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Glandular Therapies

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A surprising number of so-called alternative therapies actually have their roots in conventional medicine. For example, reflexology, originally called Zone Therapy, was first discovered by an ear, nose, and throat specialist who used pressure from rubber bands applied to the fingers and toes for surgical anesthesia.

“Bach” of Bach Flower Therapy was a prominent British physician during the 1920s. Also during the 1920s and 1930s, equipment for colon therapy was readily available for general practitioners with a yen for cleansing the intestines of their patients.

Glandular therapy, which uses dried endocrine glands for various medical conditions, was first taken seriously by physicians in the 19th century. They discovered that dried thyroid gland could cure underactive thyroid and dried adrenal gland likewise could cure Addison’s Disease. Before this discovery, neither condition was controllable.

As years passed, doctors experimented with other organs, with varying success. Dried ovaries for menopause; testicles for failing male sex drive; thymus for the immune system; pancreas for digesting foods; spleen for anemia; even brain for Alzheimer’s.

There’s a logic to glandular therapy–that the gland of a mammal reasonably close to human beings would contain all the micronutrients needed for proper function in people. The hormone that an animal’s gland produced would function similarly to that produced by a person. Animal sources have variously been cows, pigs, or sheep, with most now coming from a special breed of sheep from New Zealand.

The death knell of glandular therapy was, not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry. Beginning in the 1940s, chemists had synthesized hormone molecules that worked better, they claimed, than those harvested from animals. Conventional physicians were sold on this. To use Synthroid (synthetic thyroid) instead of Armour (animal-based thyroid) seemed to indicate you were more progressive and up-to-date. Prednisone replaced adrenal cortex extracts; Premarin (horse urine) replaced extracts from the ovary.

On a side note, 30 years after Synthroid was introduced, the FDA fined its manufacturer for spreading false information about Armour thyroid. But it was too late. Doctors “think” Synthroid, period.

It’s surprising that the FDA still allows virtually all glandular extracts except for thyroid to be sold over the counter in health food stores. The main prescribers of glandulars are naturopaths, physicians trained exclusively in natural medicine and (unfortunately) unlicensed in Illinois. I am told consumers themselves rarely buy glandular extracts, simply because they don’t know exactly what they’re for or how to use them.

In my own practice, I prefer Armour thyroid over Synthroid; use thymus as an immune booster; pancreas for digestion; and adrenal for energy and to help cope with stress.

On a final note, the 1925 textbook Medical Glandular Therapy was published as a joint project between the AMA and the University of Chicago, and was edited by Dr. Frank Billings (the U of C hospital was later named for him).

If any form of alternative medicine emerges from a pedigree with excellent medical credentials, it certainly is glandular therapy.

P.S. If you would like to order a glandular product, please contact Seanna at our Natural Apothecary at 773-296-6700 extension 2001.

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