Real Age


Besides calcium, a number of other minerals are found in either large or trace amounts in our bodies, all of which are necessary for basic metabolic function. Magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, sulfur, and phosphorus are, like calcium, needed in relatively large quantities. Most people's diets provide sufficient quantities of all these minerals, and, in the case of sodium, we may get far more than we require. People with salt-sensitive high blood pressure, arterial disease, and excess weight gain often need to reduce their sodium intake. Trace minerals that we need include chromium, copper, cobalt, iodine, iron, fluoride, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc. Our bodies demand these minerals in much smaller amounts, and we generally get them from our diet. Silicon, vanadium, nickel, lithium, cadmium, and boron are other trace minerals we seem to need, but scientists know much less about them. If you are eating a well-balanced diet, you can make sure you're getting enough of all these minerals by taking a multivitamin at least once a week. Do not take extra mineral supplements.

Why? Minerals are insoluble elements that come from the earth's crust. Many of them are heavy metals, which can be toxic in excess amounts. With minerals, you want to make sure to get enough without overloading. Extra minerals can build up in the body. Iron is a perfect example.


Unless you have been diagnosed with an iron deficiency—a condition seen almost exclusively in premenopausal women, growing children, and occasionally vegetarians—it is more likely that you have to worry more about getting too much iron than not enough. Men and postmenopausal women are at the lowest risk of iron deficiency, and most of us—no matter who we are—get plenty of iron from meats, fortified breakfast cereals, breads, and pastas. In fact, the United States has been criticized for adding too much iron to such foods as breakfast cereals. The critics aren't all wrong; the consequences of taking too much iron can be grave. Iron overload can be life threatening and may make your RealAge older.

Perhaps this news sounds surprising. After all, most of us were raised with cartoon images of Popeye gulping down spinach to revitalize his strength. We all thought we needed iron. Don't get me wrong—spinach is good. It's needless iron in supplements that ages us. Avoid iron unless it is prescribed for you by a physician.

When Jason—a body builder, just twenty-four years old—came to see me, he should have been at the peak of health. Instead he was near death. He suffered from congestive heart failure, unusual for someone so young. A few more months of decline, and he would have needed a heart transplant. Whereas he once had been able to bench-press three hundred fifty pounds, by the time I saw him he could barely get out of a chair. His condition seemed a mystery: A young man to an old one in just three years. Luckily for him, other patients' histories had convinced me of the need to ask everyone about the use of vitamins and supplements, and I learned that Jason was taking 10 grams of iron a day. He thought that it would help him build muscle, but he was wrong. It was killing him. Fortunately, the treatment to remove the excess iron that had built up in his body worked. He recovered completely, his heart intact.

Although iron overload as extreme as Jason's is relatively rare, his story proves a point. Iron stays in the body for a long time and, when present in large amounts, can be toxic. The body rids itself of iron primarily through bleeding, which is why menstruating women are sometimes anemic or deficient in iron. Early symptoms of iron overload include abdominal pain, fatigue, and loss of sex drive. Later symptoms include enlargement of the liver, diabetes, arthritis, and shrinking of the testicles. In severe cases, such as Jason's, iron overload can cause an abnormal heartbeat and even heart failure.

Hemochromatosis—chronic iron overload—is a fairly common affliction, and as many as one of every two hundred fifty people has a genetic predisposition to developing the condition, making hemochromatosis one of the most frequently occurring genetic disorders. Even people who don't carry the gene can develop the disorder, which damages such key organs as the liver and heart and causes needless ageing.

Even slightly excessive levels of iron in the body can be damageing. Too much iron may interfere with our levels of zinc. Studies have linked elevated iron levels with increased rates of cardiovascular disease and cancers. Although in both cases the evidence is somewhat preliminary and more studies are needed to prove the links, taking extra iron is not worth the risk. In RealAge terms, it can increase your ageing.

There are two possible ways that even low levels of iron toxicity can age us. First, iron appears to contribute to arterial ageing. No one knows exactly how, but the theory is that because iron is an oxidant, it increases the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. When LDL cholesterol is oxidized, it becomes especially dangerous, causing atherosclerosis. Some scientists have speculated that one of the reasons menstruating women have lower rates of cardiovascular disease is that they have lower levels of iron in their blood. One Finnish study showed that the rate of heart attacks doubled when the concentration of iron in the blood exceeded 220 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter of blood). This risk was four times higher for patients who had both high iron levels and an LDL cholesterol reading of 190 or higher. Other studies have been unable to confirm this link, and the claims about the connection have been strongly contested. But, why risk it?

