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Thymus Gland – The Key to Aging and Illness

Thymus Gland

The Key to Aging & Illness

A study published in January 2016, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found a hormone that extends lifespan in mice by 40% is produced by specialized cells in the thymus gland. The Yale School of Medicine researchers found that increasing the levels of this hormone, called FGF21, protects against the loss of immune function that comes with age and could have future implications for improving immune function in the elderly.

Research published in the August 2023 New England Journal of Medicine from Massachusetts General Hospital reveals evidence that the thymus is in fact critical for adult health generally and for preventing cancer and perhaps autoimmune disease.

The thymus gland is found in your upper chest behind your breastbone (sternum), just in front of and above your heart.

The primary function of the thymus gland is to train special white blood cells called T-lymphocytes or T-cells. These cells start growing in bone marrow and then travel to the thymus gland to mature. Natural killer cells (NK cells), contain substances that can kill tumor cells or cells infected with a virus.

After the T-cells have matured, they enter your bloodstream. They travel to your lymph nodes (groups of cells) and other organs in your lymphatic system, where they help your immune system fight disease and infection.

If the thymus does not work properly, we can end up with too few T cells to protect ourselves – this is called immunodeficiency – or we can produce T cells that attack our own body – which is called autoimmunity.

Normal aging causes the thymus to shrink, and it can also be damaged by genetic conditions, chronic infections, and some medical procedures.

From the June 2023 journal, Science Immunology, researchers looked at the role of ‘gamma delta T cells’ within the thymus gland and by understanding the function of these cells, they could be harnessed to help prevent cancer and highly infectious diseases such as COVID-19, Strep A and tuberculosis.

Published in the August 2023 medical journal, Developmental Cell, researchers show for the first time the presence of self-renewing stem cells, which give rise to the thymic epithelial cells instructing thymocytes to become T cells. They identified stem-cell niches (areas where stem cells are clustered) in two locations in the thymus. The findings suggest it could be helpful to stimulate the stem cells to regrow the thymus and rejuvenate the immune system. 

Paola Bonfanti, senior group leader of the Epithelial Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at the Crick, said: “This research is a pivotal shift in our understanding of why we have a thymus capable of regeneration. There are so many important implications of stimulating the thymus to produce more T cells, like helping the immune system in the elderly or improving the immune response to cancer.”

Zinc, vitamin B6, and vitamin C have been shown to be essential to improving thymus gland function and overall strengthened immunity. When zinc levels are low, the number of T cells is reduced, thymic hormone levels are lower, critical to the immune response. To prevent thymic shrinkage numerous studies, show dietary intake of antioxidant nutrients, such as carotenes, Vitamin C and selenium to be important.

Thymus Gland Extracts

T-Cell Formula 300mg (Ecological Formulas) or LTP 600mg (Ecological Formulas). 

According to Dr. Michael Murray, N.D., a substantial amount of clinical research supports the effectiveness of orally administered thymus gland extracts. Thymus extracts reduce the number and severity of recurrent infections in immune-suppressed persons and increase lymphoproliferative response to HSV, natural killer cell activity, and interferon production. Thymus extracts have been found to restore the number of peripheral leukocytes in cancer patients with chemotherapy-induced depression of white blood cell counts. 

Reported in the April 2023 Journal of Stem Cells Research Development & Therapy, “Studies have suggested that thymus extract can stimulate the production of T-cells and enhance immune function, which may lead to improved outcomes in cancer patients. It may also have anti-aging effects by reducing inflammation and improving immune function. In addition, thymus extract has been reported to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in cancer patients.”

 Interestingly, thymus extracts have also been shown to normalize the ratio of T-helper cells to suppressor cells, whether the ratio is low, as in chronic infections, and cancer, or high, as in allergies, migraine headaches, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. 

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*Always check with your health practitioner when adding in new supplements.

Jane Jansen – Holistic Practitioner Tree of Life Wellness Center

Host Holistic Healthline Radio