4 ways to revitalize the gland that rules your immune system

Hidden behind you breastbone is a critical organ that you probably don’t think much about — your thymus.

The thymus is a tiny, two-lobed gland that’s essential to your immune system. It doesn’t get as much press as other glands (like the thyroid and prostate), but it’s just as important.

You know those cancer and infection-fighting T-cells you’ve heard so much about? They come from the thymus. In fact, the “T” in T-cell stands for thymus!

When you’re young, your thymus pumps out disease-killing T-cells like crazy. But as you get older your thymus starts shrinking. This once-powerful immune organ is replaced with fatty tissue, and isn’t able to send out as many T-cells to fight infections and cancer. By the time you turn 65, your thymus is pretty much unable to produce any new T-cells.

Thymus deterioration puts you at risk for a lot of diseases — especially cancer. It also explains why older people have such a hard time fighting infections like the flu.

Basically, a shrinking thymus is bad news for your health. But the good news?

Thymus regeneration is possible. In fact, the latest research shows it could be the anti-aging, cancer-fighting secret we’ve all been searching for…

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The hope of thymus regeneration

Infections, stress, cancer treatments — and, of course, age — all damage your thymus.  But recent research shows the thymus has an amazing ability to renew itself…

A study from researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center just uncovered a natural molecule that helps the thymus regenerate — BMP4.

In a study on mice, researchers found that cells that line the inside of the thymus (endothelial cells) produce this BMP4 molecule and promote healthy thymus regeneration. When your thymus gets damaged, your body sends a message to these endothelial cells, and they start releasing this molecule to repair the damage.

Researchers hope to find a way to trigger the release of this molecule, so they can help people maintain a productive and healthy thymus well into old age. When (and if) they do, it will be a game-changer for older adults and anyone with cancer. But it won’t happen tomorrow.

So what can you do now to keep your thymus pumping out T-cells?

Well, lucky for you, science has already pointed to a few natural ways to support a healthy thymus that you can try right now…

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Promoting a healthy thymus

If you’re ready to give your thymus some love, studies have demonstrated a few ways to keep this important but overlooked gland healthy. You can start by:

  • Ramping up your antioxidant intake. A 2015 study found that antioxidants — especially vitamin C — can protect your thymus from free radicals and prevent some of that age-related thymus shrinkage.
  • Going grain free. A 1993 study shows that a chemical in wheat called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) contributes to a shrinking thymus.
  • Getting enough zinc. According to Easy Health Options contributor Dr. Isaac Eliaz, zinc is the mineral your thymus needs most to stay healthy.
  • Staying away from artificial sweeteners. Studies show that artificial sweeteners like sucralose shrink the thymus gland in rats.

These four lifestyle changes are a good starting point for a healthy thymus. But if you’re open to more anecdotal methods for supporting your thymus, you may want to try one more thing…

Tapping your thymus.

Supposedly, tapping your chest over your thymus gland (the center of your chest, below your collarbone) can stimulate a sluggish immune system. Try doing this for 15 to 20 seconds several times per day. Hum as you do it for even better results. It’s not scientifically-proven. But a lot of people swear it boosts the immune system and relieves stress. Test it out for yourself, and see how it makes you feel.

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  1. Thymus gland — Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
  2. How the immune system’s key organ regenerates itself — MedicalXpress. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
  3. Wertheimer, et al. “Production of BMP4 by endothelial cells is crucial for endogenous thymic regeneration.” — Science Immunology, 2018.
  4. Can we turn back the clock on an aging thymus? — MedicalXpress. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
  5. Forleo, James. Health Is Simple, Disease Is Complicated. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2008.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.