An Exclusive Interview with Jonathan V. WrightNatural Support
onathan V. Wright, M.D., is one of the leading alternative physicians practicing in the United States today. As medical director of the Tahoma Clinic in Kent, Washington, he has treated thousands of patients using innovative, natural therapies, including nutrient supplements, natural hormones, and glandular extracts. Jonathan is a best-selling author of three books: Dr. Wright's Guide to Healing with Nutrition, Dr. Wright's Book of Nutritional Therapy, and most recently, Natural Hormone Replacement for Women Over 45. He has also written monthly columns for Prevention and Let's Live magazines. Along with Dr. Alan Gaby, Jonathan has taught an annual four-day intensive seminar since 1982: "Nutritional Therapy in Medical Practice." For those unaware of his accomplishments in natural medicine, Dr. Wright's name became well known in 1992 when the FDA raided his clinic at gunpoint and confiscated his B vitamins. Not surprisingly, one of his favorite sayings is, "Let's outlive the FDA!" In this exclusive interview with Life Enhancement's John Morgenthaler and Will Block, he discusses his glandular formulation.
Will: What led you to develop your glandular formulation?
Wright: Let's go back to the early part of the century and the work of Dr. Paul Niehans, who was one of the pioneers in what is called cell therapy in Europe. Dr. Niehans was a general practitioner, a surgeon and pathologist, and he had conducted autopsies as well as continuing his general practice and surgery.
One of Dr. Niehans's conclusions was that, as we grow older, the endocrine glands - including the adrenals, thyroid, ovaries, and testicles in the respective sexes, and the pituitary - appear to age and wear out, not only as fast as the rest of the body, but sometimes even a little faster than the rest of the body.
There's another endocrine structure we don't hear about that much called the hypothalamus. It's the area of the brain immediately above the pituitary gland. Among its very many other jobs, the hypothalamus secretes what are called trophic hormones, which actually stimulate the pituitary to put out its own hormones which, in turn, regulate the rest of the endocrine system.
Will: Could you briefly describe the endocrine system?
Wright: "Endocrine" was originally a word made up to describe glands whose secretions are carried by the bloodstream to distant places where they have their action, rather than being locally active. For example, the adrenal glands secrete, among other things, cortisol, DHEA, and aldosterone. These hormones are carried by the bloodstream and actually affect receptors in nearly every tissue of the body. Similarly, the thyroid puts out the thyroid hormones we're all familiar with; they're secreted locally, but they affect nearly every tissue in the body.
In doing his autopsy work, Niehans observed that by the time folks get to be 55 to 60 years of age, more than 50% had lesions (areas where the tissue was either dead, scarred, or abnormal) in the hypothalamus. He observed that a significant percentage also had lesions in the adrenal glands. His thought was that, if these glands could be rejuvenated, the aging process might be slowed down.
This idea wasn't entirely original with Niehans. In the last century, Dr. Brown-Sequard did some work with transplanting the testicles of goats and monkeys and even chickens. When he transplanted testicles from one chicken to another, for example, he observed that the sexual potency and vigor of an older rooster would come back if he received the testicles from a younger rooster. Using goat glands and monkey glands, transplantation was actually done from animal to human, and he claimed that this brought back sexual potency and vigor.
And if one goes back to ancient Greek, Roman, or Chinese medicine, we know the same thing went on, particularly with regard to restoring sexual potency and vigor. There are documents that describe grinding up animal sex organs and putting them in powders or concoctions for people who are getting past mid-life.
The whole concept of the endocrine system began coming together in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Dr. Niehans was part of that. He pioneered the taking of animal fetal parathyroid cells and transplanting them (by injection) into a woman whose parathyroid glands had inadvertently been removed during goiter surgery. When the parathyroid glands are completely removed, serum calcium drops precipitously; there's uncontrollable shaking, and death usually follows within a few weeks. Within 24 to 48 hours of the injection, this woman's serum calcium came back up to normal, and she quit shaking. Apparently the fetal parathyroid glands had taken hold and, as far as we know, she lived another 30 or 40 years by taking these injections.
In natural medicine, it's generally believed that
using the whole gland is always better than
using the partial product of the gland.
John: How do you replace a gland by injection?
Wright: He removed the live cells from the animal fetus, diluted them in saline, put them in a syringe and injected them into the muscle of her upper chest.
John: Where did these cells take hold?
Wright: Nobody knows.
John: Not necessarily where the old parathyroid gland was?
