The Surprising Way Hillary Clinton Treats Her Thyroid Condition

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton is hypothyroid, but her treatment is surprising to mainstream doctors. Scott Olson, Getty Images News

Former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State -- and 2016 Presidential candidate -- Hillary Clinton is certainly no stranger to media attention. In 2015, her decision to run for the presidency, along with the controversy over her email server while working for the State Department, have been hot topics.

While most of us don't have our latest checkup results published in major newspapers, it's common for presidential candidates to release their medical records.

Usually it's done after a candidate is the nominee, but Mrs. Clinton apparently decided to get a jump on any concerns about her health by releasing hers early, in July of 2015.

It was interesting to learn, as reported in a letter from Mrs. Clinton's doctor, Lisa Bardack, MD, that "Mrs. Clinton is a healthy 67-year-old female whose current medical conditions include hypothyroidism and seasonal pollen allergies..." The full letter is posted online.

Hypothyroidism -- the condition Mrs. Clinton has -- is an underactive thyroid. Symptoms can include a slowed metabolism, fatigue, weight gain, and other issues.

Of particular interest, however, was the line in her doctor's letter that states:

"Mrs. Clinton's current medications include Armour Thyroid..."

Armour Thyroid is a brand name for natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) -- a prescription thyroid hormone replacement medication made from the dried thyroid gland of pigs.

NDT includes the thyroid hormones T4 and T3 and other cofactors, and has been used to treat hypothyroidism for more than a century. It is, however, not popular with most conventional and mainstream physicians, who abandoned use of NDT in favor of levothyroxine, a synthetic form of the T4 hormone, back in the 1950s.

Mrs. Clinton's physician, Dr. Bardack, is an internist who graduated from medical school in 1990, and does not appear to have a holistic or integrative practice. Yet her patient, Mrs. Clinton, is being treated for her hypothyroidism using a medication that is not considered the "standard of care," according to the controversial 2014 Hypothyroidism Guidelines, published by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) and the American Thyroid Association (ATA).

Those guidelines state:

"There is no evidence to support using natural desiccated thyroid hormone -- i.e., Armour, Nature-Throid -- in preference to levothyroxine in treating hypothyroidism...therefore desiccated thyroid hormone should not be used for the treatment of hypothyroidism."

Interestingly, Mrs. Clinton is not alone, as the number of prescriptions for NDT -- including Armour, Nature-throid, Thyroid WP, and generic NDT -- have been growing in recent years. Some patients appear to do better on a combination of the T4/T3 hormones, and NDT seems to be able to safely and best resolve symptoms for some patients.

It's notable that this is one of the first times that someone as well-known internationally as Mrs. Clinton has not only publicly released information that they suffer from hypothyroidism, but that they are taking a natural desiccated thyroid drug like Armour Thyroid.

(Occasionally, celebrities have revealed that they have a thyroid condition, or that they are taking thyroid medication, but it's not common, and much rarer to hear about a well-known person taking NDT. For example, Secretary Clinton's opponent for the 2016 Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders, released his medical records in January of 2016, revealing that the Senator was also diagnosed with and being treated for hypothyroidism.

In recent years, Modern Family star Sofia Vergara publicly talked about her thyroid cancer and subsequent treatment with Synthroid brand levothyroxine, but that was apparently only because she was a paid spokesperson for the drug company that makes Synthroid.

Whatever your politics, the release of Mrs. Clinton's health information is good news for the many thyroid patients who take natural desiccated thyroid. For the past two decades, patients have been lied to or misled by uninformed doctors who say things like, "natural thyroid is going off the market," "Armour has been discontinued," "natural thyroid drugs are dangerous," "NDT is unstable and unreliable," or even, ridiculously, as Public Citizen insisted, it's made of cows and could cause mad cow disease!

Patients have faced insurers, HMOS, and even federally-funded health care programs that have taken natural desiccated thyroid off their "covered" drugs lists, and told patients they will only covered for levothyroxine, whether or not it works for them.

We've had task forces of endocrinologists -- working under organizations that are themselves conveniently funded by the levothyroxine manufacturers -- write so-called "Hypothyroidism Guidelines" that claim that only levothyroxine should be used to treat hypothyroidism. This is despite an absence of research showing that levothyroxine is more effective than NDT, or that there are risks associated with NDT -- and research that shows that NDT is as safe and effective as levothyroxine. Talk about conflict of interest!

Now, it's common knowledge that a prominent politician is taking natural desiccated thyroid. The more we hear about situations like this, the harder it is for doctors to spread misinformation (like NDT being off the market), and the harder it becomes for doctors to refuse to consider NDT as a treatment option. And that's a good thing for thyroid patients.

An additional note: On a purely personal level, I have to wonder if Mrs. Clinton herself has ended up researching her hypothyroidism treatment options -- including at this site -- and advocating for herself with her doctor. Why do I wonder? First, it's very uncommon for a mainstream internist to prescribe NDT. And, second, interestingly enough, as part of the "email dump" by the State Department, which provided thousands of Mrs. Clinton's emails from her private server, there was one that referenced an article here at the Verywell Thyroid site!

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