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Glandular therapy (cell therapy, tissue therapy) is the use of whole animal tissues or extracts of these tissues for health maintenance and the therapy of mild health problems typically involving the glands of the body. Glandular therapy is “tissue specific.” In other words, liver extracts benefit the liver, thyroid extracts benefit the thyroid gland, adrenal extracts benefit the adrenal gland, and so forth. Current research supports this concept that the glandular supplements have specific activity and contain active substances that can exert physiologic effects. While skeptics question the ability of the digestive tract to absorb the large protein macromolecules found in glandular extracts, evidence exists that this is possible. Therefore, these glandular macromolecules can be absorbed from the digestive tract into the circulatory system and may exert their biologic effects on their target tissues.

Several studies show that radiolabeled cells, when injected into the body, accumulate in their target tissues. The accumulation is more rapid by traumatized body organs or glands than healthy tissues, which may indicate an increased requirement for those ingredients that are contained in the glandular supplements. For example, animals with thyroid cell damage showed rapid uptake of thyroid cells with active regeneration of the damaged thyroids, and liver extracts that were infused into animals caused liver regeneration.

In addition to targeting specific damaged organs and glands, supplementation with glandular supplements may also provide specific nutrients to the pet. For example, glands contain hormones in addition to a number of other chemical constituents. These low doses of crude hormones are suitable for any pet needing hormone replacement, but especially for those pets with mild disease or those that simply need gentle organ support. Pure chemically produced, full-strength hormones, while beneficial in selected pets requiring a quick response to a disease, would not be desired (due to potential side effects) for long-term use in most pets.

Glandular supplements also function as a source of enzymes. Pets with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency need additional pancreatic enzymes to digest food and absorb nutrients from the diet. The use of pancreatic extracts is an accepted “conventional” therapy for this particular disorder. It is possible that all glandular materials provide enzymes that encourage the pet to produce hormones or help the pet maintain health or fight disease.

Finally, glandular supplements are sources of active lipids and steroids that may be of benefit to pets. For example, Coenzyme Q10 is a commonly recommended antioxidant for pets with, among other problems, heart disease. The richest sources of this vital enzyme are whole food tissues such as heart, liver, spleen, or kidney. Practitioners who practice glandular therapy would prescribe a glandular supplement (possibly in addition to chemically produced Coenzyme Q10, which might be needed on a short-term basis for pets with mild heart disease) that would provide the pet with “natural” Coenzyme Q10.


An interesting application of cell therapy involves the use of supplements to achieve oral tolerance. Oral tolerization is the “process of turning off patients’ rejection of their own tissues by feeding them small amounts of a protein directly or indirectly involved in the attack by the immune system.” Oral tolerance involves the use of oral supplements (antigens) that are absorbed from the intestinal tract and then suppress immune responses. In dogs, part of the complementary therapy for degenerative myelopathy involves administering myelin sheath protein (the protein from the myelin sheath that covers nerves) in an attempt to decrease the autoimmune reaction, which is theorized as the cause of this disorder. While results in people with multiple sclerosis appear encouraging (decreased incidence of major attacks), and anecdotal reports show positive response in some dogs with degenerative myelopathy, more studies would be needed to properly evaluate this therapy.

Therapy with cell or glandular extracts appears safe. However, because these supplements are antigenic and some pets may experience allergic reactions, close observation of the pet may be wise when therapy is first initiated. Also, there is always the need for sterility to prevent viral infection of animal glandular tissues used as supplements. Using only supplements from reputable companies with high-quality manufacturing processes can minimize these potential concerns.

Most pets can benefit from nutritional support with glandular therapy. These supplements may help support the endocrine organs of the body in a more natural way then chemically synthesized conventional medications, and can usually be administered safely on a long-term basis for the majority of pets.

Shawn Messonnier, DVM

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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!

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