Thyroid disease – Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) – Part 5 of 5 – Rational treatment or cannibalism?

The veins of the thyroid gland.
Image via Wikipedia

At the end of the world as we know it, there is one other treatment option for hypothyroidism that I refrained from mentioning.

I am not aware that this treatment is practiced anywhere in the world, though it is certainly a possibility.  The availability of animals with similarly functioning thyroid glands has obviated the need to consider this option in the past.

However, if both Synthroid and animal-derived thyroid products become unavailable, what about the use of human thyroid tissue?

My immediate reaction is revulsion.  It’s one thing to take dessicated bovine or porcine thyroid tissue, package a  little in sterilized capsules, then ingest it as thyroid hormone replacement therapy.

But could the same be done with human tissue?  I believe so.  At TEOTWAWI one would expect plenty of people would be dead or dying.  Harvesting cadaver thyroid glands, much like kidneys and hearts are harvested for transplantation, is a consideration.  If I were dying and my child needed my thyroid in order to live, I would gladly have them benefit from an organ my corpse could not use.

Is it cannabalism to take another person’s thyroid gland and ingest it a tiny bit at a time?  The Armour thyroid package insert states that the normal human thyroid gland contains about 200 mcg of levothyroxine (T4) and 15 mcg of liothyronine (T4) per gram of gland.  For most patients, then, about half a gram of (undessicated) human thyroid tissue would suffice as daily replacement therapy.  (Dessicated weight should be only about 0.1 gram or 100 mg, similar to Armour thyroid dosing.)

Is this different than a blood transfusion or kidney transplant?  It feels different, somehow.  Does the need for a therapy to stay alive make it acceptable and/or moral?  The next logical question is, would the need for calories and protein to remain alive make cannibalism (not murder) acceptable or moral?

If ingesting human thyroid tissue is not acceptable, another theoretical possibility might be isolating thyroid hormones from donated plasma.  Yet surely the technology to accomplish this is less likely to exist after an Armageddeon event than the ability to harvest animal thyroid tissue.

I include this final option for the sake of completeness, and leave the question of morality to the reader.  This is just one of many heartrending questions those who survive may have to face after their friends and loved ones have died.

For more answers to your thyroid questions, see HYPOTHYROIDISM – Answers for the End of the World.

Copyright © 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

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About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
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12 Responses to Thyroid disease – Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) – Part 5 of 5 – Rational treatment or cannibalism?

  1. james says:

    Like one of the other commentors, I had to have my thyroid gland removed a few yrs ago – severe thyroiditis & hashimotos. I use Armour because the synthroid does not make me feel right – the lack of t3, I suspect. I will have zero problems harvesting human thyroids when pigs, sheep and cattle are unavailable. And if freshly dead humans aren’t available, I know plenty of ways to make some new ones.

    Info on the dessication process would be much appreciated. I have heard in other forums that it needs to be a no, or low heat process, but no one has outlined a workable solution that I’ve been able to find.

    [I believe using a food dehydrator would work just fine. The active hormone has survived cooking in hamburger meat. – Doc Cindy]

  2. Ed, MD says:

    Well done on all counts, Cynthia. As a physician, I appreciate how difficult it is to research and write these posts. You asked for suggestions re your blog. Mine…keep ’em comin’

    • Laura m. says:

      If things got that bad whereas people could not get any medication of any kind incl over the counter, life would be not worth living, and many would have no desire to live in a world without hope and societal breakdown.

      • pa4ortho says:

        What you describe is how large sections of the world live on a daily basis – no access to medicine or healthcare, unstable political/social environments, lack of food/clean water. —– If you chose to curl up in a ball and die that’s your choice, but I suspect you will be surprised at what you are capable off…. if not….. how’s your thyroid doing? LOL

        • laura m. says:

          To: pa4ortho: Sister and hubby have to take Synthroid. Several friends are diabetics, taking insulin, and several others take blood thinners and other heart meds. If people get sick and run down from not getting proper meds, then it is kind of like a bad case of the flu or pneumonia when you feel too sick to get out of bed. These folks just won’t care to go on it would seem, as they get worse until they die off from these diseases. Nursing homes and other medical help will be shut down in worse cases like power failures (as in Katrina or Japan crisis).

