By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Dorine Lam, RD, MS, MPH

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Some common unprocessed herbs for Adrenal FatigueGlandulars refer to raw animal glandulars and non-glandular tissues or extracts of these tissues that are normally dried and grounded.

There are many tissues, organs and glands in the bodies of animals. Commonly available glandulars include the following: thyroid glandular, adrenal glandular, thymus glandular, testes, and ovaries. Less frequently used glandulars are from the pituitary, kidney, liver, pancreas, spleen, lung, heart, brain, uterus and prostate.

An herb is a plant that is valued for flavor, scent, or other qualities. Herbs are used in cooking, as medicines, and for spiritual purposes. Certain herbs can be beneficial for recovery from Adrenal Fatigue, while other herbs can be quite detrimental, delaying or preventing the healing progress.

The use of glandulars and herbs for Adrenal Fatigue is widespread. Due to the lack of standardization and research, there is common consumer misinformation and misuse. While the proper use of glandulars and herbs has its place as part of the adrenal recovery program, its use must be under proper judicious guidance for best results because of frequent atypical responses elicited when such compounds are used. Glandulars and herbs, while exhibiting desirable adaptogenic and tonic properties, may become stimulatory in nature when entering a body whose adrenal function is compromised. The more advanced the Adrenal Fatigue, the more prominent the stimulatory effects appear. This is most commonly noted in those with advanced adrenal weakness. For this reason, what is seemingly harmless to one person can be toxic when used by another.

This article will look at the most commonly used glandulars and herbs used in the Adrenal Fatigue setting and discuss their various attributes.


Healers have been using tissue extracts as one armamentarium in the fight against disease. For instance, extract of bone marrow has been used for the treatment of anemia. Desiccated thyroid is still used by many alternative practitioners in the management of hypothyroidism. Many people take glandulars as a perceived source for natural hormones. In fact, the use of glandular therapy forms the foundational elements and components of modern day prescription of hormones including thyroid, prednisone, and estrogen.

Glandular therapy began with the discoveries made by Swiss physician Paul Niehans, M.D., in the 1920s. Dr. Niehans went on to develop live cell therapy at his clinic in Montreux, Switzerland. Thousands of patients came to his clinic as a last resort. His therapies became famous for rejuvenating all that came to see him: wealthy businessmen, royalty, presidents, and celebrities. Live cell therapy is still practiced in Europe. It is estimated that 5,000 German physicians utilize cell therapy and millions of patients have benefited over the last 50 years. By the mid 1930s, adrenal cell extracts in liquid and tablet forms were produced by several companies. By the late 1930s they were being used by tens of thousands of physicians. Since 1968, they are still being made by some of the leading pharmaceutical companies.

These extracts are used to replenish and eventually normalize adrenal function. An advantage over cortisol hormone replacement is that adrenal cortical extracts can be discontinued once they have done their job of repairing adrenal function.

Glandulars can theoretically come from any animal, but most often they are derived from cow (bovine), while others come from pig (porcine) and sheep (ovine).

Use and Safety

Good tasting food is not always good for Adrenal FatigueThe different glandulars and glandular extracts have various properties and uses. Thymus and spleen extracts may influence the immune system. Thyroid extracts can help with low thyroid. Adrenal extracts may have anti-inflammatory activity. Testes extracts may influence androgen levels, and ovary extracts may influence estrogen levels.

One of the primary setbacks in the modern day use of glandulars is the difficulty of standardized testing and thus lack of research. Modern scientific studies involve isolation of variables into one variable to be involved in a double blind experimental setting. This is clearly not possible in the case of glandulars, which contain enzymes, vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids, minerals, neurotransmitters and a host of nutrients in addition to the tissues within the gland. Testing would not be conducted on any single substance or hormone, such as cortisol or thyroxine, but a number of different substances that are present within each glandular extract.

For example, let’s look at brain tissue. If brain tissue were consumed, one would expect to ingest hundreds of different components that are present within brain tissue. One of these components would be the long-chained fatty acids EPA and DHA. It is quite likely that the Omega-3 oils could improve brain function. I won’t even discuss the potential benefits of other components in brain glandular such as sphingomyelin, phosphatidylserine, etc.

Glandulars contain many substances including hormones. The major problem that arises is not knowing how much of these hormones or other substances are available in these extracts since they can vary from batch to batch and animal to animal. Also, since there are so many substances within these glandulars, it is difficult to know which of the substances is having a therapeutic influence and how they interact with the myriad other substances in the body. Because they have so many substances in them, it is difficult to determine and measure what kind of effect they may have in the long run when ingested as a supplement. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that glandulars do possess healing properties if used properly based on antidotal evidence for over 80 years.

The best glandulars usually comes from freeze-dried extracts from organic cows raised in New Zealand. There has been no Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy in New Zealand. Organic fed cows are raised on grass and aren’t fed any dead animal products (the source of Mad Cow Disease). They are government inspected and raised without the use of pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. Reputable glandular products are subject to in-process and finished product testing. These tests include microbial contamination tests to assure acceptable total bacteria counts and the absence of disease-causing bacteria.

