To Your Health

I desperately need more energy. I know my adrenal glands are not up to par, and I have heard about using adrenal gland concentrate for this. Is it safe to try?

Q. I desperately need more energy. I know my adrenal glands are not up to par, and I have heard about using adrenal gland concentrate for this. Is it safe to try?

A. One of the basic concepts of glandular therapy is that taking animal glandular material by mouth will strengthen the corresponding human gland. Prior to the introduction of antibiotics, glandular extracts were widely used and a considerable amount of research supported their use. Glandular therapy is still one of the cornerstones to traditional Chinese medicine and India's ayurvedic medicine. The research in glandular therapy virtually came to a halt with the advent of "modern" technological medicine. Research now concentrates on developing more and better antibiotics and other pharmaceutical drugs that are more profitable to the drug companies.

Glandular and organ extracts are known clinically as "protomorphogens." The glandular extracts most often used today are thyroid, thymus, and adrenal. From the 1890s to the 1960s oral administration of thyroid extract was the standard treatment for hypothyroid symptoms, until it was replaced by a synthetic thyroid hormone. The hormones from the thymus gland are still being investigated today and indeed hold promise for use in the treatment of such diseases as AIDS. Oral adrenal extracts have been used in medicine since 1931.

Adrenal glandular extract supplies small amounts of natural cortisone, and cortisone does have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic activities, but the amount of cortisone in the adrenal extract is likely too low to have meaningful physiological activity. Glandular products may include certain peptides in addition to small amounts of hormones. These peptides are probably best understood as messenger chemicals, assisting the gland in its communication with the cells around it, rather than having any significant hormonal activity themselves. Even at low concentrations, these peptides may still have tissue-specific activities, for instance, encouraging another tissue at a different site in the body to produce hormones.

The hormones produced by the various glands tend to become prescriptions that replace the glandular extract. One exception is DHEA, the starting material for several hormones. DHEA may be a hormone in name only, since no one knows exactly what its hormonal activity is. It is made from cholesterol by the adrenal glands and is a chemical cousin of testosterone and estrogen. For years it was thought to be a kind of chemical trash left over from making other hormones. Today, about the only thing that researchers can agree on is that DHEA is easily converted into other hormones, especially estrogen and testosterone. Nevertheless in 1994, DHEA was reclassified as a dietary supplement, allowing sales over the counter, and it enjoys a favorable reputation as a supporter of adrenal function.

Glandular extracts are said to have various rejuvenating qualities but should not be substituted for conventional medical therapy. Glandular concentrates appear to be completely safe. They do not depress the body's own production of hormones. They may provide specific raw material to help glands repair themselves and function better.

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glandular therapy, protomorphogens, peptides, DHEA

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