• Adrenal
  • Pancreas
  • Thymus
  • Thyroid
  • Other Glandulars
  • Live Cell Therapy

  • T
    he use of animal tissues in treatment of disease and support of health is a controversial one in medicine, with opinions ranging from useless to miraculous. On the one hand, we have thyroid hormones, insulin, and estrogens, for example, which are used very commonly. On the other hand, we have what are called protomorphogens, or extracts of tissues from glands such as adrenal, pancreas, pituitary, thyroid, and ovary, which can be taken orally to help support those particular tissues in humans.

    I used to feel that it was quite simplistic to think that eating an animal’s glands would help strengthen my own like glands. Along with many other medical doctors, I also think we should be able to measure the hormone activity of many substances and monitor its effect in the body. The glandulars are usually measured by the amount of the actual glands present, but we do not really know what they do. Further, since these glands are broken down into their basic nutrients in the digestive tract, they would not necessarily go directly to improve my own glands. Previously, I was a strict vegetarian, so for that reason alone I did not want to consume animal glands, which might also have a buildup of toxins or chemicals.

    Now I feel more open to the possibility that glandulars have some use in supporting and strengthening specific organ function. On the positive side, it is likely that the basic components of those gland tissues may offer the precursor substances that our own bodies and glands can use to enhance their functions. And there may be hidden factors that may offer some benefit. The glands, like foods, supply basic nutrients, such as amino acids, oils, vitamins, other active ingredients, and a potential “life force,” where a drug will not. Some evidence from radioisotope studies suggests that glands, when eaten, do in fact get to the human glands and influence them.

    In modern medicine, glandular therapy with the use of whole glands began in the late nineteenth century when doctors suggested that their patients eat the animal parts, usually from cows, that corresponded to the weak areas of their own bodies. So people began eating brains, hearts, kidneys, and so on as part of their medical treatment. Actually, the ancient Greeks and Egyptians used glandular therapy, following their basic premise that “like heals like.” Technology and medical endocrinology evolved this therapy by isolating specific hormones at the source of the glands’ activities (just as we extracted the active pharmaceutical drugs from whole plants). These new drugs are more potent, but they also have more potential for dangerous side effects than the whole glands.

    For example, desiccated thyroid gland was first used in the late 1800s to help people with goiter and low thyroid function. Then thyroxine (T4) was isolated and used, but many doctors still preferred the whole gland as it was felt to be better absorbed and utilized. Later, the other thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and calcitonin were discovered, but these were always part of the whole gland. Today, both individual synthetic hormones and measured active thyroid tissue are used to support or replace thyroid activity.

    In the early 1920s, insulin was isolated by Sir Frederick Banting and Charles H. Best, who received the Nobel Prize for their discovery. Insulin has been a lifesaver for many diabetics, but it is also a very dangerous drug because it has such a narrow range of
    safe uses. Overdoses can cause very low blood sugar and shock. Insulin is destroyed in the gut, so it must be injected. It is possible that in the pancreas, as in other glands, certain molecules protect the active hormones from digestive juices, and some of these substances actually get into the body. The whole pancreas gland, which had previously been used, is definitely safer than insulin, but pancreas itself is not strong enough to treat diabetes once it is established.

    Currently, opinion is split over the use of animal glands and hormones, separating those in the medical profession from other practitioners, such as naturopaths and chiropractors, who cannot write prescriptions. Allopathic medicine usually is not very supportive of the nondrug or natural approaches used by its professional competitors; however, glandular therapy is much more accepted by physicians in other countries, particularly in Europe. Currently in this country, there is not much definitive research to support those approaches, and the M.D.s might say those “doctors” are not trained to treat disease. Natural practitioners often feel that what they do is safe and effective for many people who do not have advanced disease; they work preventively. But the science and dollars are behind the medical profession, even though there is a lot of good experience with the more natural therapies. There does need to be more research to show exactly what effects use of these glandulars has so that we can all better apply them to health.

    Glandulars such as thyroid, ovary, adrenal, and thymus are not prescription items and can be purchased by anyone in health food stores. Practitioners such as chiropractors, naturopaths, and nutritionists often suggest certain glandular protomorphogens in an attempt to strengthen or balance the internal function and energies of their patients/clients.

    I, personally, am not sure what to do with glandular therapy. It does not seem to cause harm, and it may do some good. As I said earlier, I am becoming more comfortable with this therapy, and I occasionally suggest adrenal, pancreas, thymus, or non-prescription thyroid for people who seem to need that support. I do not use these in medical conditions that I feel need actual hormone therapy. It is clear that more research and understanding are needed in this still-mysterious practice of using glandular substitutes.

