People use thymus extracts to help boost their immune systems and fight off symptoms of allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders. But are these uses for real? Read on to find out what exactly thymus extract is, and whether science backs up the claims.
1. First thing’s first: What is the thymus? Your thymus gland sits below the thyroid gland and above the heart. It’s pinkish-gray, and in the shape of two ovals.
In unborn babies and throughout early childhood, the thymus plays an important role in the immune system. The gland helps produce white blood cells (T-lymphocytes) and various hormones needed to regulate the immune system. As you age, the gland gets smaller and can be less effective.
2. Thymus extract is a chemical taken from the thymus glands of cows, typically calves. Since the thymus gland is an important part of the immune system in animals and people, it stands to reason that the extract serves medicinal purposes. It’s thought to boost the immune system, allowing it to more effectively fight off various diseases and autoimmune disorders.
3. You can find it at most health stores. Thymus extract is sold as a dietary supplement or in a more purified form called Thymomodulin. Both forms are available in capsule, pill, or liquid form.
4. Glandular therapy first became popular in the 1900s. It’s based on the belief that when meat-eating animals consume the organs of their prey, they take in the nutrients contained in these organs. For example, glandular therapists believe taking in nutrients from a healthy liver could repair a damaged liver.
Scientists in the 1900s began to explore this theory and look for active chemicals in food that had health benefits. The result was the isolation of chemicals such as thyroid extracts, estrogen, and cortisol. Using the thymus of a cow to boost an immune response in a person follows the same principle.
5. It’s possible that the extract may help ward off a cold — at least in people who get sick frequently. Some evidence suggests that thymus extract may help prevent respiratory infections in children and adults. Other research has found that it may help strengthen the immune system as you age. However, these studies are small-scale and more research is needed.
6. It’s used to treat autoimmune diseases. Because thymus helps boost and regulate the immune system, it’s been used as a treatment for autoimmune diseases and conditions such as hepatitis B and C, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, and eczema.
Research is still in its early stages and has had mixed results. Most studies have used an injectable form, so findings don’t necessarily confirm the effectiveness of oral supplements. Some studies have shown it has positive effects in treating hepatitis B. But other research suggests that it’s not effective in slowing the progression of HIV in people already showing symptoms.
7. It might help with food allergies. Allergic reactions happen when your immune system senses a threat and goes into attack mode. Thymus extract may help to calm rather than boost the immune system in people with allergies. One small study found that children with food allergies who were given thymomodulin had a more mild reaction when they were exposed to the foods they were allergic to.
8. Thymodulin may help asthma symptoms. Some asthma attacks are triggered by an overactive immune system, which is why thymus extract may help reduce symptoms. Some research found that taking thymomodulin helps improve asthma attack frequency and symptoms.
9. Is it safe? No side effects from thymus have been reported yet. However, because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate dietary supplements, there is always a risk. Even if the food industry bans the use of diseased cows, such as mad cow disease, supplements aren’t held to these bans. For this reason, you should always use caution when buying thymus.
There isn’t much evidence to support the use of thymus extracts. Always check with your doctor before using dietary supplements.