Elevated iron levels have also been linked to cancers. The data remain preliminary, and we still don't completely understand the relationship, but two major theories suggest why this may be the case. First, iron is an oxidant. In contrast to antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, that remove free radicals from the body, iron enhances the production of free radicals, which, in turn, is linked to an increased incidence of cancer. Second, cancer cells appear to demand more iron than other cells. When cancers do develop, the increased iron in the body may fuel them to grow at a faster rate. Although neither theory has been proven, studies in the United States and Finland have shown an increased risk of cancers for people with elevated levels of iron.

If you are not iron deficient, make sure that your multivitamin does not contain iron. Eat normally. Take iron only if anemia is a chronic problem and you are specifically directed to do so by a doctor. If you are a vegetarian, be sure to have your red blood cell count checked annually just to ensure that you are not developing an iron deficiency. If you are a vegetarian and are eating a balanced diet, you are probably getting enough iron from other sources. If you are a woman and still menstruating, have your iron levels checked before you decide to take iron. Most menstruating women do not require iron supplements.


Chromium, a mineral involved in glucose metabolism, is important for the synthesis of cholesterol, fats, and protein. Health-food gurus advocate chromium—usually in the form of chromium picolinate—for everything from weight loss to cholesterol reduction to the alleviation of depression to treatment for hypoglycemia and diabetes. Chromium has also been said to prevent osteoporosis, to build muscle, and to promote longevity. In light of these claims, should you take chromium as a supplement? Chromium is certainly a necessary mineral, but we generally get enough from our diets to provide for our needs. Chromium is found in many whole grains, meats, and dairy products—even in beer! Clearly, having proper levels of chromium in your body is necessary to metabolize blood sugar, and most of the benefits associated with chromium are tied to the process of proper glucose metabolism. Doctors sometimes advise that people with Type II diabetes take chromium to boost the effect of insulin. Regardless, if you have diabetes, you should not take chromium or any drug without first consulting your doctor.

Most of the longevity claims made for this mineral stem from animal studies and seem to be tied to the already well-known fact that a low body mass index increases life span. Several studies in the 1980s glorified chromium as a wonder nutrient, but the results have largely been disproved. It is still unclear whether taking chromium as a supplement promotes safe weight loss, and some studies have indicated that chromium may even cause weight gain. Indeed, one study linked the intake of chromium picolinate with weight gain among already overweight women. As for other claims, studies have shown little evidence that chromium adds muscle mass. Since we know little about chromium toxicity, we don't have much sense of how much a person can take without causing a negative effect. Too much chromium can cause heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and even psychosis. Animal studies have shown that chromium can cause chromosomal damage and so may pose a risk of cancer as well. I recommend eating a balanced diet and taking a multivitamin as a backup. That should provide all the chromium you need.


Recently, there has been a big stir over selenium, which has been heralded for its antioxidant properties. Selenium is one of the trace minerals that our bodies need. We get selenium largely from such plant foods as garlic, which absorb the mineral from the soil they grow in. The soil in different regions of the country varies considerably in selenium content.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported a 50 percent reduction in cancer deaths among diagnosed patients who took 100 meg of selenium twice a day. Yet other research has suggested that selenium may have an immune effect as well, boosting resistance to certain viruses. These findings are still preliminary and have been much criticized by some cancer researchers. Unfortunately, all we have are tantalizing tidbits. The National Cancer Institute is funding at least five studies on the potential benefits of selenium, and we should know considerably more about the role of selenium within the next four years. Of the five primary medical advisers on the ReaLAge team, one thought the data convincing enough that he began taking selenium. The other four chose to wait for more information.

Although we may find that selenium has important antiageing properties, it is a trace mineral that is not easily excreted by the body and can build up to toxic levels, causing needless ageing. The current recommended daily allowances for selenium are 70 meg a day for men and 55 meg a day for women. I recommend that you get this mineral from your diet, rather than from a supplement. That way, you probably won't overdo it. Most Americans who eat a balanced diet should not worry about a deficiency, since selenium is plentiful in many foods: garlic, whole grains, cereals, meats, and some seafood. Since garlic in particular has been thought to provide numerous health benefits, I recommend getting selenium by loading your meals with lots of garlic.


