Healthy Aging

The Beauty of “Beasty Bits”

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Glandular products for advanced support

What is Glandular Therapy?

When it comes to the matter of the endocrine glands and the hormones they produce, modern medicine has done well in isolating and synthesizing in the lab the very hormones we produce in our bodies. Whether it’s the insulin injected by a Type I diabetic, the testosterone cream applied by a man with hypogonadism (aka “low T”), the estrogen patch worn by a woman faring perimenopause, or the thyroid hormone swallowed by the postpartum mother with Hashimoto’s, hormone preparations help keep us healthy, sane, and strong.

Yet the spectrum between being “A-ok” and needing a pill, cream, patch, or shot of a hormone is broad. What happens when we’re not quite functioning normally, but not struggling quite enough to justify taking exogenous hormones? Or what if we are in need of those pharmaceutical preparations but can’t tolerate their side effects? Or what if we prefer to use something more natural?

In many cases, targeted nutritional therapy can be of benefit, as can dietary changes, exercise, smoking cession, and herbal medicines. Another strategy of great value is that of glandular therapy, also known as organotherapy, which uses the entire gland of an animal to support the corresponding gland in a human. Instead of extracting just a single hormone, glandular therapy delivers the hormonal precursors and other nutrients associated with a gland, to gently and holistically tonify the body.

Instead of extracting just a single hormone, glandular therapy delivers the hormonal precursors and other nutrients associated with a gland, to gently and holistically tonify the body.

Likely originating from hunter-gatherer societies in which eating animal glands were observed to have beneficial effects, the role of animal organ preparations in healing are well documented throughout history and even appear in the writings of Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) and Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79), among others. Henry Harrower, MD, was an early endocrinologist who authored several books on the topic,[1] describing the concept of “like healing like.” Different than the similarly-named philosophy of homeopaths, Harrower used “like healing like” to explain – with sensible scientific reasoning – how the substances in a gland when taken in a supplemental fashion, may support a gland with deficiency or defective function.

The use of glandular preparations has become less commonplace in conventional medicine in recent decades, however, likely because researchers switched their attention to isolated hormones and their specific activities. Nevertheless, glandulars – affectionately nicknamed “beasty bits” within the industry – are still used in integrative and functional medicine healing systems to this day, respected for their gentle, tonifying effects.

Why not just use pharmaceutical hormone therapy?

Unlike hormone replacement therapy, which uses synthetically- and/or naturally-derived isolated hormones, glandular therapy is always naturally-derived from the tissues of other animals (usually cows, lambs, or pigs). By using the whole gland (ideally only processed by freeze-drying) and not just an isolated product of that gland, glandular therapy provides the body with hormonal precursors, peptides, and other nutrients.[2] In other words, instead of handing the body a little log cabin, it provides the body with the building blocks and tools it needs to produce its own. Although this is a slower-acting way of healing, it may ultimately be a more gentle and sustainable approach to return the body to a state of balance.

Isolating active constituents and single hormones can be highly effective in supplying just that one thing. An example of how this approach can be life-saving is that of type I diabetes, a condition in which the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone essential for getting glucose into the cells. Without insulin, type I diabetics would die, but through the regular use of pharmaceutical insulin, many type I diabetics enjoy long, fruitful lives. Indeed, the discovery of this hormone has saved many, many lives.

A side effect of hormone preparations is that they have the potential to disrupt the body’s own hormone production. For example, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are signals that travel from the brain to the testes, where they stimulate the production of sperm and testosterone, respectively. When a man takes exogenous testosterone, such as in the form of a testosterone cream, injection, or pellet, the brain perceives the higher levels of hormone and in turn dampens the release of FSH and LH. This is why men on testosterone replacement therapy are susceptible to lower sperm counts, testicular atrophy (smaller testes), and infertility.[3] Glandular nutrients, however, nourish the target organs, gently nudging them to produce their own endogenous hormones without disrupting normal feedback signals to or from the brain.

Another perk to glandular preparations is that they may be taken orally – no needles, unsavory lozenges, or messy creams are required to use them. “But don’t they just get degraded by the stomach acid?” one might ask. Fortunately, it has been shown that the peptide macromolecules (“macro” meaning “big”) found in glandular products can indeed be absorbed intact from the digestive tract and confer a measureable effect.[4],[5],[6]

How do glandulars work? (Wait, do they?)

Glandulars are thought to provide growth factors that stimulate regeneration of similar tissue, and also contain the enzymes they secrete.[7] The most researched example of this pertains to a preparation of the thymus gland of calves. The thymus gland, which sits at the front of the neck, is responsible for producing T-lymphocytes, or T-cells, white blood cells that help the immune system fight off infections and that may help fight cancer.

Glandulars are thought to provide growth factors that stimulate regeneration of similar tissue, and also contain the enzymes they secrete.

In both animal and human studies, a calf thymus derivative was shown not only to remain active after oral ingestion, but also to induce the maturation of T-lymphocytes. In addition, the glandular preparation was shown to support the function of B-cells (antibody-creating immune cells) and macrophages (white blood cells that “eat” infections). Further clinical trials in humans demonstrate that calf thymus products may improve the symptoms associated with infections, allergies, and malignancies, and can even improve immune function in the elderly.[8],[9],[10] Calf thymus has also been shown to prevent respiratory infections[11] and to treat asthma, hay fever, and food allergies in children.[12],[13],[14] With respect to immune-compromised individuals, bovine thymus has also demonstrated its ability to correct T-cell defects in individuals with HIV[15] and to restore the number of white blood cells in cancer patients with chemotherapy-induced depression of white blood cell counts.[16]

Calf thymus has also been shown to prevent respiratory infections and to treat asthma, hay fever, and food allergies in children.

Supplementing with animal tissue also delivers to the body all of the nutrients found within that gland or organ. For instance, products prepared from brain tissue, which are sometimes used in the treatment of neurologic conditions, are replete in the numerous fatty acids and fatty acid derivatives required to repair damaged nerves and regenerate damaged myelin (the protective sheath around the nerves).[17]

This makes it important to choose not only the right kind of gland, but also sourced from the right type of animal. For example, pancreas glandulars sourced from pig (porcine preparations) confer different effect than those sourced from cows (bovine preparations). Whereas pigs consume both meat and vegetables, cows primarily consume grass. For this reason, porcine pancreatic glandulars contain the broad spectrum of pancreatic enzymes, whereas beef has the narrowest. (One note on safety: when choosing bovine-sourced glandular products, it’s important to choose glandular products sourced from countries with no history of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or other such diseases.)

Taking a more global approach to health, the organs and glands of animals have a different nutritional composition than the flesh (or meat) of animals, and are rich in the vitamins and minerals naturally found in the tissues. For instance, consuming the liver of any animal (whether it be through eating paté or taking a liver supplement) not only delivers protein to the body, but also vitamins A, E, D, and K, and hefty doses of ready-to-absorb iron and vitamin B12.[18],[19],[20]

Indeed, glandular and organo- “beasty bit” therapies offer us robust and novel approaches to healing from the animal kingdom.


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