Diseases Of The Ductless Glands


THE first extract of any gland of the body to be used on a human patient was the thyroid gland. And this was only so short a time ago as 1891. The patient on whom it was used died in 1919, having been kept alive, or at least kept in good health, by the gland extract for 28 years.

Since that beginning, thousands of trials have been made of extracts of the body tissues, with the general idea that this or that disease or symptom was due to the inability of the body to produce a normal amount of a necessary secretion. Only within the last ten years, however, has much progress been made. Since I last wrote on the subject, a tremendous amount of work has been reported, and many new products are now used with good success.

Since its first use, 40 years ago, the beneficial action of the extract of the thyroid gland has been well proved.

Thyroid gland extract is given in all conditions in which the normal secretion of the thyroid gland is decreased. There are two main forms of this condition—one occurs in children and one in adults. The children, who are called “Cretins,” are born without any thyroid gland whatever. They are overweight, stupid and awkward. When thyroid gland is given to these children early enough it produces a miraculous effect, increasing their mental powers and changing what is merely an animal into a human being.

Equally miraculous is the effect of thyroid extract on the disease caused by the atrophy of the thyroid gland in adult life, myxedema. The disease occurs mostly in women in the middle period of life, after the menopause, and is so slow and gradual in development as often to be unnoticed by family and friends. There is an increase in weight, especially in the hands and face, and a peculiarly heavy, coarse skin replaces the healthy skin; the hair may become scanty; the patient becomes extremely sensitive to cold, and wears heavy clothes in the warmest weather; personality changes are remarkable, with melancholia, long fits of apathy and stupor, and slow response to questions and stimulation.

It is unfortunate that relatives of these patients frequently do not realize that these changes really indicate a disease—they are often ascribed to the changes of age—because so much can be done to restore the patient to normal conditions of life by the use of thyroid extract.


Man always has yearned for the Fountain of Eternal Youth. Once it was magical water which brought Ponce de Leon from Spain. Of late, it has been goat glands. None of these attempts have been very successful, except in novels and magazine articles, but hope always springs eternal.

Respecting the later theories, which had to do with goat glands, the implantation of grafts, or the use of extracts of the reproductive glands, it may be that we have been on the wrong track. We have always used the extracts of the reproductive glands themselves. But lately, it has been found that another gland in the body, the anterior pituitary gland, really activates the reproductive glands. And the best results in producing an activity of their product has been to stimulate them by extract of the anterior pituitary body.

It is not possible to report any cases of old men becoming so young that their grandchildren do not recognize them, with the use of this substance. Up to the present time, it appears to be mostly useful in under-developed young people, inducing growth and proper development in both boys and girls so afflicted.

In animals, however, it has been shown that senile female mice have been rejuvenated to a certain extent, so it is not impossible that in the course of time the experiments will be extended, and perhaps something interesting to those of us who are getting onward a little bit, may develop before long.

In 1931 a Chicago physician reported that with this same extract he was able to treat baldness with gratifying results in certain cases. A patient to whom he was giving the extract for other purposes, developed a luxuriant growth of hair, which was striking for the reason that there was a familial tendency toward scant hair.

Since then certain other reports have come in, and it seems quite true that this treatment is effective in certain cases. It may have to be given for quite a long while before results are obtained. In one of the cases reported, there were 260 injections, but the final result was excellent.


The last realm of physiology to be revealed—or at least the latest, for no one knows what the last will be—is that strange circulation of chemicals through our blood, excreted into it by those little masses of flesh placed here and there, called “ductless glands.” Subtly these chemicals affect our tissues, our minds, perhaps our personalities, drawing the blood away from this spot and flooding that other organ, whipping our cells into activity until they grow and grow, warming us, cooling us, stimulating us, and then subduing us into a lethargy. So that all the processes of life seem to be activated and controlled by these regulators of our earthly system.

It was not a guess so wide of the mark that caused Descartes, the first describer of one of them—the pineal gland—to assert that it is the seat of the soul. One of the most modern of physiologists has ventured to call the pituitary gland, the cappel-meister of the dance of life. Which is not far from saying in a modem way—the soul.

Even more complicated do these activities become when the glands become diseased, and instead of producing the normal amount of their secretion, they produce too little or too much or even a secretion somewhat different in chemical composition from the normal. Treatment of such disorders is theoretically simple. When the secretion is too low, an extract of the secretion from the gland of a healthy animal is given. When the secretion is too high or is diseased, the gland is surgically removed, and a normal secretion substituted. But this is frequently unsatisfactory because we are not wise enough to know exactly how to regulate the secretion, even if we should have potent extracts for all the glands, which we have not.

So rapidly are methods changing, however, that even the general plan of these procedures may be modified. The latest word we get on the subject is that many new and active extracts of these glands are being perfected, and even anti-extracts or anti-hormones which have the effect of neutralizing an excess secretion. Thus in the near future, surgical operations on these glands may be entirely avoided, and the anti-hormone be given until the evil effect of increased activity be mitigated and the gland returns to normal activity.

Certainly it would look as if the future of medical treatment lay largely in the hands of the chemist.