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March 20, 2023 7 min read

Are you tired of feeling like your thyroid medication isn't quite hitting the mark? If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, chances are you have been prescribed levothyroxine, the most commonly prescribed thyroid medication. But while levothyroxine is an effective medication for many people, it may not work for everyone. Some people may even feel like the medication is unnecessary and only causes unwanted side effects and expenses.

If you're thinking about switching to a different thyroid medication or even stopping it altogether, it's important to understand the safest way to do so. Can you ever completely stop taking levothyroxine? How can you wean yourself off the medication safely? In this article, we'll explore your options and give you the information you need on how to get off thyroid medication safely. Let's dive in!

Can you ever go off levothyroxine?

The answer to whether you can ever go off prescription thyroid medications like levothyroxine is not a definitive yes or no. It depends on your individual health situation, as well as the guidance of your doctor.

A thyroid disease like hypothyroidism is complex, and the appropriate treatment plan can vary widely from person to person. In most cases, thyroid patients need some form of thyroid hormone replacement medication for the rest of their life. Those who have undergone thyroid surgery or radioactive iodine ablation to treat cancer or overactive thyroid, for instance, may not be able to stop their medication since they no longer have a thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones.

However, there may be some situations where it's safe and appropriate to reduce or eliminate your thyroid hormone medication. For example, if your doctor found out that you have subclinical hypothyroidism, you might not need to take the medication. Subclinical hypothyroidism is a mild form of underactive thyroid in which your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels are just slightly raised, and your T4 levels are normal. Moreover, studies have found that not all cases of Hashimoto's thyroiditis require treatment.

It's important to note that stopping thyroid medication suddenly, even if you suspect it's unnecessary, is not recommended.

Why shouldn't you stop taking levothyroxine suddenly?

Stopping levothyroxine suddenly can have serious negative consequences for your health. For starters, your body has become accustomed to the medication, and quitting cold turkey can make it harder to adapt. Your thyroid function may become more reliant on the medication than you realize, so you need to tread carefully.

Plus, if you're not monitoring your hormone levels and hypothyroidism, suddenly halting your medication can make the disease worse. You may also experience new symptoms, and in rare cases, it could even lead to thyroid cancer.

If you think you may no longer need the medication or want to switch to another option, it's important to speak with your endocrinologist or doctor before making any changes. They can advise you on whether it's safe to stop taking the medication and how to do it properly.

If you do get the go-ahead, it is essential to have a plan for doing it safely. It's also important to keep in mind that each individual's situation is unique, and a second opinion may be necessary. However, any advice or decision should be based on actual thyroid labs and grounded in the numbers.

But my doctor told me to stop my thyroid medication temporarily?

That's not uncommon in the treatment and follow-up of thyroid cancer.

In some procedures, a high level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is needed to facilitate thyroid cancer treatment and detection of remaining, recurring, or metastatic thyroid cancer. To achieve this, your doctor may advise you to temporarily stop taking your thyroid hormone medication four to six weeks before treatment with radioactive iodine (RAI) or for diagnostic testing. This process is known as thyroid hormone withdrawal (THW).

While stopping your medication may seem daunting, it's important to follow your doctor's instructions carefully. Thyroid hormone withdrawal is a necessary step in ensuring the most effective treatment for thyroid cancer. And don't worry. Your doctor will closely monitor your health and thyroid function during this process to ensure your safety.

If you don't need cancer treatment, however, you shouldn't stop your levothyroxine suddenly.

What are the side effects of stopping levothyroxine suddenly?

If you've been taking thyroid medication like levothyroxine, stopping it suddenly can lead to negative consequences for your health, including potential side effects. Plus, your underactive thyroid symptoms will come back. Some of the possible side effects of abruptly discontinuing thyroid medication include the following:

  • Fatigue and weakness: Without enough thyroid hormone levels, you may experience fatigue and weakness, making it difficult to complete your daily activities.

  • Weight gain: Hypothyroidism can cause weight gain, and stopping the medication suddenly may exacerbate this symptom.

  • Depression and anxiety: Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in regulating mood, and stopping the medication abruptly can cause depression, anxiety, and other emotional disturbances.

  • Cardiovascular problems: Thyroid hormones play an important role in regulating heart function. Sudden discontinuation of medication can lead to heart problems such as arrhythmias or heart failure.

  • Cognitive impairment: Hypothyroidism can affect cognitive function, and stopping your levothyroxine abruptly can worsen cognitive impairment and brain fog.

  • Worsening of hypothyroidism: Stopping the medication suddenly can cause hypothyroidism to worsen, leading to other symptoms such as cold intolerance, constipation, and dry skin.

It's important to note that everyone's response to stopping thyroid medication may be different, and as explained above, it depends on the stage of thyroid dysfunction. Some people may not experience any significant side effects.

