Aging is a process that can be described as an accumulation of damage to cells , tissues and organs. It is only to be expected that the efficiency of the organs comes down as we progressively age. This includes the organs of the immune system. Although it is not fatal, a weakened immune system can make the body infection-prone. Thymus is a key organ of the immune system. So, an underactive thymus is counterproductive to aging as some studies reveal that it is linked with increased incidences of cancer and infections.
We, as humans, have always been fascinated by the idea of increasing life expectancy and prolonging life. Most research that focuses on anti-aging therapies aims to improve overall health, in addition to targeting some specific ailments. The role of hormones and supplements in anti-aging process has been generating a lot of interest over the last few decades.
One such therapy that is exciting is the thymus therapy. The thymus gland is a bi-lobed organ of the immune system. The two lobes differ slightly in size and may be attached or separated. It is pinkish - gray in colour in children and yellow in adults. It is located in front of the heart, behind the sternum. Its primary function is the production of T-lymphocytes (or T - cells) which is a type of white blood cells, which are the immune cells that play a crucial role in the immune system, fighting infections. The thymus provides an ideal environment for the development and maturation of T - cells from hematopoietic stem cells. On maturation, they move out of the thymus and function as T - cells in the immune system.
Structurally, thymus has an irregular shape and a bumpy surface that is made up of lobules. The size of the organ changes over time. It reaches its maximum size, activity and a weight of about an ounce during puberty and then slowly decreases in size during adulthood as it is gradually replaced by fat tissue. By the time a person is about sixty, their thymus gland will barely be discernible from the surrounding fatty tissues. This atrophy process is initiated and directed by the high levels of circulating sex hormones during adolescence. As the thymus gland deteriorates with age, so does the T - cell count as the majority of lymphocyte production happens early in life. The T - cells keep the body healthy and our immune system fit. So, more the T - cells circulating in the body, fewer diseases are contracted.
Loss of the thymus at an early age results in severe immunodeficiency and also an extreme susceptibility to infections. The stock of T - cells is built up as children and the function is diminished in adults. But, surprisingly, removal of the thymus does not result in a T - cell immunodeficiency. This is because sufficient T - cells are generated during foetal life prior to birth. These T - cells are long - lived and can proliferate throughout the lifetime of the patient. The shrinking of the thymus may also act as a trigger that initiates the aging process. It can be said that a person having an active thymus gland or thymic hormones has a better chance of fighting off diseases and also slow aging.
The process of T - cell maturation is regulated by hormones produced by the thymus, including thymopoietin and thymosin. The thymosins are biologically active proteins with hormone - like properties. Other discoveries have also been made. For example, the role of these proteins in repairing blood vessels of the heart and other injured tissues and stem cell differentiation has been studied. Several of these small thymosin proteins, like thymosin alpha 1 and thymosin beta 4, have been shown to have important clinical applications. These hormones are taken as supplements to boost the immune system in adults. Theoretically, extension of the lifespan could be achieved by reducing the rate of damage caused by aging, by periodic replacement of damaged tissues , and repair or rejuvenation of deteriorated cells and tissues. This is the theory behind anti-aging thymus therapy.
Studies have shown that use of thymosin alpha 1 (talpha 1) as a supplement increased the efficiency of vaccines in elderly patients . Patients with malignant tumors have been found to have an increased immune response and a level of improvement of their quality of life after treatment with thymosin hormone. It might prove very effective for elderly people whose thymus glands have degenerated leaving them with weak immune systems; it helps by providing the vital immune boost.
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Goldstein AL , Guha A, Zatz MM, Hardy, MA, White A; Purification and Biological Activity of Thymosin, a Hormone of the thymus gland, Proc. Nat. Acad Sci. 1972.
Goldstein AL, Schulof RS, Naylor PH , Hall NRThymosins and Anti-thymosins: Properties and Clinical Applications, Medical Oncology and Tumor