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Is There A Real Risk of Mad Cow Disease from Armour Thyroid?
An Update on Armour Thyroid and Glandulars

by Mary Shomon

With all the concern regarding mad cow disease in Europe, there's been a corresponding increase in concern over the possibility of mad cow disease in the U.S. I've received numerous questions from readers asking whether Armour Thyroid, the natural desiccated thyroid product derived from the thyroid glands of pigs, presents a danger of mad cow disease to those taking this prescription medication. Readers have also written to ask if Armour has become synthetic, or if the formula has recently been changed.

To clear up any confusion, I contacted Daryl Wesche, RPh, Senior Drug Information Associate for Forest Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of Armour, in February of 2001.

According to Daryl, Armour has had no change whatsoever to the formulation of their product.

The ingredients of Armour continue to include the following:

  • Thyroid Powder, USP (active ingredient)
  • Dextrose, Anhydrous (inactive ingredient)
  • Microcrystalline Cellulose, NF (inactive ingredient)
  • Sodium Starch Glycolate, NF (inactive ingredient)
  • Calcium Stearate, NF (inactive ingredient)
  • Opadry White (titanium dioxide used as a whitening agent - inactive ingredient)
The thyroid powder that is the active ingredient of Armour comes from thyroid glands of U.S.D.A. inspected and approved grain-fed pigs. Only animals that are approved to go into the meat supply end up in the Armour product. That means that, basically, you would have the same risk of contracting mad cow disease by eating United States pork products -- such as ham or bacon.

It's also important to note that calcium and magnesium stearates, which are found in almost all prescription tables and supplements of all types -- are byproducts of beef and pork tallow. While Armour has calcium stearate, most of the other prescription thyroid drugs also contain calcium or magnesium stearate.

Over-the-Counter Glandulars May Not Be Safe

Where the public should have concern is with regard to over-the-counter glandular supplements. The Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies have over the past four years prohibited the import of cows and cattle feed from Europe. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also prohibited all imports of rendered animal protein products from Europe. The one area that is unregulated, however, a loophole that allows over-the-counter glandular supplements to be imported from Europe. These supplements can contain infectious parts of slaughtered animals. Many of these products do not list their country of origin or the type of animal and tissues used on their label.

Talking to ABC News, Caroline Smith DeWalle, director of food safety of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, "There is a risk that prions could remain even in supplements that have been processed because they are harder to kill than bacteria and viruses. We don't know how to clean up the products to prevent the transmission of mad cow disease. There is no safe way to assure the products of these animals aren't affected."

One family claims that a Colorado woman's death from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a variant of mad cow disease, was due to a supplement containing cow protein.

Implications for Patients

If you are willing to eat American pork products, you shouldn't be any more concerned about Armour thyroid, as far as risk of mad cow disease. Caution is encouraged, however, with over-the-counter glandular supplements, which may contain unregulated meat products from areas of Europe known to have mad cow infected livestock.

Sticking Out Our Necks and this website are Copyright Mary Shomon, 1997-2003. All rights reserved. Mary Shomon, Editor/Webmaster
All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.