1. Desiccated Thyroid Glandulars

Desiccated thyroid is the dried and powdered thyroid gland. During the process of preparing this glandular, the fat and connective tissue are removed. Desiccated thyroid is often from hogs, but may also come from cows and sheep.

Desiccated natural thyroid is available as a prescription drug for the management of low thyroid. Pharmaceutical preparation is standardized and contains both thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Two products, Armour thyroid tablets (porcine) and Thyrolar (bovine) are FDA-approved drugs.

Natural desiccated thyroid drugs have been available since the late 1800s, but fell out of favor in the 1950s, with the introduction of the heavily marketed synthetic levothyroxine. More recently, however, these drugs have become increasingly popular with patients and practitioners, in part because some patients feel better on these drugs. The primary brands are Armour Thyroid, made by Forest Laboratories, Western Pharmaceuticals’ products Naturethroid and Westhroid, and Bio-Tech’s Bio-Thyroid.

Prescription desiccated thyroid drugs are NOT the same as over-the-counter thyroid glandular supplements. There are countless over the counter thyroid extracts marketed as dietary supplements. Although many probably do not have any significant hormones in them, there are also many that do. Choosing the right product becomes a trial and error exercise for many.

Many with Adrenal Fatigue are taking prescription thyroid medication. The use of thyroid glandular in an Adrenal Fatigue setting is therefore usually not necessary. In fact, concurrent use of thyroid glandular and prescription thyroid replacement may lead to hyperthyroidism. If indeed the thyroid needs support, there are many other more gentle nutrients (such as kelp, iodine, tyrosine) which can serve as first line support to start. Low thyroid function secondary to Adrenal Fatigue usually improves by itself once adrenal function is normalized.

2. Adrenal Glandulars

Adrenal glandulars are widely promoted and used for Adrenal Fatigue. Many report a sense of increased energy when previously fatigued while others report sense of calmness when previously anxious after taking glandular. These adaptogenic properties, however, are usually demonstrable in those with mild Adrenal Fatigue and not in those with advance adrenal weakness. Those with advanced Adrenal Fatigue are often stimulatory. While this may be considered as a desirable outcome at first as energy returns, there are significant side effects if taken long term. Taking adrenal glandulars chronically to sustain energy is one of the common reasons for adrenal recovery failures due to the addictive and withdrawal side effects of these compounds.

First and commonly, the body may develop tolerance, and over time, more glandular are needed to produce the same effect. Second, at high dose, these glandular may actually trigger and precipitate adrenal crisis as the body’s ability to handle the stimulant reaches maximum tolerance level. Sufferers may experience a “wired and tired” feeling resulting in insomnia and hyper-irritability along with extreme fatigue. Third, withdrawal and rebound symptoms may surface when the glandular are stopped, evidenced by even greater fatigue. Fourth, glandular may trigger a series of paradoxical and undesirable effect, ranging from extreme fatigue, palpitation, blood pressure sensitivity, and anxiety, among others.

Because of these possible side effects, the general consumer should use adrenal glandular on a short term basis provided that the Adrenal Fatigue is in a very mild or beginning state. The more advanced the Adrenal Fatigue, the more one should stay clear of adrenal glandular and its use is best left to the experienced clinician.

Due to the lack of standardization, there are many products on the market available to the consumer. Not all are created equal. Perhaps the most potent product is called Isocort. Isocort is a popular over-the-counter freeze-dried adrenal cortex glandular supplement containing herbs and medium chain triglycerides that may have cortisol-like properties. It’s advertised as providing a standardized, stable, and “gentle” dose of the adreno-cortical substance equivalent to 2.5 mg of cortisol per tablet. Ingredients of Isocort are listed are as follows: Freeze-Dried Adrenal Cortex (soluble fractionation) from New Zealand Sheep. Echinacea Extract (trace amount). Prunus and Lomatium dissectum root isolate (kreb concentrate-2%) in pellet base of lactose and lactase. No cortisol is actually listed in the ingredients. Clinically, if a strong steroidal effect is desired, prescription steroids such as Cortef or hydrocortisone are far more effective on a dose equivalent basis as compared to Isocort, though Isocort does seem to produce steroidal-like properties. Isocort equivalents are popular because it can stimulate the body, leading to increased energy and reduced fatigue. Long-term intake exposes the body to side effects common with other glandulars. Additionally, long term ingestion of echinacea (an Isocort component) is not indicated. Isocort should be taken with great care and under supervision of an experienced health care professional even though it is available as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement.

3. Thymus Glandular

Thymus extracts can have substances that influence the immune system, but it is very difficult to know what kind of short term and long term effect these glandular have on the immune system. There are countless immune substances in the body and it is extremely difficult to predict all the potential interactions when ingesting a thymus glandular. Furthermore, there could be wide variations in response between different people.

© Copyright 2015 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

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Dr. Lam

Each herbs have its own pros and cons, and knowing the properties of each one is the key in your educational process. Once you know, you will better be able to make that decision. There is no “BAD” herbs provided you know how to use, when to use, and the proper delivery system. Generally speaking, the more advance your condition, the more “detrimental” risk it carries.

Dr Lam