Wright: Right. It's certain that it did work, because her serum calcium came back up and stayed up. The point was that his type of therapy, which is still performed mostly in Europe, was capable of actually replacing the entire function that the woman had lost from her own glandular cells.
John: But we're not talking about live cell therapy with this new product, are we?
Wright: No. Obviously, when we swallow a pill, or let's say we actually went out and ate adrenal glands, the digestive process takes hold; the cells aren't live anymore. But all of the things that are contained within those cells do get digested and do get into the body. Will this do us any good if we're not working with live cells? There's a lot of folk evidence and other evidence that says, yes, it can.
John: Aren't a lot of the hormones that might be found, say in the hypothalamus, broken down by the digestive system?
Wright: Some are and some aren't. The hormones of the hypothalamus are polypeptides - actually, small polypeptides. Some of them are as small as three to six amino acids in a chain. Other hormones, such as insulin, are very long complex molecules.
John: Do we know for sure that thyroid hormone, cortisol and other hormones are efficiently absorbed through the digestive system?
Wright: Yes, and we also know that small polypeptides can be absorbed from the GI tract unaltered. That's been proven. Not all protein is broken down into single amino acids. Our bodies can and do absorb polypeptides, particularly smaller ones. And although it's impossible to predict what portion of a polypeptide is going to get through unscathed and what is going to get through broken down, some of it is going to get through in its original form.
Let's specifically address thyroid and adrenal hormones. It's actually been the practice in medicine since thyroid therapy started to use very carefully measured amounts of old thyroid glands.
Will: Yes, Armour thyroid, for instance.
Wright: It's incontrovertible that natural thyroid hormone, which is simply a couple of tyrosine molecules - a dipeptide, in other words - with a variable number of iodine molecules attached, gets into the body and does its job. The mode of prescribing a thyroid from roughly the 1890s through about 1940 was indeed whole thyroid. There's no question that it worked then and that it still works today. Certainly, once the pharmaceutical companies were able to synthesize thyroid hormone, they much preferred to put out their synthetic product. They've come out with a whole variety of propaganda as to why it's better to use the synthetic product than the whole glandular product.
As a general rule, there is very little that goes
on in our bodies that doesn't have a purpose,
even if we don't know what that purpose is.
John: Would you say that the whole gland is better?
Wright: In natural medicine, it's the generally shared belief or opinion that using the whole gland is always better than using the partial product of the gland.
John: Why is that?
Wright: The whole thyroid gland contains several thyroid hormones, two of which are considered major - they're called T4 and T3 - and some minor ones too, called T2 and T1. We don't know what the function of T2 and T1 are, and, as a result, so-called scientific medicine dismisses them: "Oh, well, those are inconsequential; we don't know what they do, and, therefore, they must not do anything important; they must be metabolic by-products that are of no consequence." We need to keep in mind that until relatively recently that's exactly what "scientific" medicine thought of DHEA, too. "Oh, well that DHEA, it's there, but it's of no consequence. It's a precursor molecule that doesn't have any function of its own," etc, etc. As a general rule, there is very little that goes on in our bodies that doesn't have a purpose, even if we don't know what that purpose is.
John: A spleen and an appendix, for instance. My tonsils were taken out when I was a child because they thought the tonsils don't really do anything anyway.
Wright: Then we go back and we find out that it really does have some purpose. In the holistic or natural approach to medicine, we much prefer to use the whole gland, the whole organ and get the benefits from the so-called minor molecules even though we don't currently know what they do.
The debate between the synthetic thyroid people and the whole thyroid people goes something like this: "Oh, gee, we have this Synthroid® stuff, T4, and the reason we like Synthroid is that it is always 100% of label potency. And if it says 0.100 on the label, then it is 0.100, and that's what it is, and that's a lot more accurate than that natural stuff. We want to be real accurate and that's why we use it." That's argument one.
Argument two is, "Well, our bodies take that T4 and turn it into T3 anyway; at least that's what our cells are supposed to do. And even though T4 or Synthroid is the inactive but so-called storage and transportation form of thyroid hormone, our bodies have all the cellular machinery for removing one iodine and turning it into T3, which is the known active metabolizer. Therefore, we really don't need to include T3, and everybody should take Synthroid."
Those are the two major arguments. The counter arguments are, "Excuse us, but we have this thing called the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). If natural thyroid is going to carry a USP stamp on it, it has to be within 2% of label potency. The difference between right-smack-dab-on 100% and a range of 98-102% isn't all that great, and that's a natural variation anyway, so we're not really gaining that much by machine precision."