Strokes are the major cause of cognitive ageing, or ageing of the brain. Thankfully, strokes can largely be prevented. One easy thing you can do to minimize the risk of stroke and the ageing it can cause is to increase your intake of potassium. If you already eat a normal diet rich in fruits and vegetables, supplementing that diet with three bananas (or their potassium equivalent) a day can make your RealAge as much as 0.6 years younger in just three years.

What makes potassium so important? Potassium is what is known as an electrolyte, an electrically charged particle, an element the body needs for proper cellular functioning. Every time a nerve impulse is conducted or a muscle is contracted, potassium—because it carries an electrical charge— makes that reflex possible. Potassium, in conjunction with other minerals, regulates blood pressure and allows the heart and kidneys to function properly. Four major studies have shown that increased potassium intake is linked to a decrease in the incidence of strokes and may prevent other kinds of arterial ageing, too. How does potassium prevent ageing?

We still don't know, but studies on rats have shown that potassium acts as a counterbalance to sodium intake. Whereas rats fed a high-sodium diet normally had shortened life spans, that effect was mitigated when they were fed a high-potassium diet. In human clinical trials, the Rancho Bernardo study found that people who ate comparatively little potassium had 2.6 to 4.8 times the risk of stroke as those who ate considerably more potassium. Of the 287 people who had high potassium intake, no one had a stroke during the study. Among the 572 people with lower potassium intake, 24 had strokes. Possible explanations? Three studies found that increased dietary potassium intake decreased blood pressure, thus decreasing the rate of arterial ageing, which can cause both heart attacks and strokes. That could not have been the whole story because the decrease in blood pressure does not account for the entire RealAge benefit. Other biological mechanisms that may account for the RealAge effect include stabilization of arterial plaques, decreased oxidation of lipids, and stabilization of nerve cells when they get inadequate oxygen.

There is no RDA standard for potassium, but nutritionists recommend that you consume about 3,000 mg a day. If you eat a balanced diet, you will probably get a little more than half that amount in normal consumption. Bananas and avocados are, ounce for ounce, the richest sources of potassium. One banana contains about 467 mg of potassium, and both Florida and California avocados contain over 1,000 mg of potassium per fruit. Although avocados are highly caloric because they are high in fat, they are rich in monounsaturated fats—the kind of fats that are good for you (see Chapter 8). Potatoes, citrus fruits, tomatoes, spinach, celery, cantaloupes, and honeydew melons are also excellent sources of potassium, having 400 to 500 mg a serving. Even though they are relatively high in calories, dried apricots and peaches provide over 1,500 mg of potassium per cup, which is all the extra potassium you need in a day. Dairy products, lean meats, and such fish as tuna, mackerel, and halibut contain over 500 mg per serving. Sardines are extremely rich in potassium, with over 1,000 mg per serving. Skim milk and low-fat yogurt are excellent sources of potassium (400 mg per serving). To get the RealAge benefit of potassium, try to eat three bananas (or about 1,400 mg of potassium) a day and get the rest from a well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in potassium. By doing so, your total intake would be about 3,000 mg a day.

Under no circumstances should you take potassium supplements unless advised to do so by your doctor, as overdosing can be a problem. Although most of us do not consume the optimal amount of potassium, actual potassium deficiencies are truly rare, except in people with very specific medical conditions. Since certain medications may deplete potassium supplies, supplements may be advised, but they should be taken only under strict medical supervision. Remember, too, that increasing potassium intake can actually cause ageing in people who have kidney disease or are taking certain medications, so talk to your doctor before increasing your potassium intake. For most of us, however, increasing potassium intake through diet is a quick, easy way to make our RealAge 0.6 years younger and to decrease our risk of stroke and the associated cognitive ageing it can cause.


Although sodium is a vital mineral for proper functioning of your body, you don't need to worry about getting enough of it. Most Americans consume far more sodium than they need. The minimum amount of sodium you need for good health is 116 mg a day, and the average American consumes more than 4,000 mg.

