Glandulars, thyroid, adrenal, thymus gland supplement health benefit and side effects, review of research studies
Feb 24 2014 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Over my many years as a doctor, nutrition expert, and web site information provider, I have been asked many times regarding my thoughts on glandulars. Many patients have the impression that if they ingest a glandular tissue or extract from an animal, the particular organ that they are thinking of improving, such as their adrenal glands, will improve if they take an adrenal glandular. Are they right?
     In addition to herbs and plants, healers in the past (and currently) used tissue extracts as one armamentarium in the fight against disease. For instance,  extract of bone marrow has been used for the treatment of anemia. Desiccated thyroid is still used by many alternative practitioners in the management of hypothyroidism. Many people take glandulars as a perceived source for natural hormones. Glandulars may also contain enzymes, vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids, minerals, neurotransmitters and a host of nutrients.

As of 2014 I have not come across any good and recent human clinical trials.

My opinion
I have not studied glandulars in detail, but my impression is that they probably have a role to play in health and disease when used as a supplement, but it just seems that this area is very difficult and complicated to research since we would not be testing a single substance or hormone, such as cortisol or thyroxine, but a number of different substances that are present within each glandular extract. Scientists find it much easier to isolate a particular molecule and test it by itself as opposed to testing a tissue extract. But, for instance, let's take brain tissue. If brain tissue was consumed, one would expect to ingest hundreds of different components that are present within brain tissue. One of these components would be the long-chained fatty acids EPA and DHA. It is quite likely that the omega-3 oils could improve brain function. I won't even discuss the potential benefits of other components in brain glandulars such as sphingomyelin, phospthatidylserine, etc.
   Hence, it does make sense that eating brain tissue could improve mental function. Would the same principle apply to other glandular tissues? Thyroid glandulars could improve thyroid function in those who are hypothyroid. But, would eating heart tissue improve heart function? I don't know.
   There's also another factor to consider: prions. I don't know whether brain glandulars could potentially be contaminated with these infectious agents. I have not studied this field in depth to know for sure.

What is the definition of glandulars?
As promoted by those in the natural health industry, glandulars refer to raw animal gland and non-gland tissues or extracts of these tissues. These tissues and extracts are normally dried and ground-up.

What are common glandulars?
There are many tissues, organs and glands in the body of animals. Commonly, most people who buy glandulars use the following: thyroid glandular, adrenal glandular, thymus glandular, testis, ovary. Less frequently used glandulars are from the pituitary, kidney, liver, pancreas, spleen, lung, heart, brain, uterus and prostate glandular.

Which animals do Glandulars come from?
Glandulars can theoretically come from any animal, but most often they are derived from cow (bovine).  Others come from pig (porcine) and sheep (ovine).

What are potential uses?
The different glandulars and glandular extracts have various activities. Thymus and spleen extracts may influence the immune system. Thyroid extracts could help with low thyroid. Adrenal extracts may have anti-inflammatory activity. Testis extracts may influence androgen levels, and ovary extracts may influence estrogen levels.
     The problem with glandulars is that they have so many substances in them it is difficult to determine and measure what kind of effect they may have in the long run when ingested as a supplement.

How do Glandulars work?
Glandulars contain may substances including hormones. The major problem that arises is not knowing how much of these hormones or other substances are available in these extracts since they could vary from batch to batch and animal to animal. Also, since there are so many substances within these glandulars, it is difficult to know which of the substances is having a therapeutic influence and how they interact with the myriad other substances in the body.

Desiccated Thyroid Glandular
Desiccated thyroid is the dried and powdered thyroid gland. During the process of preparing this glandular, the fat and connective tissue are removed. Desiccated thyroid is often from hogs, but may also from cows and sheep. Desiccated natural thyroid is available as a prescription drug for the management of low thyroid. The pharmaceutical preparation is standardized and contains both thyroxine and triiodothyronine. There are countless over the counter thyroid extracts marketed as dietary supplements but they probably do not have any significant hormones in them.

