cases, weight loss may be more substantial than expected.  This could be due to the fact that Armour Thyroid users: regain the energy necessary to remain physically active, basal metabolic rate has increased, and possibly a result of supratherapeutic levels of T3 (triiodothyronine).  There is some evidence that Armour Thyroid may increase T3 significantly more than necessary, which may lead to complications, but also potentiate weight loss and fat loss.

How Armour Thyroid May Cause Weight Loss (Possibilities)

Below is a list of possible ways by which Armour Thyroid may cause weight loss.  While increases in BMR (basal metabolic rate) as a result of normalized T4/T3 concentrations is the primary way by which most Armour Thyroid users lose weight, it may not be the only way.  Specific causative factors that influence weight loss among those taking Armour Thyroid may be subject to significant interindividual variation.

  • Appetite reduction: While most people taking Armour Thyroid experience an increased appetite, some notice a reduction in appetite. Appetite reduction may be most common among those who haven’t yet normalized thyroid hormone levels.  That said, you may notice that you feel less hungry and more satiated after eating – while taking Armour Thyroid.  You may also notice a decline in food cravings (for sugars and simple carbs) during treatment.  Assuming your appetite is reduced (which is fairly uncommon), this may contribute to weight loss.
  • BMR increase: It is well-understood that individuals with hypothyroidism tend to have extremely slow BMRs (basal metabolic rates). As a result, hypothyroid patients often gain weight even when cutting calories and exercising; their body is burning less energy at rest from a hypothyroidism-induced slow metabolism.  During treatment with Armour Thyroid, your BMR will increase (possibly to a significant extent), resulting in a greater number of calories burned (heightened energy expenditure) and weight loss.
  • Bone density reduction: While not a typical side effect when properly dosed, those taking too much Armour Thyroid may experience a reduction in bone density. Bone density loss is often caused by too much thyroid hormone (improperly prescribed and/or supratherapeutic dosages).  Assuming your bone density declines and/or you lose muscle during treatment, your body weight will be lighter.  Unfortunately, decreased bone density and/or muscle mass is not typically a healthy type of weight loss – as this could increase risk for fractures (especially among elderly).
  • Cognitive function: Hypothyroidism can cause brain fog and cognitive impairment, perhaps most noticeably problems with memory retrieval. Many patients with hypothyroidism mistakenly believe they have ADHD due to the fact that they cannot maintain attention, organize their thoughts, plan, or think critically.  Impaired cognition as a result of hypothyroidism may lead to poor self-control and ultimately suboptimal food choices.  Upon restoration of cognitive function with Armour Thyroid treatment, you may have an easier time resisting unhealthy food choices and planning your diet.
  • Diarrhea: Individuals taking Armour Thyroid may experience diarrhea as a side effect, especially if prescribed too high of a dosage. If you’re frequently passing bowel movements and/or have loose stools – consider that you may lose weight as a result of an Armour Thyroid-induced laxative effect.  Since weight loss resulting from diarrhea is not considered healthy, this side effect should be discussed with a medical professional.
  • Energy increase: When being treated with Armour Thyroid, many patients notice that their energy level is enhanced and/or bolstered (compared to before treatment). As a result of this energy boost from the increases in thyroid hormone, individuals may become increasingly active and/or frequently engage in exercise.  More exercise and/or physical activity burns more calories and improves metabolic function.
  • Fat breakdown: When thyroid hormones (T4/T3) are increased within a normal range (or slightly above the normal range), more body fat is broken down via lipolysis. You may notice a reduction in excess body fat as a result of your thyroid treatment, which contributes to weight loss.  This fat loss is facilitated through lipogenesis and lipolysis – each of which are stimulated by thyroid hormone.
  • Ghrelin decrease: Evidence suggests that there’s a relationship between ghrelin, the “hunger hormone” and thyroid function. Patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism tend to exhibit heightened levels of ghrelin, possibly making them hungrier than usual (with food cravings).  Receiving treatment for hypothyroidism such as with Armour Thyroid will likely decrease ghrelin levels, possibly leading to increased satiety and/or a reduction in food cravings.
  • Gut bacteria: There is evidence that dysbiosis or imbalanced gut bacteria may contribute to underlying dysfunction of the thyroid, however, dysfunctional thyroid may also cause abnormalities in gut bacteria. For this reason, correcting thyroid dysfunction may have therapeutic implications in regards to gut bacteria, thereby leading to weight loss.  Armour Thyroid could induce some weight loss by altering densities and/or strains of gut bacteria.
  • Nausea: A small percentage of individuals undergoing treatment with Armour Thyroid end up feeling nauseous to the extent that they cannot eat and/or look at food. Nausea is often a sign that the dosage is too high and/or Armour Thyroid is simply a poor fit for a user’s particular physiology.  That said, if you end up feeling extremely nauseous as a side effect of treatment, you may end up eating less, or possibly vomiting – each of which could prompt transient weight loss.
  • Neurotransmission: It is unclear exactly how Armour Thyroid affects brain activity, but correction of deficient thyroid hormones (T4/T3) appears to modify neural activation and neurotransmission. It is possible that alterations in regional activation and concentrations of neurotransmitters could contribute to weight loss.  Users may feel less hungry and/or reduced food cravings as a result of Armour Thyroid-induced neurochemical changes.
  • Placebo effect: Certain patients may believe that they’re going to lose a lot of weight on Armour Thyroid and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. At optimized doses, Armour Thyroid isn’t associated with significant weight loss or sustained long-term weight loss.  However, some patients may believe that it’ll help them lose weight, and as a result, they take additional action to augment the BMR increase (from Armour Thyroid) such as with an exercise routine, healthy diet, etc.  This self-fulfilling expectation to lose weight may influence the degree of weight loss.
  • Vomiting: A serious adverse reaction associated with Armour Thyroid is vomiting. If you are constantly nauseous and vomit throughout your treatment, there’s a chance that you either: cannot tolerate treatment OR are taking the wrong dose.  In any regard, vomiting more than usual is likely to cause transient weight loss.

