Applied Trophology, Vol. 11, No. 8
(August 1967)

Thymus—Mystery Gland; Birth Rate Decline

Contents in in this issue:

  • “Thymus—The Mystery Gland,”
  • “Birth Rate Decline.”

The following is a transcription of the August 1967 issue of Dr. Royal Lee’s Applied Trophology newsletter, originally published by Standard Process Laboratories.

Thymus—The Mystery Gland

Coincidental worldwide research points toward the solution and understanding of many elusive problems which have confronted diagnosticians.

Historical Data

The thymus is a small spongy mass of pinkish-gray, phosphorus-containing lymphoid tissue located just below the neck, behind the breastbone and in front of the heart. Its function has been a mystery for over twenty centuries. During this period the “thymus” has also been known as the Childhood Gland, the Growth Gland, and of late years the Useless Gland. It has always been considered a gland, although some of its secretions have not as yet been identified. The Useless Gland nomenclature stems from the fact that modern medicine has regarded the thymus gland, as well as the appendix and tonsils, as probable useless vestigial organs that had apparently lost their original purpose in this everchanging technological world. Further, it has been known for years that from birth to adolescence the thymus tripled in weight and then regressed in size. It was then presumed to become dormant. Now we find that the lymphoid tissue of the appendix and tonsils follow the same phenomenon of increased growth between the ages of 10 and 20, with a tapering off of activity, as interceptors of infectious organisms in later life.

The names of Childhood and Growth Gland owe their origin to this early growth theory. Then too, some fifty years ago X-ray became popular in the study of the chest. Doctors frequently noticed an enlarged thymus shadow on the films of children. X-ray treatments were given to shrink the thymus. We now find it is normal for the thymus to be enlarged during early life as the body is learning to overcome the problem of infection and immunity. Late experiments would lead us to believe that this type of treatment restricted the child’s resistance to disease in later life. According to various worldwide hospital reports, the muscular debility known as myasthenia gravis has long been associated with a probable upset in the proper balance of the delicate immunological mechanisms.

Further Research Reviewed

Since about 1950 many animal and some human experiments have been carried on in Australia, Britain, Sweden, and the United States. In this country much research has been done at Ohio State University School Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota Hospital, Institute for Muscle Research (Woods Hole, Massachusetts), the National Cancer Institute (Bethesda, Maryland), and the Institute for Cancer and Blood Research (Loma Linda, California). As a result, the thymus enigma was partially resolved in 1960. Coincidental results from the various research centers from that date to the present prove that the thymus is far from useless; in fact, it may be the master gland regulating the intricate immunity system.

Before we are born the white blood cells make their appearance in the thymus gland. This is prior to the time they can be found in the blood. Due to this fact, many scientists now agree that the thymus is the “original source of lymphoid elements with a potential for immunologic reactivity.” Not too long ago, science presumed that all the lymphocytes were produced in the lymph glands, no doubt due to the rapid increase of these white blood cells when infection occurred in the protective area of these glands. As a result of further research, we are now told that the thymus gland is the seed bed for the lymphocytes. Production and distribution of the lymphocytes to the participating glands is now considered a very important function of the thymus gland. Protection by the lymph nodes of the superficial lymphatic system apparently does not occur until their particular protective area is alerted to provide resistant inflammatory defense. Otherwise the lymph nodes are shriveled and contain few maturing lymphocytes.

The activating of these special coded standby mature lymphocytes in the lymph glands can no longer be considered an independent local activity, as we are now advised that the thymus gland alerts these protective guard cells to follow their built-in order of reproduction. Also, the thymus gland then proceeds to produce more reserve lymphocytes and arranges transportation through the bloodstream, the lymph system and the watery cellular tissues to the area of combat. Then too, our good “General,” the thymus gland, is said to alert the entire lymphatic system to be ready to increase the lymphocyte count should the local area of resistant inflammation fail.

Inflammation, the defensive sealing off of the area, has for many years almost universally been recognized as the basic defense of the body against infection. Also, the lymphocytes have long been recognized as being vital in the defense process. However, up to now the exact location of their origin and method of action has been debatable.

Recently disclosed is the knowledge of the importance of all white blood cells in the immunological process and their constant production by the thymus gland. It sends them forth to mature, alerts them to multiply when necessary, and provides the clue that the thymus is the key organ in the mammalian intricate defense mechanism.

Enzyme Activity

By recent viewing through the electron microscope scientists were able to determine that the tiny structures in the lymphocytes are actually little sacks, which they called lysosomes. These lysosomes were found to contain the powerful destructive enzymes of inflammation. Also, lysosomes were found to be more abundant in the kind of white cells called polymorphonuclear leukocytes (referred to by scientists as PMN cells). It has always been a mystery as to how the PMN cells became activated and enticed to the area of infection.

According to Dr. Peter Ward, chief of the Immunology Branch of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC, the PMN cells are attracted to the inflamed area by circulating blood protein called complement. To date, scientists have found that this complement and substance made by bacteria have a so-called chemotaxis property. Dr. Ward also found that at least two enzymes from the lysosomes are necessary to complete the attraction exerted by the complement. It has been determined that the destructive enzymes of inflammation are inactive as long as they remain within the lysosomes of the lymphocytes. However, upon completion of their journey to the area of inflammation, the lysosomes either leak or are ruptured and the enzymes are released to combine with the chemotactic (chemically stimulated) positive complement. Dr. Ward further advises that complement is required for many of the antigen-antibody reactions developed within the body. Perhaps further research will reveal that the circulating blood protein (complement) is another enzyme system, as enzymes are protein and have been found to be important coordinators in every step of the life process. In fact, life has been called a “bundle of enzymes.”

