Thyroid and Adrenal Glandulars: Are They Safe and Effective?

Thyroid and Adrenal Glandulars: Are They Safe and Effective?

No doubt you've at least heard of these special types of supplements. 

Glandular supplements have been used for many years and many people have experienced dramatic results with their use. 

Does that mean you should consider using them?

It really depends on your body and what you are trying to treat. 

These supplements are most frequently (and traditionally) used to treat problems related to thyroid dysfunction and adrenal dysfunction - two conditions that plague many people with serious and debilitating symptoms. 

But what exactly are thyroid and adrenal glandulars and are they safe to use?

Learn who should use them, how to use them safely and common pitfalls to avoid if you choose to supplement: 

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What are "Glandular" Supplements?

Put simply they are the smashed up hormone glands from animals (usually bovine or porcine) that are formulated and desiccated to allow humans to take them orally or by mouth. 

Anyone consuming a glandular formula is ingesting the hormone glands of animals. 

It may sound crazy, but it actually works quite well - for many people and may be worth considering in your case. 

There are many misconceptions about these types of supplements ranging from how they work to if they are even safe to consume. 

With the right information you can safely determine if you should consider using them. 

So why or how do these glandulars work?

The exact mechanism is not well understood but there are several functioning theories that may explain why they help so many people. 

The first is simple:

#1. The glandular extracts from animals tend to contain active hormones

This is true of medications such as natural desiccated thyroid hormone such as Armour thyroid. 

This medication contains active T4 and T3 thyroid hormones which are available for immediate use in the body and is one of the reasons why NDT can be used in place of synthetic thyroid hormone medications. 

While this is a benefit to many people it can also be a potential pitfall. 

Why?

Because taking exogenous hormones (meaning taking hormones from a source other than what your body produces naturally) may have a negative feedback on your body and shut down the natural production of hormones in your body

Glandulars that contain cortisol can suppress the HPA axis

This is not necessarily an issue with thyroid glandulars, but it can be a problem with poorly formulated adrenal glandulars. 

Glandular extracts that contain hydrocortisone (or some cortisol equivalent) can impair HPA axis and lead to long term issues if not used safely or correctly. 

This is really only a problem if you purchase adrenal glandulars from shady companies or out of country suppliers. 

Hydrocortisone is a regulated medication in the US and should NOT be contained in over the counter supplements. 

Don't let this scare you into never considering the use of glandulars. 

If you purchase high quality supplements you can avoid any potential issues and avoid your supplements being "laced" with hormones that shouldn't be there. 

Which brings us to our second potential mechanism of action:

#2. Glandular supplements may contain inactive (or less active) hormones and enzymes. 

This is probably the reason (again we don't have a lot of research on the topic) why glandulars may be so effective. 

While we know of many active enzymes and hormones in both the adrenal gland and the thyroid gland there are also many others that we aren't necessarily aware of or completely understand how they work. 

Taking adrenal glandulars or thyroid glandulars may therefore provide your body with enzymes and hormones that you would otherwise not be able to get from medications or from any other source. 

An example of this is the thyroid hormones T2 and T1 which can be found in natural desiccated thyroid hormones. 

Current pharmaceutical preparations of thyroid hormone contain only T4 and/or T3 (and not T2 or T1) which may be part of the reason that patients do much better on NDT glandular formulations. 

This same concept likely applies to hormones and enzymes found in adrenal glandulars. 

This mechanism would also free us from the issues that may arise from HPA dysregulation or HPA suppression and the use of ACTIVE hormones. 

Adrenal glandulars may provide certain and specific substrate that simply aid in the function of your adrenal glands without suppressing the HPA axis by providing cortisol directly. 

The bottom line?

We don't know exactly how glandulars work in the body but we have a pretty good idea by extrapolating clinical data and summaries from various patients over hundreds of years. 

As long as adrenal and thyroid glandulars are formulated correctly you should not have HPA suppression issues. 

Pharmaceutical Glandulars vs Over the Counter Glandulars

"Glandulars" come in 2 flavors: 

#1. Over the counter supplements - One such example is the Thyroid Adrenal Reset Complex

#2. Prescription grade medications - Several examples include porcine derived Armour thyroid, Naturethroid and WP thyroid

It's very important to understand the difference for a few reasons. 

Any official pharmaceutical medication must align itself with FDA regulations and rules. 

That means that if you are taking a thyroid glandular you can rest assured (to a large degree) that each capsule/pill is regulated. 

This means that each capsule will contain the SAME amount of active hormone and all inactive ingredients must be labeled. 

The same is not necessarily true for over the counter supplements. 

While supplements must comply with basic FDA regulations they are not held to the same standard. 

A supplement company can "say" that a product contains adrenal glandulars but in reality they may not even be in the supplement! 

On the flip side they may add substances such as active hormones that shouldn't be there and which may cause negative side effects. 

