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Glandular Tissue, Extracts, Supplements, Therapy, Healing, Thymus


 “Healing Glands” Part One - The Thymus


Michael Sellar

Scientific journals used to carry reports of the use of raw glands or extracts in the treatment of disease, and in the early part of the century drug companies made these preparations available for medicinal use. When the hormones from glands were able to be isolated, the use of whole glands or glandular extracts went out of favour. However, many hundreds of practitioners today still find that an endocrine system that has got out of harmony can be rebalanced by using glandulars. Health writer Leslie Kenton tells us that “oral glandular therapy.......appears to have considerable therapeutic value..........The major controversy is not so much whether they work but how they work.” Either whole glandulars or protomorphogens can be used.

Whole glandular concentrates contain the basic raw materials necessary for the rebuilding of a gland after injury or depletion. Protomorphogens are not whole tissue concentrates but extracts. They are used in both hypo functioning or hyper functioning glandular states.


The term protomorphogen describes all the functions of a group of cellular substances including RNA, DNA, enzymes, coenzymes, nucleotides, trace metals and probably other unknown factors. DNA contains the pattern making, building block code, which under the influence of proteins, enzymes, trace metals and other activators, transfers this code to RNA. Protomorphogens carry the genetic code, control the formation of new protein, and hence growth, metabolism and repair, and influences, through a feedback relationship with each cell, its vitality and youthfulness.

When protomorphogen extracts are injected directly into the bloodstream, a high degree of organ specificity has been demonstrated. The use of oral supplements has been controversial because it was thought that the digestive system broke all foods down into its single constituent parts, ready for absorption. If this was the case then the cellular substances within the supplement would be of questionable clinical value. Many health practitioners who rely on clinical effectiveness to determine therapeutics have continued to use these supplements in spite of the controversy. Prominent nutritional educators such as Dr. Jeffrey Bland have pointed out that glandular based food supplements contain polypeptides that do survive digestion and act as hormone like messengers to activate target tissues.

Fortunately recent research findings have shown that the gut wall is not as impregnable as was originally thought. Undigested or partially digested food molecules can be found in the bloodstream. This means that RNA, DNA, polypeptides, hormones, enzymes, etc., can be absorbed. This may account for why doctors and health practitioners find such therapeutic value in using oral glandular supplements.


The thymus is located just beneath the left side of the sternum at the level of the second rib. It is present in all mammals and is called the sweetbread in calves. The thymus has been described as the master gland of the immune system, the brain of the immune response, producing the T lymphocytes, which accounts for around half the body’s defence resources. The group of hormones secreted by the thymus are called thymosin whose instructions are sent to the lymph nodes and spleen. Less of this hormone is produced as we age.

The importance of the thymus in immunology has only recently been confirmed. Indeed, until the 1950’s there was little understanding of the function of this vital gland, although references to its role in health maintenance date back to the early 1900’s (e.g. Dr. Foulerton’s 1902 experiments in the treatment of cancer with thymus extract).

The mistaken belief generally held was that the adult thymus was relatively redundant, although it was accepted that it played an important part in the immunological development of the child. Then it was discovered that in humans whose thymus glands had been removed or destroyed, there followed a deficiency or dysfunction of the parts of the immune system that protected against infection or cancerous growth. During this period, post-mortem examination of soldiers killed in battle in the Korean War, showed that the corpses had larger thymus glands than men of the same age who had been hospitalised and had died from chronic illness. The conclusion that was eventually drawn was that under sustained, long term physical stress or during a period of chronic illness, the thymus shrinks rapidly.

Recent research findings detail how the thymus helps the immune system to distinguish between “self” or “non-self” in the highly complicated process of antibody production. The production of sufficient numbers of mature T cells which are mostly developed in and secreted by the thymus enables the body to respond to disease swiftly and appropriately, avoiding the often fatal auto-immune reactions seen in subjects whose thymus glands produce abnormal amounts of immature T cells either due to or from an under-active, damaged or hypertrophied condition. Defectively functioning T cells are apparent in most degenerative diseases such as diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and ulcerative colitis.

Since the research boom into viral infections such as HTLV began, some of the more intricate functions of this gland have been revealed. As J.F.A.P Miller predicted in The Lancet in 1967, we are now witnessing the “second golden age of thymology”. In the treatment of cancer, and more especially in its prevention, thymus extract supplementation can be a crucial factor in its success, as shown by Burnett and others (1976).

In all mammals, the ageing process coincides with a falling off in thymus activity and an increase in the rate of cancer. By stimulating thymus activity throughout our lives we may be considerably reducing our risk of cancer. One of the signs of the body’s response to severe injury or sudden illness is a mass destruction of lymphocytes and a reduction of the physical mass of the thymus gland itself. This is another reason for the practitioner to pay careful attention to the healthy function of the gland when treating conditions such as mental and emotional stress, postoperative states, and all physical traumas.