The second argument is even easier to get rid of: "Okay, now prove to me that everybody's cells are working properly to turn T4 into T3." And, by the way, it's well known that under certain conditions that doesn't happen. For example, it's been shown by testing with intracellular probes that in Type-I diabetes - that's insulin-dependent juvenile diabetes - the efficiency of turning T4 into T3 is impaired by 50%.
So we know of at least one condition in which the body can't turn T4 into T3 as efficiently as "normal." And if we know of at least one condition, there are very, very likely other conditions in which the efficiency of the T4 to T3 transformation is impaired. If we use natural thyroid, we have already in the product the T4, the T3, and, for that matter, the T2 and the T1, in exactly the proportions that nature intended. And we don't have to worry about whether our bodies, because of an illness process or just because it's getting older, can't make T3 from T4 was as well as it used to.
If we treat only part of the endocrine complex or
network or whatever we'd like to call it, and we
don't do a little bit for all the other endocrine
glands, we're going to create an imbalance.
We're going to have a malfunction over time.
We all know that the efficiency of the cellular machinery does slow down, and so it's very likely that with aging, the efficiency of making the T4 to T3 transformation isn't as good as it used to be.
And that brings us back to the endocrine theory of aging. I don't think we would have any disagreement that, as we get older, the metabolic processes of these cells slow down. There has always been a search for something that will help rejuvenate that cellular machinery.
One of the ways that we can do this is to slow down that aging process. Nobody is saying that we're going to stop it entirely, but perhaps we can slow it down by bringing in small quantities of support so the key glands that slow down more rapidly with aging can function at youthful efficiency despite their years.
We know from Dr. Niehans' work that, by mid-life, a significant number of us have impairments in the hypothalamus, as well as in the pituitary gland, the thyroid, the adrenal, the gonads, and so forth. So if we use a small quantity of whole glandular material from each of these key endocrine glands, and as long as we make sure to keep the quantities small (we don't want to "rev up our engines" back to the same speed they were going when we were 16, because the rest of our tissues probably couldn't handle that) and support these glands, there's little doubt that at least a portion of these hormones are going to be available to do the relevant glands and organs some good.
Let's address another criticism: "When we take any food stuff - a gland, an organ, whatever - our digestive processes just chop it all up and distribute it around the body equally. Therefore, it doesn't do any particular gland or organ any good."
Let's say for a moment - and I don't agree with this - that we're not doing those particular glands or organs any good, not rejuvenating them. Despite that, we know that some of the products of those glands are going to get through our digestion, and we know incontestably that some of that thyroid hormone, for example, will go around our bodies and do all of the other tissues some good. That's been medical therapy for years and years, and we know it works.
Some German research scientists are working along the lines of Dr. Niehans's cell therapy - removing the live animal fetal cells (and that's not what we're talking about with this product, but still it's analogous in a way). They radioactively labeled the live fetal cells and then injected them at random sites into other animals. Then they did a scan looking to see where that radioactivity goes in the body. If the skeptics are right, it should be distributed equally in the body and not do any particular gland or organ any good.
What they found though, was that roughly 75% of the radioactivity ended up in the gland of the recipient animal analogous to the fetal donor animal gland from which it was taken. So there is some kind of "homing" mechanism at work here.
Now, there was a gentleman by the name of Dr. Henry Harrower, who was one of the leading glandular therapists/endocrinologists at the first part of the 20th century. He had a large laboratory in Glendale, California where he tested and manufactured a whole variety of glandular concentrates and extracts. He wrote several books for professionals. In one of his books, published in 1939, he said that in the library of Harrower Laboratories he had 350,000 index cards referring to articles from scientific journals and books having to do with gland therapy and with endocrinology. At that time he had the largest private collection of scientific literature on endocrinology available anywhere in the world. Dr. Harrower worked with whole organ concentrates and then organ extracts.
Both Harrower and Niehans believed that, since the endocrine glands had such a complex interaction network and feedback system with one another, therapy cannot be focused on any one gland - let's say, the adrenal glands - without influencing the pituitary. And we can't focus on the pituitary without influencing the thyroid and the gonads, and we can't focus on the gonads without influencing the adrenal, and so on. They were very firm in saying that the so-called modern trend of focusing on the treatment of one endocrine gland only would lead to a progressive imbalance in the whole endocrine system.
Harrower was very much against having people take thyroid hormone alone without having them also take a little bit of all the other endocrine glandular extracts. He explained that not doing it that way would create an imbalance within the "endocrine concert," as he called it, which would be detrimental to that individual.