Note: While most individuals will lose weight as a result of increases in BMR, others may lose weight from increased energy, appetite reduction, and/or a combination of factors.  Understand that weight loss from Armour Thyroid is often subject to interindividual variation.

Variables that influence weight loss from Armour Thyroid

The amount of weight you lose while taking Armour Thyroid may be contingent upon numerous influential variables.  These variables include: Armour Thyroid dosage, duration of treatment, severity of hypothyroidism, co-administered drugs (or supplements), and individual factors (e.g. diet, exercise, genetics).  Whenever contemplating how much weight you’re likely to lose from treatment, it may be helpful to review these variables.

  1. Armour Thyroid dosage

As with most thyroid replacement therapies, Armour Thyroid dosage will determine how much weight you’re likely to lose.  Individuals that aren’t taking enough Armour Thyroid (a high enough dose) may not experience any weight loss and may retain some symptoms of hypothyroidism until their dosage is increased.  When the dosage is optimally calibrated for a patient within a narrow therapeutic index (NTI), thyroid (T4/T3) levels should be within the normal range.

Upon normalization of thyroid levels, individuals may experience preliminary weight loss as a result of a BMR increase.  If the prescribed dosage of Armour Thyroid exceeds the therapeutic needs of a particular patient, weight loss may occur as a result of hyperthyroidism.  Too much Armour Thyroid will induce a hypermetabolic state characterized by lipolysis, gluconeogenesis, and BMR increases – promoting weight loss.

Understand that dosing needs of Armour Thyroid for one patient may be greater than those of another.  A small-statured individual with subclinical hypothyroidism will require a significantly lower dose than a larger person with severe hypothyroidism.  If you’re losing a lot of weight, it could be due to the fact that you’re receiving a greater Armour Thyroid dose than necessary.

  1. Time Span

Weight loss from Armour Thyroid doesn’t usually occur overnight.  It often takes several weeks of treatment before individuals notice that they’ve lost some weight from treatment.  For this reason, it is necessary to consider the duration over which you’ve taken Armour Thyroid and how the total time span of treatment may affect your body weight.

Short-term: If you’ve only been taking Armour Thyroid for a few weeks, you may experience significant weight loss or no change in weight.  Medical professionals typically start patients at a dosage that they believe will normalize thyroid levels, but this preliminary dosage is not always optimal for a patient.  Readjustment of Armour Thyroid dosing often occurs after the first month of treatment.

Those that were receiving adequate amounts of Armour Thyroid may experience some modest weight loss over a short-term.  Individuals that were receiving excess Armour Thyroid may experience substantial weight loss after 4 weeks.  While those that were taking too low of a dose to improve thyroid levels may not lose any weight.

Long-term: Over a long-term of treatment (several months), there’s a good chance that your dosage will be optimized based on serum T4/T3 (bound and free) and TSH.  If dosage was already a good fit for a particular patient over the short-term, weight lost at the beginning of treatment may subside over a long-term.  Eventually the body will adjust to the BMR increase from Armour Thyroid treatment and a patient may not lose additional weight.

