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The thymus gland is found behind the sternum in the middle of the chest. It plays a significant role in the immune system, especially in unborn and very young children. The theory behind the use of thymus extracts is that they might stimulate or normalize immunity. However, there is no reliable real evidence as yet that any thymus extracts are effective for any health condition. Furthermore, there are significant safety concerns with thymus products.
Two double-blind placebo-controlled trials enrolling children with frequent respiratory infections, such as colds , found that treatment with thymus extract reduced the rate of infection. 1 In theory, this might indicate an immune-boosting effect. However, small studies cannot provide reliable proof that a treatment is effective. Weak evidence from a rather convoluted trial hints that thymus extract may also be helpful for preventing respiratory infections in adults. 2
Intensive athletic training can suppress immune function and lead to colds, as well. However, a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 60 athletes failed to find any significant evidence of benefit with thymus extract. 3 Preliminary evidence hints that thymus extracts may be helpful for food...
Thymus extracts have not been definitely associated with any side effects. However, there are real concerns that any glandular extract might contain the virus causing "mad cow disease." 4 Keep in mind that there is relatively little governmental regulation of thymus products sold as dietary supplements in the US. Even when a ban is placed on importation of cow glands from a country where mad cow disease has been found, the ban does not apply to dietary supplements! For this reason, we recommend that you do not use thymus products sold as dietary supplements unless they are certified as free from risk of infection.