When we hear the word sodium, we tend to think of table salt (sodium chloride), but the fact is, sodium comes in many other forms. Approximately 75 percent of the sodium you consume comes not from the salt shaker but as an additive to processed food. Table salt is actually only 40 percent sodium.

High consumption of sodium is associated with higher blood pressure in some, and perhaps all, people. Numerous studies have found this to be true.

The most famous study of this kind was the InterSalt study, which evaluated sodium consumption in over 10,000 people in fifty-two study centers. Sodium intake correlated with an increase in blood pressure, and, correspondingly, high blood pressure correlated with an accelerated rate of arterial ageing. For years, doctors have been prescribing low-salt diets to those whose blood pressure showed a particular sensitivity to sodium. Indeed, the first correlation between sodium intake and high blood pressure was made by Ambard and Beaujard in 1904. As a result, early in the century, low-sodium diets were frequently prescribed as a way to successfully lower blood pressure. The development of blood pressure medications encouraged many doctors to move away from this approach, except in rare instances in which it could be shown that an individual was 'sodium sensitive.'

Newer data suggest that perhaps all of us age faster when salt consumption is excessive. The idea of sodium sensitivity is problematic. A chief drawback of the sodium-sensitivity theory is that no one knows who is sodium sensitive until after high blood pressure develops, and by then significant ageing has already begun. Many people's sensitivity to sodium changes with age, as their metabolism undergoes other changes as well. The best choice is to cut back on sodium intake. Sodium chloride (salt) restriction, exercise, and weight control form the triad of behavioral changes that can best help you reduce the likelihood of developing high blood pressure and subsequent arterial ageing.

Although the average American consumes about 4,000 mg of sodium a day, most reputable medical organizations, including the U.S. Surgeon General's Office, the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Science's Research Council, and countless experts in the field, suggest that sodium intake should not exceed 2,400 mg (about a teaspoon of salt) a day. I go further and suggest that for the maximum Age Reduction benefit, try to keep sodium consumption at less than 1,600 mg a day. A fifty-five-year-old man who has consistently consumed only 1,600 mg of sodium a day is as much as 2.8 years younger than his counterpart who has paid no attention to sodium intake.

How can you reduce sodium intake? The easiest way is to decrease your consumption of processed and prepackaged foods, since a lot of sodium is used to preserve these products. Most fast foods are also high in sodium—just one more reason not to frequent Burger Heaven. Alternatively, fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh meats and poultry contain little sodium. If these foods form the basis of your diet, you will significantly reduce your sodium consumption without really trying. When you do buy prepackaged or canned foods, read the labels. Foods that you would never describe as 'salty' can have an astounding amount of sodium. Cheese, preserved meats, many condiments, and some shellfish are very high in sodium, so beware. Often similar products have surprisingly different sodium levels; many companies now offer 'no-sodium' and 'low-sodium' variants of their products. Even though you should cut back on table salt, remember, it is the hidden salts in processed foods that account for most of your sodium consumption.

Although sodium deficiencies are virtually unheard of, strenuous exercise on a hot day can lower salt concentrations in the body, a condition that can trigger other complications that age the body. When exercising, drink plenty of water to keep yourself properly hydrated.


Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for energy metabolism. Muscle contractions, nerve impulses, and even the most basic processes of cellular energy storage require magnesium. Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is increasingly common. Experts estimate that 40 percent of Americans are getting less than 70 percent of the RDA for magnesium. Life in the modern world seems to be especially hard on our magnesium intake: Stress, sugar, alcohol, and the phosphates commonly found in soft drinks and processed foods all deplete our stores of magnesium. Even exercise, one of the most important factors in preventing ageing, can cause magnesium deficiency because we lose magnesium when we sweat. Moreover, magnesium deficiency often provides no symptoms. The first sign that something is wrong can be a heart attack caused by an abnormal heart rhythm.

A ten-year study of four hundred persons who were at a high risk of coronary disease found that those who ate a magnesium-rich diet had fewer than half as many complications from cardiovascular-related problems as did those who ate only about one-third of the recommended amount of magnesium. Overall mortality rates for people who ate a magnesium-rich diet were lower as well. Although this ten-year study was the first in-depth study of magnesium, if its findings are true, it would mean that eating a magnesium-rich diet would lower your RealAge by as much as 0.9 years.