He said that when we have an endocrine disturbance, it's most likely to manifest more so in one gland above the others. But, he also pointed out that if you study this disturbance very carefully, you'll find that even though it's more noticeable in one gland than the others, there will be a small derangement in all the other endocrine glands. It's sort of like a network disability; you have to treat the whole network.
Certainly you could put emphasis on the gland that was most deranged, but you should not single it out. It would be very much like taking a B-complex vitamin and deciding to leave out vitamin B2. We know that that will lead to imbalances. Some very modern research done just in the last couple of years has shown that if we're foolish enough to take a mixture of essential amino acids and leave out the tryptophan - which the FDA would like us to do (remember that tryptophan is one of the grouping of essential amino acids) - we'll get depressed.
I have on my desk in my office right now a publication from some physicians who enlisted volunteers take all of the essential amino acids without tryptophan. Without that tryptophan in the essential amino acids mix, the volunteers became depressed.
And this is analogous to what Harrower was saying. If we treat only part of the endocrine complex or network or whatever we'd like to call it, and we don't do a little bit for all the other endocrine glands, we're going to create an imbalance. We're going to have a malfunction over time.
Unfortunately, in the rush to come up with passable synthetic pharmaceuticals and to do such things as take a naturally occurring cortisone and turn it into the much more dangerous synthetic prednisone and dexamethasone and fludrocortisone and all those sort of things, Dr. Harrower's cautions were not heeded. In the rush to do that, of course, we're not going to pay any attention to the work of the early clinicians who said that we've got to treat that whole endocrine system as a network.
The analogy is that if we are going to be treating a very closely related glandular network, namely the endocrine system, we should be using a little bit of all of them. If one of them is more impaired, then yes, we want to put the major emphasis on the one that is more impaired, but we want to have a minor emphasis on the whole complex.
John: Speaking of the emphasis, is there an emphasis on any particular hormone in your product?
Wright: No, there isn't. This is a product to help support all the endocrine glands.
Proper thyroid function is associated with enhancements in energy levels and libido function, improved memory function, and elevated mood.
John: How would someone know if this product were for them?
Wright: If you are middle-aged or beyond, because that's when it's known that all the endocrine glands are going to slow down. If you do not have an endocrine disease. How does one know if you don't have an endocrine disease? It's not a bad idea to go see a doctor every once in a while. In fact it's a good idea. Of course, you want to see a natural medicine-oriented doctor. Just get a check-up and make sure that one does not have an outstanding endocrine disease, such as bad case of weak adrenals or weak thyroid.
John: So simply put, if you are over, let's say 40, and you don't have any overt disease.
Wright: Yes. And it's important to remember that this product is not intended to treat any endocrine disease. That's not its purpose. If someone has outright hypoadrenalism or hypothyroidism, or whatever, they should be working specifically with a doctor on that.
John: What results can we expect from using these glandular extracts?
Wright: John Isaacs, a pioneering cardiovascular surgeon in Baltimore, did a study in which he had a group of people take 1/2 grain of thyroid over a period of 10 years. He noticed a significant reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease in folks who were supplemented with this really small amount of thyroid. With hypothalamus-pituitary extract, one observation that's been made by some men in their 40s, 50s or 60s, particularly, is that they're now having morning-upon-arising erections that they haven't had since they were in their 20s. That does not happen with every man, but I have enough remarks on that to know that there is something happening with this hypothalamus-pituitary product. From women who take hypothalamus-pituitary products, within the appropriate age group, I hear sometimes that there is an increase in libido.
With regard to the thyroid component (about 1/4 grain), the most common comment is, "I just feel a little more energetic overall. My thinking is a little clearer. I'm not quite as constipated."
By the way, constipation is a real issue with some of us as we get older, and a subtle weakness in thyroid can contribute to that. Bringing in a tiny bit of thyroid can help straighten it out. It's very rare that I'll hear anything specific like, "Wow, I'm really all full of energy." Or, "I've noticed the effect on my pulse," or anything like that.
The other item is the adrenal. Folks who take adrenal glandulars over a period of months tell me that they are able to withstand stress a little better. That's a major thing and we'd expect that.
John: If somebody is already taking thyroid supplementation, can they still take this product?
Wright: If somebody is taking thyroid supplementation already, unless they are in a very brittle condition - and brittle means to the endocrinologist that the amount you take has to be absolutely right on - one should take our product because, while it adds only 1/4 grain of the actual thyroid itself, it puts in the rest of the endocrine network as backup to that thyroid supplementation.