Some time ago, Dr. Melvin E. Page said, “Enzymes are the metabolic catalysts which are present in vast numbers in every cell. The enzyme systems are extremely sensitive to injurious influences such as heat, poisons and loss of nutrition. The breakdown of the enzyme systems results in the sickness or death of the cells.”

Over 100 years ago, Virchow, the father of pathology, stated, “It is with the cell that all disease begins.” Individual enzymes in each cell are responsible for from one to two thousand chemical reactions. It is a scientifically known fact that enzymes “carry out extraordinary biochemical feats of far greater complexity than any thus far devised by man.”

In this instance, chemically unknowledgeable man, unable to comprehend the importance of enzymes in nature, has handicapped his own natural enzyme processes by introducing poisonous enzyme-inhibiting chemicals into his food and water—and even into the air he breathes. Inhibited action of any of the estimated 100,000 enzymes in each living cell could possibly be the incentive for—or possible cause of—disease. Many diseases, including the anemias, blood disorders, and perhaps diabetes, are now thought to be due to the absence or reduction in activity of one or more enzymes. It was Dr. William Boyd, a distinguished medical pathologist, who stated on page 10 in the 7th edition of his Textbook of Pathology, “Disease may be defined as merely a summation of chemical reactions that have gone wrong.”


Apparently, it was Dr. Boyd who inspired further research in immunology when he stated on page 109 of this same text:

“It is now recognized that under certain conditions not at present clearly understood, antigenic substances formed in the body (auto-antigens) may excite the formation of antibodies, with a resulting antigen-antibody reaction.”

Present evidence suggests that the production of antibodies may be hampered as the result of thymic malfunction, according to researchers Dr. Robert Good of University of Minnesota Hospital and Bruce Glick and Timothy Chang of Ohio State University. Dr. Good had observed over a period of years that children unable to produce antibody containing gamma globulin not only had a defective thymus but also a complete absence of tonsils. As a result of this and further study, Dr. Good advised the American Academy of Pediatrics, at their 1965 meeting, that tonsillectomies should not be performed indiscriminately. He also said, “We should be extremely conservative in dealing with these systems which we do not fully understand.”

In a similar vein, Dr. Boyd further stated on page 5 of his text:

“Antibiotics are regarded as the cure-all for the most minor infections…It is a small wonder that the old maladies are replaced by new manmade ones, and that allergies to a multitude of antigens have become so commonplace that they are said to exceed pathogenic microorganism in number…what is powerful for good can be potent for evil.”

The growing list of conditions presently considered of probable autoimmune origin are lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, pernicious anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatic heart disease and some thyroid conditions

Research is continuing, and scientists are intrigued with the possibility of autoimmunity as a cause of tumors. In this regard we find Dr. J.F.A.P. Miller of the National Cancer Institute of Bethesda, Maryland, being quoted as stating:

“Evidence has been accumulating which shows that many chemically induced and virus induced tumors are antigenic in their hosts and that resistance against such tumors, which is mediated by lymphocytes, can be demonstrated. Since the thymus exerts some influence over the development of cells which initiate various types of immune reactions, it must play some part in providing resistance to tumor growth.”

In an experiment with mice, Dr. Lloyd W. Law, also of NCI, found the thymus essential in resisting cancer development and growth. Both scientists observed a greater growth of antigenic tumor cells if the immune mechanism was impaired. Leukemia researchers feel that the recent thymus research results have given them a new angle of attack. Some cancer researchers theorize that our bodies normally consider developing cancer cells as foreign tissue and that such cells are destroyed before they can multiply, providing there is no disturbance of the thymus-controlled immunity mechanism.

As a result of his work at the Loma Linda Research Center, Dr. Howard R. Bierman advised the meeting of the American College of Surgeons in 1966, “The human appendix may be an immunologic organ whose premature removal during its functioning period permits leukemia and other related forms of cancer to begin their development.”

Improvement of Status

As a result of simultaneous worldwide research on the thymus gland in the past six years, we find its status elevated from a so-called useless medical curiosity to that of “Master Gland” of the entire protective immunological system, which apparently includes the appendix and tonsils.

The mammalian thymus gland, known as the “Neck Sweetbread” or “Upper Sweetbread” (to distinguish it from the “Pancreas Sweetbread”), besides being rich in phosphorus, has long been known to be a reservoir of thymonucleic acid, now called desoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA). The fact that the thymus gland has a built-in source of the RNA-DNA molecules to furnish the nucleoli for the coded white blood cells it manufactures could be an indication of its possible involvement in all normal cellular structure. It is feasible that the thymus gland, practically ignored for centuries, may, with further research, be found to be the guiding light that will lead us in the battle against many baffling diseases that now torment mankind. However, if this is to be accomplished man must cease to infringe on natures’ physiological balances. For we must remember that Dr. Boyd also said, “If we continually interfere with nature, we must pay the penalty.”

Birth Rate Decline

Government officials now advise that the population is not growing as fast as previously expected. The Census Bureau has had to trim previous projections because of the declining birthrate.

The Public Health Service has announced the continuation of a decline in the number of babies being born.

Preliminary figures for 1966 indicated a further decline to 18.5 per 1,000 population, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The most recent peak was 25.3 per 1,000 in 1957. A gradual decline has been noted each year since then. Confirmation of the figures for 1966 would make it the lowest of any year since 1936.

Census officials now foresee 19.8 million children under five years of age by 1970, compared to the 22 million previously predicted.

Heather Wilkinson

Heather Wilkinson is Senior Editor at Selene River Press.

Leave a Reply