Carson B. Burgstiner, MD. writing in the Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia 1991 disclosed how he contracted Hepatitis B from an infected patient, but overcame the disease by taking a thymus gland supplement for a number of weeks. He believes the use of thymus gland supplements have enormous potential in diseases of the immune system from simple allergies such as hay fever to cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and AIDS. He was in the process of conducting clinical studies in the use of thymus supplements in the above disorders as well as asthma, scleroderma and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The use of oral thymus extract has been used in studies in a number of conditions with positive results. These include infections such as Epstein-Barr, hepatitis B, and correcting T cell defects in HIV. Thymus has also been used to restore chemotherapy depressed peripheral leukocytes in cancer patients, as well as in children who suffer from allergies and recurrent infections of the chest and upper respiratory tract.

It would also be wise to use oral thymus extract after exposure to radiation, such as x-rays, CT scans, etc.

A hypo functioning gland may be apparent if any of the following signs are present:

Frequent colds and infections

Regular flu-like symptoms

Regularly swollen lymph glands

Sweating for no obvious reason

Frequent fatigue

Soreness on both sides of the neck at shoulder level

Early periods

A hyper functioning gland may be apparent if any of the following signs are present:

Pale skin/anaemia

Fragile bones

Poorly developed muscles

Susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections/asthma

Long arms and legs

Enlarged upper two front teeth/small lateral incisors

Soreness under left rib when pressed

Delayed puberty/menses

Thymus & Nutrition

Vitamin A

This vitamin is known to have beneficial effects on the immune response which relates partly or mainly to its favourable influence on the thymus gland. Dr. Eli Seifter et al  found that this vitamin was able to increase the size of the thymus in mice and their ability to fight infection. They also showed the vitamin partly prevented the thymus from decreasing in size and activity during stress.

Vitamin B Complex

Most of the B complex group have a role within the immune system. In animals it has been shown that T cell count can drop by as much as 80% in folic acid deficiency. Babies require a good maternal supply of this vitamin as well as choline, vitamin B12 (and methionine) for stronger immune systems and larger thymuses.

Vitamin C

This vitamin is found in a high concentration in T cells. Their proper functioning is not possible without it. With infections, the level of vitamin C in T cells drops rapidly. The worse the illness, the bigger the fall.


Deficiency of this mineral detrimentally affects T cell immunity. Animal studies show that low zinc levels shrink the thymus. When young adult mice were fed a zinc deficient diet, their thymus glands were reduced to a third of their normal size, and immune function was greatly impaired. On reintroduction of zinc their glands were brought back to normal size and there was full restoration of T cell antibody mediated response.

Another study found that atrophy of the thymus could be reversed in children by taking zinc supplements. Zinc deficiency interferes with the functioning of T helper cells and thymulin, a hormone required for full development of T lymphocytes. Zinc is of particular importance to the unborn child since it is needed to ensure a large and active thymus gland. Part of the influence of zinc on the thymus could be because it is needed to utilize vitamin A.


According to Dr. Richard Passwater, “chromium is a key to maintaining the health of your immune system”. It does this by making insulin more efficient. Many immune cells including T lymphocytes have insulin receptors on their membranes. The action of white blood cells in destroying invaders is enhanced by insulin. This is of particular importance to diabetics who are prone to infections. The production of the lymphokine, interferon, can be stimulated by insulin.


This mineral is needed by cytotoxic T cells to destroy viruses that have invaded cells.

Essential Fatty Acids

M.S.Marku et al has suggested that prostaglandin series 1 (PGE1), derived from linoleic acid, may regulate the thymus and function of T lymphocytes.

D.F.Horrobin et al has demonstrated that PGE1 acts in vitro like thymic hormone in developing T lymphocytes. He states that using GLA in the form of evening primrose oil will prevent thymus atrophy in mice.

Thymus & Stress

When stress is first experienced the immune system is enhanced. If the stress is sustained, the immune system becomes depressed with T cell dysfunction. The stressor affects the pituitary gland in the first instant and then the adrenal glands which in turn affects the thymus. The pathway is from adrenals to thymus therefore attention must be paid to the adrenal gland also in treating the various health problems where support of the thymus would be effective.


The importance of the thymus gland has been unrecognised for too long within conventional medicine. The use of enzymatic extract of the gland should be considered to promote phagocytic and lymphatic activity in stimulating the healing response and defence against infections and immune system challenges.

Sources for this article:

Bartlett, P. The Thymus (Enzyme Digest, Nov. 1991)
Heiby, W. The Reverse Effect (MediScience Publishers, 1987)
Peshek, R. Balancing Body Chemistry With Nutrition (Coded Colour Systems, 1977)
Kenton, L. Ageless Ageing (Century Arrow, 1986)
Chaitow, L. The Raw Materials of Health (Thorsons, 1989)
Meek, J. How To Boost Your Immune System (ION Press, 1988)
Selye, H. The Stress of Life (Longmans, 1957)
Passwater, R. Chromium Picolinate (Keats, 1992)
Murray, M. Glandular Extracts (Keats, 1994)
Burgstiner, C. (Townsend Letter for Doctors, Nov. 1991)

This article was first published in Enzyme Digest No. 31 Winter 1996/7

Any health and medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a health care professional.