          • pa4ortho says:

            Quit worrying about when the lights go off and work your contingency plans.
            Develop personal resilience and live …… or not ….. and someone like me gets your stuff 🙂
            I also encourage you to visit a hospital in the developing world to gain a different perspective. Above all, be happy. Chose to be your best. Through your preparation you will be a confident comfort to the sick, scared, depressed, and even the dying.

          • pa4ortho says:

            Ok – so my unfortunate sarcastic sense of humor missed the point. Sorry, I will try again. My goal is to help, I hope I don’t offend you or others. My biggest medical concern for you is your mindset.

            Read your posts. You outline the problem. You then state that when “nursing homes” are not available, giving up is a solution. There is no doubt that without resources many will feel sick, scared, depressed, anxious, and some will even die. Now read the other posts – one man focuses on the solution of stockpiling and storing medications. Another is thinking out of the box and trying to research improvised solutions based on what thyroid tissue may be available. I am encouraging you to look past the problem and focus on the solution.

            Thyroid: read this post and take action.
            Diabetes: read that post and take action – do your own research and share with us what you learn.
            Blood thinners: 1% chance of a CVA (stroke) per year with AFIB (atrial fibrillation). Post-disaster, with increased trauma risk and no labs, with a diet change, you may chose to stop coumadin anyway.
            Blood pressure meds: most will survive the short term.

            Sometimes our greatest enemy is ourselves. I encourage you to focus on preparing for success as you contemplate your medical response to disasters.

            One of my distant ancestors survived a horrible winter famine above the arctic circle in freezing weather with almost no food. He stayed in bed and preserved calories and warmth. In the end, out of over 1500, only about 300 survived. He did not quit. He formulated a plan and carried it out. It was not easy, it was not comfortable, he focused on success and did what he needed to do to survive. His story was told through generations and then written down and passed down.

            In a separate story, my own mother at the age of 9 was responsible for food production in a war zone for the entire family as well as sending food to her father, who was successfully defending the homeland in WW2. The descendants of the 300 survivors are now known as Finland.

            Almost all of my family survived WW2. A lot of red army… not so well prepared…died by the cold and by the knife.

            Quit worrying about when the lights go off and work your contingency plans. Develop personal resilience and live …… or not ….. and someone like me gets your stuff 🙂
            I also encourage you to visit a hospital in the developing world to gain a different perspective. Above all be happy. Chose to be your best. Through your preparation you will be a confident comfort to the sick, scared, depressed, and even the dying.

  3. Terence W says:

    Very interesting article for me since I have no thyroid. I have begun stockpiling Thyroid S from Thailand. I take 4 grains a day 240mg. The reformulation of Armour and then the shortage was enough for me to stop depending on it and the suppliers.

    Terence W – a hypothyroid survivor

  4. Sophia says:

    Thank you for your wonderful blog. My question is would a rat’s thyroid gland be a reasonable alternative to pig’s one for harvesting? How about a rabbit’s or a squirrel’s thyroid glands? Though we have plenty of wild pigs in the Southern States, catching one without making a lot of noise and potentially putting oneself in danger is very tricky…

    [Dr. Koelker replies: I don’t know enough to answer about rodents, but the thyroid of other large animals has been used, including sheep. Early treatment of advanced hypothyroidism is described in the British Medical Journal. One patient was diagnosed in 1891 with severe disease. Her doctor injected her with an extract of thyroid from a freshly killed sheep. She continued this for many years until she was put on an oral liquid preparation, followed later by a tablet. She died 28 years later at age 74, having used the thyroids of 870 sheep. I am in the process of tracking down the article that described preparation of the sheep thyroid extracts.]

  5. James says:

    Very interesting article. I would love any information you could find on the dessication process. It seems that pigs will be very useful for medical purposes being able to provide thyroid replacement hormones and insulin.

    • Pigs and humans share many similarities in their chemistry, physiology (and sometimes behavior . . . )

      I’m looking for a description of the desiccation process. In the meantime, here are 2 articles you can check out, if you can find them:

      Murray GR. The life history of the first case of myxoedema treated by thyroid extract. Br Med J 1920;i:359-60.

      Burgess AM. Myxedema– controlled by thyroid extract for fifty-two years: report of a case. Ann Internal Med 1946; 25:146.

  6. cw says:

    Using human tissue from a cadaver that is sterile is one thing. Harvesting tissue from a human that dies of unknown causes would not be prudent. You may be looking at viral or bacterial infections, radiation, etc.

    [Entirely correct. Thanks – Doc Cindy]

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