According to Dr. Michael T. Murray, nationally known lecturer and co-author of the best seller Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, "The most effective method for maintaining or attaining a healthy immune system is supporting the functions of the thymus gland... to a very large extent, the health of the thymus determines the health of the immune system."
The thymus is quite responsive to environmental stimuli and thus is either the beneficiary or victim of the choices that we make every day. In addition to a healthy diet, adequate rest, water and exercise, we must learn to manage stress effectively. Antioxidants like vitamins C and E, beta carotene and selenium help to protect the thymus from free radicals, unstable molecules that damage our cells.
Other nutrients such as zinc, vitamin B-6 and certain amino acids are important because they are required for the production of thymic hormones. Vitamins and minerals serve as cofactors and catalysts in the enzymatic pathways that regulate our metabolism. As we age, many essential vitamins and minerals become depleted and must be replaced. Their presence is essential for the proper working of the chemical factories within our cells.
The thymus gland lies just beneath the breast bone. It is large in infants and children but atrophies as we grow older. The thymus seeds the body with immature T-cells, the white blood cells responsible for "cell-mediated immunity". This gland secretes special chemicals called cytokines (i.e. interferon, interleukins) that influence the specialization and migration of T-lymphocytes throughout the body. The thymus also releases hormones that regulate immune function. These thymic hormones help immune cells to mature, "programming" them to recognize tissues as either self or invader. Recognizing the enemy is the first and likely most important step in the immune response.
The thymus shrinks as its role shifts from immune cell production to regulation of the immune response. Lower thymic hormone levels in the blood are associated with depressed immunity, and are typical of the elderly, individuals with chronic infections, autoimmune disorders, cancer and AIDS patients. The thymus is extremely susceptible to free radical and oxidative damage caused by stress, radiation, poor diet, infection and chronic illness. People who have undergone radiation, chemotherapy or other immune-suppressing treatments also typically have low thymus function. Whatever the cause, depressed immunity can lead to an increase in the frequency and severity of colds, fatigue, allergies, or the onset of opportunistic infections.
Glandular hormone replacement therapy is based upon the use of animal glandular and organ substances to bolster the function of the human body's organs and glands. Modern medicine replaces the thyroid gland with thyroid hormone, the adrenal gland with cortisone, the pancreas gland with insulin, and the ovaries with estrogen and progesterone. However, physicians have not routinely replaced the thymus gland. As the thymus shrinks and weakens with age, the most effective and direct way to stimulate it is by consuming thymus tissue.
Thymic factors are said to be immune modulators. Thymic extracts have been shown to normalize the ratio of T-helper cells to suppressor cells whether the ratio is low as in AIDS, chronic infections and cancer, or high as found with allergies and autoimmune diseases like psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. In other words, thymic factors appear to influence the immune response up or down as needed.
Julian Whitaker, MD, famous advocate of wellness and nutrition and author of the nationally syndicated newsletter, Health and Healing, is a long time proponent of thymic replacement therapy. In a recent report in which he focused on the benefits of a single thymic protein, he stated "Even if you're healthy, I recommend a maintenance dose of thymic protein to support your immune function. Because decreased thymic function, like falling hormone levels and gray hair, is an inevitable part of aging, it is a valuable addition to your general anti-aging/longevity program."
Through his clinical experiences with thymic supplementation, Dr. Burgstiner said he observed 10 cases of multiple sclerosis go into remission.
Through his clinical experiences with thymic supplementation, Dr. Burgstiner said he observed 12 cases of systemic lupus go into remission. Some of the patients were using as many as 22 different drugs and are now diagnosed as asymptomatic.
Thymic factors highly refined or crudely extracted help balance a TH2 dominant immune system by increasing IL-2 and T cell counts.
The thymus gland contributes to the maturing of T-cells. Thymus gland extracts will assist this process when the thymus gland is shrunken, as happens commonly in aging. Through his clinical experiences with thymic supplementation, Dr. Burgstiner said he observed 28 cases of rheumatoid arthritis cases go into remission where patients no longer needed to use prednisone, methotrexate or gold shots.
Thymus extracts help immune system cells to mature and kill the virus as claimed by several clinical reports. Through his clinical experiences with thymic supplementation, Dr. Burgstiner observed that 84 cases of Hepatitis B and 34 cases of Hepatitis C were arrested, as well as the elimination of all traces of Hepatitis B infection in himself. Oral thymus extracts routinely raise thymosin alpha-1 serum levels.
However, thymosin alpha-1 treatment had no biochemical or virological effects in a meta-analysis of five placebo-controlled trials with a total of 353 patients with chronic hepatitis B virus infection. [Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2001;15(12): pp.1899-1905]
Through his clinical experiences with thymic supplementation, Dr. Burgstiner said he observed 7 cases of squamous cell cancer of the skin cured.