When it comes to wellness trends, it’s not always obvious which are worth the hype and which are fleeting fads. But recently, in a sharp departure from the plant-based-everything craze, a trend with some real meat on its bones has taken off: glandular supplements, or glandulars.
What in the world are glandulars, you ask? Simply put, glandulars are nutritional supplements that contain dried organ meats and tissues (e.g. the liver, kidneys, heart, and aorta) from mammals.
If that description has you genuinely intrigued, totally grossed out, or a little of both, read on.
While the concept of eating animal organs may skeeve some out, glandular supplements are gaining major popularity thanks to the ancestral health movement, which is all about returning to evolutionary practices to improve well-being, says AFPA certified holistic nutritionist Melanie Avalon, host of The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast. “The concept is that we are returning to foods that humans originally ate as hunter-gatherers,” she explains. “A lot of chronic diseases we experience today result from processed diets and modern lifestyle, so glandulars are a way to emphasize foods humans historically ate.”
Organ meats are incredibly nutrient-dense, and glandulars offer a unique array of nutrients in higher concentrations than those found in muscle meats such as chicken breast, pork shoulder, and most cuts of beef. In fact, they are often referred to as “nature’s multivitamins and minerals,” says doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist Josh Axe, D.C., D.N.M., C.N.S., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council.
The Health Benefits Of Glandular Supplements
If you’re still on the fence about animal organs, their potential health benefits might just convince you to go bottoms-up on some glandulars with your morning coffee.
1. Fill Nutritional Gaps
It’s worth repeating: Organ meats and glandulars are highly nutrient-dense. Though the exact nutrients in a particular glandular supplement vary based on its formulation, many options are rich in vitamin B12, folate, vitamin A, iron, choline, and selenium, notes nutritionist and clinical herbalist Tara Bassi, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., C.H.H.C., of The Botanical Institute.
Liver, the most widely used glandular supplement, for example, offers significant amounts of all of these essential nutrients. It’s certainly earned that “nature’s multivitamin” title.
As a result, incorporating glandular supplements into your routine can ensure you’re consistently taking in an array of essential nutrients, which can help you fill in any nutritional gaps you may be experiencing (even if you’re unaware of them), Avalon explains.
2. Support A Healthy Immune System
Zinc and selenium, which are found in organ meats (especially the liver, kidneys, and heart), are key components of a strong immune system, as they support your body’s response to oxidative stress (a bodily condition that occurs when antioxidant levels are low), explains Axe. Some studies show that zinc can help you bounce back from being under the weather faster, while research suggests that selenium supports the body’s anti-inflammatory processes.
3. Boost Energy And Support Physical Performance
Vitamin B12, one of the other nutrients glandulars are famous for, is essential for supporting cellular energy, according to Axe. Because it plays a crucial role in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, and nerve function, B12 is a must for preventing fatigue, muscle weakness, and nerve damage, per the Mayo Clinic. This means that ample B12 not only helps you feel ready for action throughout the day but also supports top-notch workout performance.
Glandulars are also packed with iron (notably heme iron, which is easiest for the body to absorb), which supports your liver and healthy blood, notes Axe. “Meeting your iron needs is important for maintaining healthy energy and strength, in addition to supporting muscle functions, endurance, and concentration,” he explains.
Additionally, due to their unique amino acid profile (amino acids are the building blocks of protein), glandular supplements can also help those who want to maintain and build muscle mass, adds Bassi.
4. Promote Sexual Health
Another (perhaps surprising) perk of the high concentrations of zinc that glandulars contain: They support sexual and reproductive health. “Because zinc supports normal hormone production, it can be supportive of reproductive health in both men and women,” explains Axe.
Read More: 9 Ways To Support A Healthy Libido
In men, it works to encourage healthy testosterone levels, which is a must for men’s sexual and prostate health, Axe says. In fact, zinc deficiencies are associated with hypogonadism, a low-testosterone condition in men that can cause infertility and a decreased or absent sex drive. One 2018 study found that ramping up zinc intake helped men support their fertility by increasing testosterone levels and sperm count.
Zinc is also needed for the production of female sex hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, which play a large role in women’s sexual health, adds Axe. One 2021 study found that more zinc meant greater sexual desire, vaginal moisture, and orgasm satisfaction among women.
5. Aid General Hormonal Health
In addition to being helpful for those reproductive hormones, the nutrients in glandulars can be good news for overall hormonal balance, including hormones produced by the adrenal glands that we associate with stress, such as cortisol and adrenaline, says Bassi.
Since the adrenals are responsible for regulating your metabolism, blood pressure, and response to stress, taking glandular supplements that contain actual adrenal tissue can be particularly beneficial for those dealing with chronic stress and fatigue, she explains. The thought is that the adrenal tissue you consume enhances the function of your own hormonal glands.
Regardless of the types of tissue in your glandular supplement, though, if it’s rich in hormone-healthy zinc, iron, selenium, and B vitamins, it’s a winner, according to Axe. Having healthy levels of these nutrients helps to maintain proper hormone levels and a well-functioning endocrine system.
6. Promote Heart And Liver Health
Consuming animal organs may also promote your own organ function. “It’s thought that the consumption of glandulars can provide specific nutritional support to the corresponding gland in the human body,” explains Bassi. “So, consuming a beef liver supplement may help to support your own liver.”
One potential reason for this: Vitamin B12 and folate, which beef liver is rich in, have been shown to support levels of a protein responsible for removing dead and unhealthy cells from the liver, according to a recent study.
There are benefits for your ticker here, too. The B vitamins in organ meats may also have a cardioprotective effect, meaning they help protect your long-term heart health, says Axe. In fact, one 2010 study linked higher dietary intakes of folate (also known as B9) and vitamin B6 with reduced incidence of heart issues.
Who Are Glandular Supplements Best For?
Glandulars can be highly beneficial to those experiencing fatigue, those with low levels of iron, vitamin B12, and various amino acids, and those who need liver and heart health support, says Bassi.
That said, because of their hefty concentrations of various nutrients, organ supplements can really offer bodywide benefits for all sorts of people. “Nutrients are the foundation of health and we need ample amounts to function at our best,” says Avalon.
Still, always consult with a physician and/or a licensed nutritionist before incorporating a new supplement—glandulars included—into your routine, especially if you take medication.
What To Look For In A Supplement
Consuming poor-quality organ meats means fewer nutrients and a decrease in effectiveness, so it’s important to purchase high-quality glandulars from a trustworthy brand. “Glandular supplements are only as good as the quality of the animal that they were made from, and non-organic feedlot animals are lower in nutrients, which leads to a lower-quality glandular supplement,” explains Bassi.
Look for third-party testing to confirm top-notch quality and purity. You want to know that the animals your supplement is sourced from were properly cared for, given organic, non-GMO feed, and not exposed to pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, Avalon says. Since heavy metals can also be a concern with glandulars, look for testing results there, too, adds Axe.
Another consideration: Glandular supplements should be freeze-dried rather than heat-processed. “The best method to process glandular supplements is through freeze-drying, a heat-free, vacuum-drying process that helps to preserve the natural enzymes,” Bassi explains.