That said, if the dosage of Armour Thyroid was too low over a short-term, and was increased over a longer duration, weight loss may occur only after a longer term.  Furthermore, patients often lose weight over a long-term due to the fact that Armour Thyroid gives them energy to work out or stay active.  If Armour Thyroid maintains heightened physical energy over long-term, and this fuels increased physical activity – you could lose a significant amount of weight over an extended duration.

  1. Hypothyroidism Severity

The severity of your hypothyroidism may determine how much weight you stand to lose while taking Armour Thyroid.  Individuals with untreated / severe cases of hypothyroidism end up gaining more weight than those with untreated / subclinical cases of hypothyroidism.  This is because the lower a person’s thyroid (T4/T3) from a normative baseline, the slower his/her BMR is likely to be.

Since individuals with severe hypothyroidism are further away from a healthy BMR prior to treatment, the contrast from pre-treatment BMR to during-treatment BMR is substantially greater among those with severe cases.  Subclinical and/or less severe cases of hypothyroidism have less of a BMR increase to reap from treatment.  Although even those with subclinical hypothyroidism may lose some weight from Armour Thyroid treatment, it will likely be less than those with severe hypothyroidism.

  1. Co-administered agents

If you’re taking any other drugs or supplements along with Armour Thyroid, it is necessary to consider that they may affect the amount of weight you lose.  Certain drugs synergistically promote weight loss when administered along with (on the same day) of Armour Thyroid.  Armour Thyroid will serve to reverse hypothyroidism-induced weight gain, but another co-administered agent (e.g. a psychostimulant) may enhance weight loss.

On the other hand, other drugs may compromise your ability to lose weight while taking Armour Thyroid.  For example, if you’re taking an antipsychotic (e.g. Zyprexa), you may notice that your metabolism slows, you feel hungry all the time, and end up eating more than usual.  In this case, the weight loss effect of Armour Thyroid may be overridden by another drug.

Take the time to review the full lineup (or stack) of drugs and/or supplements that you’re taking along with Armour Thyroid.  Realize that if administered along with Armour Thyroid, certain agents may either potentiate OR offset the weight loss side effect (or increase in BMR).  If you have questions about how other drugs (or combinations) may affect your weight, discuss them with a medical professional.

  1. Individual factors

Many individual factors may influence the amount of weight that you’re likely to lose from Armour Thyroid treatment.  Examples of such individual factors include: dietary intake, exercise, genetics, sleep, and stress.  Someone who continues to eat excess calories, doesn’t get enough sleep, and is chronically stressed – may have a challenging time losing weight while taking Armour Thyroid.  On the other hand, a person who eats healthy, reduces stress, and regularly exercises during treatment – may lose more weight than expected.

  • Dietary intake: If during treatment you are limiting calories to a healthy amount and consuming a nutrient-dense diet, you’re likely going to lose some weight. Any dietary changes that are made during treatment may affect weight irrespective of the Armour Thyroid.  That said, shoveling down excess food and/or allowing yourself to indulge in unhealthy foods (e.g. simple carbs) may interfere with Armour Thyroid weight loss.
  • Exercise: Someone who regularly exercises while taking Armour Thyroid is likely going to lose weight from the increased physical activity. A person who stops exercising after taking Armour Thyroid may lose less weight during treatment than they otherwise could’ve.  Consider the frequency of your exercise and how it may affect your weight.
  • Genetics: Your genetics may be predictive of how much weight you lose while taking Armour Thyroid. Individuals with certain genes may tolerate Armour Thyroid better than those with different genes.  Additionally, having specific genes may increase propensity to lose weight throughout treatment compared to those with other genes.
  • Sleep / Stress: Consider whether you are getting proper sleep throughout your Armour Thyroid treatment. If the treatment is interfering with your sleep quality and/or quality, it may be tougher to lose weight.  Additionally, if you poor at maintaining proper sleep hygiene, you may not lose as much weight as you could with a healthy sleep schedule.  Stress level and ability to reduce stress should also be considered as an individual factor that could influence weight change on Armour Thyroid.

Armour Thyroid & Weight Loss: The Research

There is limited available research documenting the effects of Armour Thyroid on body weight.  That said, one study suggests that average weight loss is around ~3 lbs.  While ~3 lbs isn’t a significant amount of weight, some users may experience more significant weight loss than others, possibly increasing treatment satisfaction.

2013: Desiccated thyroid extract compared with levothyroxine in the treatment of hypothyroidism: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study.