For now, I cannot say with certainty that eating a magnesium-rich diet will lower your RealAge, although both anecdotal and preliminary evidence suggest that it would. It has been known for some time that heart attacks are less common in areas where the water supplies are rich in magnesium. Magnesium is also known to lower blood pressure; dilate the arteries, and, when given after a heart attack, restore normal heart rhythms. Magnesium is especially important in the regulation of calcium. Since we do know that taking calcium helps reduce RealAge, it is also vital to get enough magnesium to allow for the proper absorption of calcium.

The suggested intake of magnesium is about one-third the intake of calcium, which means that women should get at least 400 mg of magnesium a day, and that men should get at least 333 mg a day. Current studies show that the average intake for Americans is less than 300 mg. People who need to be extra careful to get the right amounts of magnesium include pregnant and lac-tating women, those with kidney disease, diabetics, those on low-calorie diets, and those taking digitalis preparations and diuretics. All these people should consult their physicians before beginning any new regimen.

Magnesium is found largely in whole-grain breads and cereals. Breads made with refined flours unfortunately have little magnesium because most of the mineral is lost during the refining process. Most fortified and whole-grain cereals contain 100 to 200 mg per bowl. Soybeans and lima beans contain 100 mg per serving, and most nuts contain 100 to 300 mg per serving. Such fruits and vegetables as avocados, bananas, beets, raisins, and dates are also good sources of magnesium. When you choose your daily vitamin supplement, check to see that it contains magnesium. If you worry that you are not getting enough magnesium, consider supplementing your diet with 250 to 300 mg daily. As with all Age Reduction behaviors or plans you adopt, check with your doctor first, since those who have kidney problems can accumulate too much magnesium and have serious side effects.


Recent claims have linked zinc to antioxidant activity and immune system response. Unless you are a vegetarian or are on a restricted diet, you probably get enough zinc from food. Zinc is most commonly found in animal products but is also found in nuts, legumes, and fortified cereals. Zinc is vital to the synthesis of DNA and RNA (ribonucleic acid) and is therefore important for cell division.

Zinc deficiencies are rare. As with most trace minerals, I do not recommend that you take extra supplements. Although zinc deficiencies may cause various problems, boosting zinc beyond basic levels appears to do no good and may even cause harm. For example, too much zinc may interfere with the workings of another trace mineral you need, copper. As with most minerals, high intake may prove toxic, and too much zinc can damage the immune system. Take no more than 30 mg daily. The RDA is just 15 mg for men and 12 mg for women. More than that can be harmful. For example, taking just 50 to 75 mg a day can actually reduce your HDL (healthy) cholesterol, something you want to avoid.

Recently, zinc has received a lot of attention for its role in fighting colds. One study found that zinc lozenges may help ease cold symptoms; another showed they did not. We still need more information.

Herbs and Miscellaneous Supplements

I have talked about vitamins and minerals, but what about all those other bottles you see lining the shelves of any health-food store? Again, as little as we know about minerals, we know even less about most herbal remedies and food supplements. Drawn from various folk treatments, as well as from traditional Eastern medicine, herbs no doubt can provide some benefits. More scientific studies are being done on such remedies each year. Most of the herbs are probably harmless, but some cause needless ageing. Never, for example, take anything with comfrey in it. This herb is known to cause liver damage. Also, sassafras, chaparral, germander, and pokeroot have been associated with severe and even lethal effects.

If you think you might want to take an herbal remedy or food supplement, find out about it first. Do not simply ask the clerk at the health-food store or rely on a book there. Do research at the local library or on the Internet. With the right search, you can find out about popular claims and the status of that herb in the scientific literature. If you don't have time to do a search yourself or don't have access to the resources, ask your doctor to find more information for you. Sometimes you may decide that you want to try an herb even though its claimed effects remain unproven. As long it is proven harmless, go ahead. It might prevent you from ageing, but you want to make sure that it does not cause ageing.

Here's my review of some of the more popular herbal remedies and food supplements. The list is almost endless and ever changing.