    Glandular supplements are made in a variety of ways. The best products are prepared from freeze-dried, defatted, fresh glands, as no heat or chemicals that can destroy the enzymes are used. A vacuum process is used to dry the glands after freezing. Because no chemical solvents are used to pull out the fat and potentially toxic chemicals stored in the glands, it is suggested that the glandular tissue be obtained from range-grazed cattle that have not been given chemicals, hormones, or antibiotics. Many companies use this type of processing, and the majority of these glandulars are imported from New Zealand. Some practitioners believe that removing the fat from the glands in the least toxic way is important, as the fat can contain any harmful residues of substances contacted by the animal, and is subject to oxidize and go rancid; the remaining protein tissues are stable. Another current safe method is by use of an organic, inert solvent in a low-temperature process termed “azeotrophic” extraction. As yet there is no clear answer to which process is best, but these two glandular preparations lead the way.


    The adrenals are the glands that help us deal with stress, mineral balances, and inflammation. They release adrenaline into the body to increase activity and energy. They may be overworked these days in response to stress, caffeine, nicotine, and sugar. Adrenal glandulars are often suggested for people who experience fatigue, stress, environmental sensitivities or allergies, infections, and hypoglycemia. The symptoms that come from low blood sugar are probably more related to adrenal than to pancreas, and supporting the adrenals with freeze-dried adrenal at 50–100 mg. twice daily, along with other stress-supporting nutrients, such as the B vitamins, vitamins C and A, and zinc, may be helpful.


    Pancreas is used mainly to support digestion by providing extra digestive enzymes. Lipases, proteases, and amylases are found in the pancreas gland. Taking digestive enzymes 30–60 minutes after meals often helps us to better utilize the meal’s nutrition, especially for people whose digestion has been weakened by emotional stress, chemical irritants, or poor eating habits. I believe many people, particularly the elderly, need pancreatic enzyme support (and often hydrochloric acid as well) to properly digest and assimilate foods; this is part of many of the nutritional programs I propose in Part Four. There are those who suggest that pancreatic insufficiency is at the heart of aging and much disease, including allergies, weight problems, arthritis and other inflammatory problems, gastrointestinal problems, and cancer. Pancreatic support is important in cancer programs and the use of pork-derived pancreas for therapy is currently under investigation.


    The thymus is important to immunological activity. It contains the active hormone thymosin, which stimulates T lymphocyte (T cell) production and activity. T cells help the body defend itself against infection. Our thymus gland tends to weaken with age, and this may affect our defense system. If we experience fatigue, recurrent infections, or measurable immune deficiency, intake of oral thymus gland may be helpful. This is not well researched, but it most likely won’t cause any problems. Injectable thymus has been definitely shown to stimulate immune activity.


    Thyroid weakness can be caused by lack of iodine or too little protein in the diet and probably by emotional stress and blocked creativity as well. In such cases, thyroid glandular may be helpful in supporting the gland to work better. Nutrients that contain thyroid tissue and hormone precursors, such as iodine and tyrosine, seem to be helpful. Thyroid glandular has been used for fatigue and to support immune function.

    Other Glandulars

    Many other glandular tissues are available for support of body organs. Brain tissue has been used for ages to stimulate brain function. Likewise, heart or lung extracts have supported those organs. Stomach and duodenum, testicular and ovarian tissue, prostate, pituitary, and hypothalamus have all been employed to enhance body organ functions. Spleen glandular tissue has been popular for immunological support, to help boost lymphocyte activity, and to protect the body from infections. High-nutrient liver tissue is also part of many glandular programs to support this important metabolic organ in our bodies. As many people describe, liver may help us energetically and functionally, but it should be good liver from healthy, nontoxic animals, as this organ in particular can have high concentrations of many toxins.

    Live Cell Therapy

    This advanced technique of glandular therapy was devised by the Swiss physician Paul Niehans in the 1930s. He initially injected a whole diced parathyroid gland from a sheep into a woman who had hers removed, and apparently she did remarkably well. This therapy has expanded to the use of all possible glandular tissues, from brain to lung to vertebral disks taken from freshly slaughtered fetal sheep. The fetus is used because of the early stage of cell development and patterning that theoretically helps most to restore our cellular pattern and stimulate the organ’s regeneration and function. (The bone marrow transplant done in Western medicine is a specific, advanced technique analagous to glandular therapy.)

    This glorified live cell glandular therapy is very popular in European countries and is available in Mexico; it is not currently legal in the United States. Health seekers as well as the rich and famous travel to experience this therapy proposed to extend youth and vitality, plus generate real healing. Whether this really works remains to be seen.

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    Written by Elson M. Haas MD

    Explore Wellness in 2021