It might not be commonplace in modern Western culture, but people have been eating glandulars—tissues, glands, and organs of healthy animals—for thousands of years. Given that glandulars like beef liver, kidneys, and heart are full of nutrients (particularly vitamin A, zinc, iron, and B vitamins), it makes a lot of sense. But if buying, cooking, and eating fresh organ meats just aren’t in the cards for you, glandular supplements can come in handy.
For maximum convenience, glandular supplements are often dried and encapsulated, meaning all you have to do is swallow them or sprinkle them in powder form on your food to boost your nutrient intake and reap their health benefits.
Curious about glandular supplements? Here’s who may benefit most from adding them to their routine.
The Nutrition In Glandular Supplements
Glandular supplements are dietary supplements derived from the glands and organs (most often livers, hearts, and kidneys) of animals such as beef and sheep. Animal organs and glands are very high in various nutrients. In fact, they’re among the most nutrient-dense foods available, although they’re not commonly eaten today.
“It’s believed by some that eating glandulars may support your glands since they are nutrient-rich, including in vitamins and minerals such as iron, vitamin A, and vitamin B12,” shares dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N. The specific nutrients found in a supplement depend on its exact makeup. Here’s a breakdown of the nutrition various glands and organ meats (and the supplements made from them) have to offer:
- Liver: Often derived from beef, studies show liver is high in vitamin A, all B vitamins (including B12), folic acid, iron, copper, zinc, and coenzyme-Q10 (CoQ10). It’s also a good source of high-quality protein, and, in some cases, fat-soluble vitamins.
- Heart: Heart is loaded with coenzyme-Q10, which is essential for energy production and cardiovascular health. It also contains B vitamins, iron, and selenium.
- Kidneys: Kidneys are rich in selenium, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Spleen: The spleen is high in iron as well as B vitamins.
7 Groups Who Can Benefit From Glandulars
A wide variety of people may find glandular supplements helpful in supporting specific health goals and overall well-being. Here are some groups who might find them especially useful.
1. People Dealing with Nutrient Deficiencies
As mentioned above, liver, kidneys, heart, and other glandulars provide many nutrients, such as vitamin A, choline, folate, B vitamins, iron, copper, and more. That’s why doctor of natural medicine and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council, Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S., refers to them as ‘nature’s multivitamins.’ “You may be able to find supplements made from a combination of different organ meats—like liver, heart, and kidneys—which are sustainable sources of many vitamins and minerals,” he says.
Given their nutritional abundance, naturopathic medicine doctor Chelsea Azarcron, N.M.D., believes glandulars can be beneficial for those who may be low in certain nutrients or who have outright nutritional deficiencies, which often include:
- People who eat a mostly plant-based diet, who may lack sufficient intake of certain nutrients commonly found in animal products, such as vitamin B12 and iron.
- Those with allergies, digestive issues, or autoimmune conditions that limit the variety of foods they eat.
- Those who are under chronic stress, which can cause an increased need for certain nutrients.
For those with iron deficiency anemia, for example, a liver supplement—which is a solid source of iron, as glandulars go—could be helpful, says Taub-Dix. If you’re concerned about your nutrient status, consider doing some testing with a holistic health professional and choosing a glandular supplement based on your results.
2. Those Looking for Extra Immune Support
Some glandulars, such as beef liver, supply lots of vitamin A, which can support immune system function, skin and heart health, and overall antioxidant and nutrition status, according to Axe.
“Glandulars are a rich source of not only vitamin A, but also iron, B vitamins, and other minerals that support the immune and endocrine systems,” adds Azarcron. She finds them particularly helpful for those with digestive issues who might struggle to absorb fat-soluble, immune-loving vitamins like vitamin A, as well as anyone who prefers to take a more food-based approach to supporting immunity.
3. Anyone Wanting More Energy
People experiencing fatigue and lethargy may benefit from the additional nutrient support provided by glandular supplements, explains Azarcron. “Glandulars contain low amounts of active hormones, as well as proteins, growth factors, and other signaling molecules that help correct deficiencies tied to fatigue and nourish endocrine systems that have become depleted,” she says. They often also provide B vitamins, which play important roles in metabolic function and energy production.
4. People Following a Paleo or Ancestral Diet
Both organ meats and glandular supplements are often used by those following Paleo or ancestral diets, which include a variety of unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods that have been staples in the human diet throughout history. Glandular supplements can provide many of the same benefits as organ meats for those who may not enjoy their taste or texture. In fact, Axe often recommends them for people who just can’t stomach eating actual organs.
5. Athletes and Active Individuals
To fuel their bodies, athletes and active people require a steady supply of protein, B vitamins, iron, and other nutrients, and can potentially benefit from the nutrient density of glandular supplements for supporting muscle recovery, circulation, and energy levels. “Meeting your iron needs, for example, is important for maintaining healthy energy and strength, in addition to supporting muscle functions, endurance, and concentration,” says Axe.
6. Older Adults
Unfortunately, aging often comes with a higher risk of nutrient insufficiencies, including in protein, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6. Glandular supplements can help fill nutritional gaps in the diets of older adults, says Axe. In doing so, they can potentially support muscle, cardiovascular, and immune functions, all of which become increasingly important as we age.
7. People Experiencing High Amounts of Stress
Stress can wreak havoc on the body, exacerbating issues such as fatigue and low motivation. One way to help offset the not-so-pretty impacts of intense stress? Boost your nutrient intake, which can work to support mental well-being and improve cognitive function. One easy way to do this, Azarcron suggests, is with the support of a glandular supplement.
How To Take Glandulars
Because glandular supplements are made from animals, it’s important to choose high-quality products from trusted sources. “Quality control is extremely important when considering glandulars, as there is significant variability of active ingredients between products,” says Azarcron. She recommends people seek out glandulars sourced from animals treated with the highest standards of care possible and that have been third-party tested.
This means that the glands and organs used in a supplement should come from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals not treated with hormones or antibiotics—and that a third party has tested them for contaminants.
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One more factor to look for: A product should be freeze-dried, not heat-processed, as this production method preserves natural enzymes in the glandulars used.
Glandular supplements can be taken any time of day, however, some experts suggest taking them with meals to aid digestion and absorption. (Iron, for example, is better absorbed when taken with vitamin C—think leafy greens, berries, broccoli, or tropical fruits).
Precautions To Consider
It’s smart to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have existing health conditions, are pregnant, or are taking other medications.
It’s also important to keep in mind that, while glandular supplements can be a beneficial source of many nutrients, they are not a replacement for a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. Make sure you’re also putting sources of iron, vitamin A, zinc, and B12—such as grass-fed beef, oysters, fish, poultry, beans, eggs, dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds—on your plate.