How soon will your symptoms go back after you stop levothyroxine?

The half-life of levothyroxine is typically 6-7 days, which means it can take up to 4-5 weeks for the body to eliminate the medication. During this time, as synthetic T4 levels begin to decrease, patients may experience symptoms within the first week of discontinuing their medication.

How can you wean off levothyroxine safely?

Here's how you can cut off levothyroxine from your life safely.

1. Work with a doctor

Consult with your doctor to discuss the best plan of action for weaning off your levothyroxine and switching to NDT supplements. This will ensure that you continue to receive proper care for your thyroid condition. Moreover, they'll order thyroid lab tests to determine how you are responding.

2. Take it slow

Taking prescription thyroid medication like levothyroxine means you're blocking the two-way communication between your brain and thyroid gland. The longer and more medication you take, the more this communication is suppressed.

So, when you want to reduce your dose of thyroid medication, you need to give your brain enough time to start communicating with your thyroid again. This is important because you want to be able to stay off medication in the long run.

The good news is that the thyroid system recovers pretty fast. To give your body time to recover, there are a few strategies you can use to quit taking levothyroxine. You can cut your original dose in half during week one and stop altogether at the start of week two, or cut the original dose in half and take it for four weeks, then cut that dose in half and take it for four weeks, etc., until you reach 12.5 mcg/day or less and then stop. Another strategy is to cut the original dose by 25 mcg every two months, stopping no later than six months. Finally, you can cut the original dose by 12.5-50 micrograms/day, spread out over three months.

Remember, taking these steps slowly and giving your body time to adjust can help ensure a smooth transition off medication.

3. Keep track of your symptoms

As you embark on the journey of reducing your thyroid medication dose, it's crucial to keep track of how you're feeling. Remember, reducing your medication means you're taking away the source of thyroid hormone that your body relies on, and this can lead to changes in how you feel.

In fact, research suggests that as many as 50% of people who reduce their dose of thyroid medication may experience symptoms. But don't worry. Your symptoms can actually help guide you and determine if you're reducing your dose too quickly, if you need to slow down, or if you should go back up to your old dose.

It's important to note that experiencing severe hypothyroid symptoms as you reduce your dose is generally not a good sign. However, if your symptoms are mild and tend to improve over time, this is a good indication that your body is adapting to the changes.

But don't be alarmed if you do feel worse at first. Feeling worse is a normal part of the process, as you deprescribe.

4. Support your thyroid function with supplements

We highly recommend you consider taking thyroid supplements to support your thyroid gland as you transition off of thyroid medication. These supplements can aid in thyroid hormone production, conversion, and sensitivity, which can lead to a smoother and more successful transition. Some of the supplements you can consider include:

Supplements to support thyroid hormone production

It's important to provide your thyroid gland with the necessary nutrients to produce thyroid hormones. Iodine, tyrosine, and iron are essential components in the production of T4 and T3 hormones. These supplements can help your thyroid gland produce the hormones it needs to function properly. However, it is important to note that iron supplementation should only be considered if you have a documented deficiency.

Supplements to enhance cellular sensitivity of thyroid hormone

Taking nutrients that enhance the cellular sensitivity of thyroid hormone can also be beneficial. Vitamins A and E, as well as zinc, can assist in this process, allowing your thyroid hormone to function more effectively at the cellular level.

Supplements to aid in t4 to t3 conversion

You should also consider supplements that aid in T4 to T3 conversion. Optimizing T3 production from both your thyroid gland and conversion process can help ensure a seamless transition. Zinc, selenium, and guggul extract are all helpful supplements in this process

5. Consider taking other types of thyroid hormone replacement therapy

While it is possible for a person to live for years without thyroid hormones, individuals with overt hypothyroidism cannot function optimally without thyroid replacement therapy. That's why we don't recommend stopping your therapy altogether. Instead, consider switching to another type of hormone replacement. For example, you can take natural desiccated thyroid supplements like VitaliThy instead.

Since it's technically a supplement, you don't need a prescription to buy it. You can buy this desiccated thyroid online. But don't worry. It's completely safe. This is possible because VitaliThy is manufactured in Vietnam, where the laws and regulations are different. VitaliThy adheres to the high-quality standards set by the Good Manufacturing Practices of the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture, an institution renowned for its stringent guidelines.

When you want to take an NDT supplement like VitaliThy, you may also need to introduce it slowly, starting from a low dose. NDT contains both T4 and T3, and introducing it slowly can prevent any unexpected reactions in your body. However, this cautious approach can still result in experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism during the adjustment period. As you gradually increase your NDT dose, you can expect to feel improvement in your symptoms.

Wojciech Majda
Wojciech Majda

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