Glandular Therapies

Health Tips / 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