You can avoid issues like these by following guidelines to ensure that you get a high quality "pure" product: 

  • Purchase only high quality supplements from reputable brands and suppliers
  • Make sure to use supplements formulated in the US (avoid companies that ship overseas)
  • Only consume glandulars from animals that are 100% grass fed and that consume Non-GMO foods
  • If using adrenal glandulars look for a bovine source (avoid other animal sources)
  • If using thyroid glandulars look for a bovine source for your over the counter supplements and look for a porcine source for medications (this is standardized so you don't need to worry about it)
  • Avoid using glandulars that contain ACTIVE hormones such as cortisol or thyroid hormone - these hormones will disrupt your HPA axis and may lead to dependence
  • Ensure that your supplier checks for pathogenic bacteria (total aerobic count, yeast, mold, salmonella, E. Coli and S. Aureus) and make sure they come from a country which does not have reports of BSE/TSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy)
  • Listen to your body when supplementing - just because glandulars work for some people doesn't mean they will work for you.

Using Adrenal Glandulars for Adrenal Fatigue

Many people suffer from some degree of fatigue which can be traced back to adrenal problems otherwise known as adrenal fatigue

Of the many supplements used to treat adrenal fatigue I've found the most success with adrenal glandulars, especially when combined with adrenal adaptogens. 

Adrenal glandulars tend to be less commonly used for some of the reasons listed in this post, but that may be a mistake and a missed opportunity for many patients. 

You'll know if your supplement has adrenal glandulars in it if it contains something like "adrenal gland": 

Example of adrenal glandulars on a supplement label

A good supplement will also show you the source (which animal it came from and where). 

The above sample shows bovine sourced adrenal gland from Argentina.

If you are considering using glandulars for adrenal problems then make sure you are using a supplement which does NOT contain active cortisol or hydrocortisone. 

The use of these hormones may suppress your HPA axis (just like pharmaceutical grade steroids) and promote a long term problem. 

It's tempting to use supplements that contain active hormones because you often feel quite good while using them, but the long term problems outweigh any immediate benefits. 

When using glandulars for adrenal fatigue make sure to start out on a low dose to make sure you tolerate the supplement. 

From there you can slowly titrate (increase) up your dose over time. 

Most people experience a significant benefit within 4-8 weeks after starting these supplements. 

Can adrenal glandulars be used long term?

Yes, but I generally recommend you limit your duration to something around 6-12 months. 

Do you need to titrate down or off your dose?

Not usually, but some sensitive patients may find better results by slowly reducing their dose over time. 

Can adrenal glandulars be combined with other medications and supplements such as adaptogens?

In most cases you can definitely (and should seriously consider) using glandulars in combination with other therapies including adrenal adaptogens and vitamins that nourish adrenal function. 

Using Thyroid Glandulars for Thyroid Dysfunction

The use of glandulars for thyroid dysfunction is much different than for that of adrenal dysfunction. 

There are 2 types of thyroid glandulars:

Type #1 = Prescription medications (Armour thyroid, WP thyroid, etc.). 

Type #2 = Over the counter bovine supplements (see the example below). 

example of thyroid glandulars in an over the counter supplement

Over the counter supplements will include "Thyroid Gland) and include the source. 

The primary difference between these two types is that the prescription medications contain active T3 and T4 (along with T1 and T2) hormones. 

In addition, the value of hormones in each tablet/capsule is standardized. 

Compare this to over the counter thyroid glandulars generally don't contain active hormones. 

Between these two supplements the prescription medications tend to work (and are necessary) for better for most patients. 

Some patients with early thyroid disease, such as those who are not currently taking thyroid medication, may benefit from over the counter thyroid glandulars. 

However, if you are already taking thyroid medication such as Levothyroxine or Tirosint then you will most likely not benefit tremendously from the addition of over the counter glandulars. 

In this case you may find relief with the use of prescriptions, however. 

Side Effects of Using Glandular Supplements

Is there any danger to using adrenal and thyroid glandulars?

Serious issues can be avoided by using only high quality supplements that are free of active hormones. 

Does that mean that you will NOT experience any problems with using glandulars if they are free of hormones?

While most people do great on glandulars, some people may be sensitive to using them and should therefore proceed slowly with dosing. 

Patients sensitive to glandulars (thyroid or adrenal) may experience these side effects: 

  • Jittery sensation or sensation of "too much energy"
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Acute worsening of fatigue
  • Intestinal issues (increase in acid reflux)
  • Stomach pain after consumption

These side effects generally resolve once you stop using the supplement but they also may disappear over time. 

Is there a concern for hormone or HPA suppression while using adrenal and thyroid glandulars?

Provided you use supplements that do not contain active hormones then you shouldn't have a problem with HPA suppression. 

Back to you

Thyroid and adrenal glandulars may provide a safe and effective way to treat hormone imbalances in your body such as hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue. 

Caution should be used when considering these supplements as they may contain inactive enzymes and hormones from animal glands. 

The use of adrenal glandulars for adrenal fatigue tends to be quite effective and may be worth considering if you suffer from fatigue or low energy. 

Prescription thyroid glandulars may be more effective for individuals who suffer from thyroid disease, especially when compared to over the counter thyroid glandulars. 

As always make sure you listen to your body and use only supplements that help you feel better. 

Now I want to hear from you:

Have you used adrenal glandulars or thyroid glandulars before?

Did they work for you?

Why or why not?

Leave your comments below! 

Westin Childs
 

I’m Dr. Childs and I write these posts. I’m a physician that specializes helping patients lose weight, have more energy and FEEL better. My practice focuses on hormone imbalances, thyroid issues and weight loss resistance. My goal is to provide the BEST information out there on the internet that is both actionable and trustworthy. Get my free 3 day meal plan here. You can also find more about my personal journey back to health here.

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