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Glandular Therapies

A surprising number of so-called alternative therapies actually have their roots in conventional medicine. While reflexology (once called Zone Therapy) is arguably thousands of years old, its modern use was made popular by an ear-nose-throat specialist who used the pressure from rubber bands applied to the fingers and toes for surgical anesthesia.

The “Bach” of Bach Flower Therapy is prominent British physician Edward Bach, who discovered the remedies in the 1920s and 1930s. Also during that time, equipment for colon therapy was readily available for use by general practitioners with a yen for intestinal hygiene.

Glandular therapy–using dried endocrine glands for various medical conditions–was first taken seriously by physicians in the 19th century, and anyone today who takes a deep whiff of Armour Thyroid or Nature-Throid will appreciate how they’re being used now in the 21st.

A little history
Doctors discovered that dried thyroid gland could cure underactive thyroid and that dried adrenal gland likewise could cure the adrenal collapse of Addison’s disease. Before discoveries like these, both conditions were fatal.

As the years passed, doctors experimented with other organs: dried ovary for menopause, testicle for failing male libido, thymus for the immune system, pancreas for digesting foods, spleen for anemia, and even brain for Alzheimer’s disease. The animal source has variously been cow, pig, or sheep, most treatments now derived from pigs or a special breed of sheep from New Zealand.

There’s a real logic to glandular therapy. The gland of a mammal reasonably close genetically to human beings would contain all the micronutrients needed for proper function. The hormone that an animal’s gland produced would function similarly to that produced by a person.

The death knell of glandular therapy was, not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry. Beginning in the 1940s, chemists synthesized hormone molecules that were effective, but then falsely claimed they were superior to those harvested from animals. Conventional physicians were easily sold on this, believing that to use Synthroid instead of Armour Thyroid showed their patients that they were more progressive and up-to-date.

Prednisone replaced adrenal cortex extracts and Premarin (a pharmaceutical derived from pregnant mare 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. Most doctors think Synthroid, period.

OTC glandular therapies
It’s somewhat surprising that the FDA has allowed virtually all glandular therapies except for thyroid to be sold over the counter in pharmacies and health food stores. Most of the practitioners in the US recommending them are nutritionally oriented physicians, chiropractors, and naturopaths. All our practitioners at WholeHealth Chicago are familiar with glandulars.

I’ve been told that consumers themselves rarely purchase glandulars, simply because they don’t know exactly what they’re for or how to use them. In my own practice, I prefer Armour Thyroid to Synthroid and use thymus as an immune booster, pancreas for digestion, and adrenal for energy and to help cope with stress.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s been a flurry of interest in the thymus gland, which, in children, is quite large. It produces a substance called thymosin, which in turn increases disease-fighting T cells.

The thymus gland progressively shrinks as we age, replaced by fat. This shift may explain why Covid is milder in children and can be fatal in the elderly. To study this, there’s currently a clinical trial testing to determine if thymosin injections will reduce Covid-19 severity and hospitalization rates among immunocompromised elderly who are taking immunosuppressive drugs for kidney disease.

On a final note, the textbook Medical Glandular Therapy from 1925 was published as a joint project between the AMA and the University of Chicago. It was edited by Frank Billings, MD, for whom a University of Chicago hospital was later named. If any form of alternative medicine boasts a pedigree with excellent medical credentials, it certainly is glandular therapy.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment

  1. Crystal Stevenson says:

    Hi Dr. E!
    Again, very interesting info shared that also brings questions to mind for me…
    1. How does going thru the digestive tract affect the absorption of the hormone from the donor animal?
    2. Are there other modes of using glandular therapies, like transdermal, IV…?
    3. How does one approach glandular therapies if she intentionally does not consume pork or beef products?

  2. Angel MC says:

    Thank you for writing about the history, uses, and advantages of use of glandular therapy. Having lost my thyroid gland to papillary thyroid cancer and my body not adequately converting the T4 hormone into the much needed T3 hormone, I depend on use of desiccated thyroid extract for my survival. Synthetic T4 and synthetic T3 did not work for me as the synthetic (brand name) T3 gave me unwelcome side effects, nor did it increase my FT3 level.

    Sadly, people do not realize that we cannot live without thyroid glands. Also, we are very disappointed that mainstream medical world is stuck in the false mindset of use of glandular replacement (as stated in your article). I know of many people (including myself) that have experienced clinician ignorance about testIng thyroid hormone levels (FT4, FT3, RT3), how to use and dose glandular (DTE-Desiccated Thyroid Extract). We appreciate you bring new light to the topic. Now if only we can re-educate clinicians and newly educate medical students about it!

    • Susan M Hall says:

      I too had my thyroid removed due to papillary thyroid cancer and concur with everything that you write.

      Even highly respected teaching/research hospitals like UCSF in San Francisco, CA & Penn Medicine in Philadelphia tout Synthroid as superior to DTE-Desiccated Thyroid Extract). Don’t get me started on adequate thyroid hormone dosing.

      I’ve been a runner all of my life and NDT has allowed me to continue to run inc. running the Boston Marathon.

      WholeHealth Chicago is a port in a storm for optimal health.

  3. Patricia Woodbury-Kuvik says:

    I, too, lost my thyroid to cancer and rely on prescription desiccated thyroid extract.
    My concern with OTC glandulars, (including thyroid sourced from outside the US without prescription) is the lack of standardization. Labels often indicate the amount of glandular tissue they contain but not the amount of hormone provided. If there is no standardization of the active component (hormone) it can vary from batch to batch and even within a batch.
    Many “natural” supplements are standardized and the active constituents are stated on their labels. But I have not seen OTC glandular supplements which provide this information.

  4. Anne Aldrich says:

    Dr. E., I will always thank you for helping me diagnose my low thyroid using the underarm temp. test. I often suspected I had it, owing to sluggishness, sleep problems, being constantly cold, etc.. Once you started me on Armour Thyroid, I felt like a new person. Meanwhile, my other physicians were telling me my blood levels were fine. Hah.

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• Runny nose
• Sneezing
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