A study conducted by Hoang et al. (2013) sought to distinguish the effects of desiccated thyroid extract (DTE) from those associated with levothyroxine (synthetic T4).  Researchers set-up a double-blinded, randomized, crossover study design at a tertiary care center with 70 patients.  All patients had been previously diagnosed with primary hypothyroidism and were on a stabile dose of L-thyroxine for 6+ months prior to the study.

For the first 16 weeks, all 70 patients received either DTE (e.g. Armour Thyroid) or L-Thyroxine (e.g. Synthroid).  After the initial 16 weeks, patients were then “crossed over” to receive the opposite treatment for an additional 16 weeks.  Neurocognitive and biochemical tests were administered to the participants at pre-treatment baseline, as well as after ach of the 16 week treatments.

Results indicated that there were no significant differences in symptoms and/or neurocognitive function between the interventions.  However, a modest amount of weight (3 lbs) was lost among those taking DTE, whereas weight loss wasn’t significant among those taking L-Thyroxine.  Researchers noted that DTE induced modest weight loss in approximately half (48.6) of individuals that preferred DTE over L-T4.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23539727

How much weight will you lose from taking Armour Thyroid?

It is unclear exactly how much weight you’ll lose while taking Armour Thyroid – some studies suggest around ~3 lbs after 4 months of treatment.  Assuming you’re not taking any other medications and/or supplements that may cause weight gain, the amount of weight that you lose from Armour Thyroid will likely be contingent upon the amount of weight you gained as a result of untreated hypothyroidism.  If you gained 20 lbs as a result of undiagnosed and untreated hypothyroidism, it is likely that you’ll lose this amount during Armour Thyroid treatment.

On the other hand, if you only gained 5 lbs as a result of less severe (e.g. subclinical) hypothyroidism, you’ll likely only stand to lose around 5 lbs during your treatment.  That said, there is some evidence to suggest that Armour Thyroid may elevate T3 to supraphysiological levels.  If Armour Thyroid elevates your T3 to an abnormally high level, you may lose even more weight than you had gained from your preexisting hypothyroidism.

Additionally, you may end up losing a considerable amount of weight if your Armour Thyroid is improperly dosed.  Individuals given dosages that suppress TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels too much (such as in cases of hyperthyroidism), may lose weight as a result of excess thyroid (T4/T3).  The greater the amount of Armour Thyroid you take than therapeutically necessary, the more weight you should expect to lose.

Does everyone lose weight from Armour Thyroid?

No.  Clearly not all Armour Thyroid users will lose weight during treatment.  While modest weight fluctuations are common, not every person has the same reaction to Armour Thyroid in regards to body weight.  Theoretically, Armour Thyroid administration should help an individual burn some extra body fat (via lipolysis) and expedite BMR (basal metabolic rate).

However, if the prescribed dosage is too low, no significant weight loss may occur as a result of treatment.  Too low of Armour Thyroid dosing leaves the person stuck in a state of subclinical hypothyroidism.  Assuming dosage is properly calibrated and adjusted, individuals with severe hypothyroidism will likely lose at least a few pounds (on average) during treatment.

Have you lost weight taking Armour Thyroid?

If you’ve taken Armour Thyroid and lost weight during treatment, leave a comment mentioning how much weight you lost.  Did you notice if the weight loss occurred in any particular area of the body (e.g. stomach, thighs, etc.) or if it was widespread throughout the entire body?  To help others get a better idea of your situation, mention: your Armour Thyroid dosage, how long it took for you to lose weight, and how well you are tolerating the treatment.

Do you believe that the weight loss occurred mainly as a result of an increase in BMR (basal metabolic rate)?  Or do you think that other effects of the medication such as: appetite changes, diarrhea, increased energy, and/or decreased food cravings – helped you lose some weight during treatment?  Can you be sure that the weight loss was strictly from Armour Thyroid or did you make changes to your diet, exercise, sleep, etc. throughout treatment?

Realize that most people taking Armour Thyroid will end up losing a bit of weight throughout treatment.  That said, you shouldn’t automatically assume that normalizing your thyroid levels will get you a perfect physique or is some “magic bullet” for weight loss.  Usually it takes a combination of Armour Thyroid, regular exercise, and a nutritious diet to lose a healthy amount of weight.

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Branda October 12, 2016, 4:11 am

    Today I started my first day of taking NP thyroid, generic to Armour. I noticed that I did not get hungry all day, whereas I would normally be in the refrigerator every 3 hours. I gained approx 40 lbs before getting help. I am praying the lbs come off as easily as they came on. I am also taking 2 strong antibiotics for H. Pylori. I have 2 weeks of antibiotics, then thyroid medication will be taken alone. Wish me luck!!!

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