I have a confession to make. I lost it this week. COMPLETELY lost it.
A new patient came in because she wasn’t feeling well and had some health problems she wanted to discuss. Nothing new and unusual, right?
On reviewing her medication and supplement list, it turned out a health care provider was having her use supplements from a well-respected company that contained extracts from animal glands.
This lady was taking extracts from animal thyroid, brain, adrenal, ovary and testicular glands. FIVE different types of endocrine glands were being used. She had been taking them for over a year and had never had labs drawn to check hormone levels.
“What’s the big deal, Dr. Jen? These are all-natural supplements and are safe, right?” I can hear some of you asking me this.
Well if you know me, see me in the office, or have been following my blog you know that I feel nutritional supplements are powerful medicine. It’s like a knife that can be very useful but can cut you if you’re not careful.
So why are gland extracts dangerous? Gland extracts contain hormones that, despite the claims of some practitioners, do NOT “balance” your natural hormones. They replace them. And if that “hormone replacement” goes on long enough your glands can lose the ability to produce those hormones, making you dependent on those supplements for the rest of your life.
An example from the medical side of things is prednisone. There are patients who have inflammatory conditions that require long-term prednisone treatment. They are known as “steroid dependent.” Asthma, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other forms of autoimmune disease are among the many conditions that can require long-term steroid treatment.
After a period of time patients on long-term prednisone cannot come off it. Their adrenal glands lose the ability to produce endogenous steroids like cortisol and patients taken off the steroids will die. They have what is known as iatrogenic Addison’s disease.
My new patient has been taking supplements that contain an unknown amount of animal adrenal gland steroids (among other things) for over a year. Without any blood tests or monitoring at all. Now can you see why I saw red? I was able to stay professional (mostly) but it was a near thing.
My readers need to be aware of two things.
- Go and check all of your supplements. I don’t care where they came from or who recommended them to you. If ANY of the ingredients have the words “gland extract” in them, make an appointment with your medical provider (preferably an MD or DO) and ask whether you should continue taking them or stop. If you are told to stop them, ask for specific instructions on HOW to stop taking them safely. If you have been taking them for some time, you may need to slowly and gradually decrease the amount you take to wean off and give your own endocrine glands time to resume functioning normally.
- In the future if a medical professional (doctor, naturopath, chiropractor, etc.) recommends to you that you take a supplement like this (for “adrenal support,” “thyroid support,” “menopause support” or for any other reason) they need to order bloodwork before starting. Insist that they check bloodwork, NOT saliva testing, and demonstrate that the gland(s) in question are not functioning normally. Ask how long to expect to need the supplement and if they say you will need it for the rest of your life, get a second opinion from a medical doctor.
Taking hormone replacement is a big deal. Supplements are not tested to the same standards as pharmaceuticals and supplement-quality hormone testing and labeling is NOT good enough. If you have Addison’s disease (the only thing that would require you to take adrenal steroids for “adrenal support”) this is a very serious disease. Same with hypothyroidism, ovarian failure or testicular failure.
DO NOT take supplements with animal ovarian extracts for menopause. They contain estrogen and progesterone. If they contain enough to improve your hot flashes and night sweats, they contain enough to stimulate breast and uterine tissue and to increase your risk of heart attacks. You cannot get the good effects without the risks. Anyone who tells you different is misinformed or deliberately misleading you.
There is a lot of crap out there. Unfortunately some practitioners in their zeal to help patients feel better believe the marketing hype of some supplement companies.
Be careful, be skeptical, and above all be safe!
QUESTION: Have you ever taken supplements with gland extracts in them? What was your experience?