Thymus Glandulars
Thymus extracts could have substances that influence the immune system, but it is very difficult to know what kind of short term and long term effect these glandulars have on the immune system. There are countless immune substances in the body and it is extremely difficult to predict all the potential interactions when ingesting a thymus glandular. Furthermore, there could be wide variations in response between different people.

Adrenal glandulars, can they help?
Adrenal extracts may contain some cortisol which does have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic activities. But the amount of cortisol in the supplements is likely to be too low to have meaningful physiological activity.

Testis and Ovary Glandulars
Testis and ovary extracts may contain testosterone and estrogen, respectively, but again, the amount of these hormones in the glandular supplements are unlikely to be significant.

Emails
Q. While looking for tryptophan information I came across your web site. My question is about the adrenal glands - is it possible to really rebuild them ? Do glandulars really work. What aryurvedic herbs would really nourish and support them. Is there a formula (haven't seen any.)

Q. I have been taking raw bovine thyroid glandular over the counter from a health food store for about 5 years. I take the recommended dose. I noticed a great change after the first few days taking it. My body warmed, I had clearer thoughts, and eventually a thin place on my scalp re-grew hair. I dont want to stop but I am concerned about safety. I had a hysterectomy at 32, no ovary function by 42, and am 53 now. I cannot take HRT as I had breast cancer at 30. Thyroid test I had done did not show low thyroid, but my body told me differently.

Q. Can soy protein (e.g., shakes, bars) interfere with the absorption of supplemental thymus glandular?
   A. I don't know.

Q. I've taken an herbal complex before that contained adrenal, orchic, thymus, and pituitary glandular substances in it. I was just wondering what these glandulars are and if they are safe to take?
   A. There are no standards in glandular products so it is difficult to make any statements that would apply to all products. Each glandular product has to have its own clinical testing to determine its benefits and risks.

Q. I have been diagnosed with adrenal exhaustion via a biofeedback test. In essence, according to the practitioner, I'm stressed producing significant amounts of cortisol which is affecting my digestive enzyme production and sleep among other processes. The practitioner gave me adrenal glandular supplements (80% bovine tissue concentrates- not extracts, and 1mg parotid). I haven't taken the supplements because as I research online I keep seeing comparisons of adrenal supplements to the medication Prednisone. I have always heard from people who have taken Prednisone that they gain significant amounts of weight and bloating/fluid retention. I'm wondering, can a biofeedback test (electrode-type test on the accupressure points of the hand) truly determine adrenal exhaustion (cortisol production, digestive enzyme, hydrochloric acid production, etc), and can bovine adrenal tissue concentrate supplements cause weight gain, Prednisone-effects, affect the metabolism and/or thyroid, or affect hormones other than cortisol in the body? I'm concerned about throwing off my metabolism, gaining weight, or negatively affecting my endocrine system.
   A. I am skeptical of such a diagnosis. Some alternative medicine practitioners who don't have a good understanding of human physiology do such tests and give a diagnosis of "adrenal exhaustion." 

I think your website is wonderful. There is such a wealth of information! I have a question regarding glandulars: Is it safe to take both adrenal glandular extracts in conjunction with thyroid glandulars? Or, is this overkill?
    Firstly, one has to know the reasons for taking either one, let alone both. Much depends also on the glandular dosage. Plus, different manufacturers may have different potencies in their products. There are too many variables to give a simple answer.

I've been taking some kind of a raw glandulars in tablets. The fact is, there's an internet site (gnosis), that says: "animals hormones destroy the lisosomes of spermatozoom and ovum". Is it true or not?
    There are hundreds of different hormones and their benefit or side effects depends on which ones are being used and in what dosage and for how long.

What type of Dr. would one contact if numerous life threatening symptoms occur due to taking high doses of numerous glandular materials (allergic reaction) months after consumption? The entire medical community is clueless on how to treat. Who would have any idea on how to treat reactions? What should I suggest to investigate condition wise? Bovine ovary, thyroid, parotid, adrenal, pituitary PMG etc were taken.
    A reliable and trustworthy general practitioner who is familiar with natural products.