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 has gained popularity recently for alleged benefits in preventing cardiovascular ageing. Found naturally in our organs, it helps stimulate energy pathways at a cellular level, notably in the muscle tissue of the heart. Studies have claimed that coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant that can prevent arterial ageing. It has gained some popularity for therapy of critically ill patients awaiting heart transplants, and the findings of some clinical studies have supported these claims. Our bodies naturally produce Q10 when they are not lacking in vitamin C or any of the B-complex vitamins. There is little information on the effects of the supplemental form of the coenzyme, and there are no guidelines regarding dosage. Currently, the American Heart Association lists it as an experimental drug. Although coenzyme Q10 appears safe and beneficial in some studies, no studies have been done on its possible side effects. I cannot recommend taking coenzyme Q10 as a supplement, as no scientific data suggest that it has greater antiageing benefits than risks. In any case, the group of patients for whom there is a purported benefit—those with severe and life-threatening heart failure—should take a supplement or medication only under the strict supervision of their physicians.


Come cold and flu season, I always see individuals who are taking echinacea, an herbal powder derived from the leaves and stems of the coneflower. A popular folk remedy, echinacea is purported to boost the body's natural immunity. Unfortunately, the very few studies that have been done on this herb, both in Germany and the United States, have produced mixed results. Some found an immune response, others found no effect. At this stage, we really don't have any proof whether it works. In general, echinacea appears harmless. People with allergies to plants in the sunflower family should steer clear of it, and those with autoimmune diseases will want to talk to their doctors before taking this herb. Do not take echinacea for long periods; even fans of the herb recommend taking it for only a few weeks at a time, when cold or flu symptoms set in.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba, an herb that comes from the Chinese ginkgo tree, is purported to have antioxidant properties. It is best known for its supposed enhancement of mental clarity. It is also believed to lower blood pressure and have other antiageing properties. Are these claims true? No one knows. Ginkgo biloba does contain flavonoids and other compounds that are known to scavenge free radicals. Several European studies have indicated possible benefits for Alzheimer's disease, but these studies were not performed using proper clinical-trial design, and so amount to hearsay.

Only one scientifically credible clinical trial on ginkgo biloba has been conducted in the United States. It indicated that the herb may help improve cognitive functioning in people who have Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study found cognitive improvement in 37 percent of those given the extract, as opposed to 23 percent of those given a placebo. The data offered by the study were preliminary, merely a first-round screening of the supplement. The study relied largely on subjective social indicators—such as whether caregivers of patients suffering from dementia noticed any change in behavior when the patients took the herb—rather than on concrete physiological or psychological tests. More research needs to be done on ginkgo biloba before we know if it really has any effect.

Ginkgo biloba appears to be another of many possible antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. It is unclear whether it has any unique properties that are not found in other antioxidants. Even if its alleged positive effects were proven, it is not as effective in diminishing the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease as are certain known medications currently prescribed. On the other hand, there are no known side effects associated with gingko biloba.


Ginseng is a root that has long been used in Eastern medicine to boost energy. Recently, medical reports have claimed that it can boost immune response and increase white blood cell count. As with most herbs, there have been very few rigorous studies, so most information we have comes from personal testimonials and word of mouth. One study linked ginseng to a reduced incidence of the common cold and flu, but another showed that the immune systems of mice who were fed ginseng were damaged. Ginseng made the mice suffer more illness and get older faster than they would have normally. There are claims that the American variety of ginseng, not the Asian variety, has more active properties. In general, the evidence for a beneficial effect of ginseng is low. Ginseng is known to increase blood pressure and may negatively affect sugar metabolism. Some reports related to these side effects indicate that ginseng should not be used except for discrete periods of two weeks or so. Since there are no proven benefits and there are known side effects, I cannot recommend the use of ginseng.

Thymus Extract

Because of its alleged antiageing benefits, there has recently been a stir about thymus extract. Should you take it? No. Why not? The thymus is a gland that is active during childhood and adolescence. It helps control and modulate the immune system. By age twenty, the thymus begins to dry up, and by age fifty, it has virtually disappeared. The theory behind taking thymus extract as a supplement is that the extract will help stimulate immune functioning and protect you from cancers, arthritis, and other ailments that age you. Since the thymus is active during our youth, it is assumed (wrongfully) to be something that will keep us young. No studies and no data indicate that thymus extract helps in any way. Furthermore, taking the extract has a potential hazard. Thymus extract that is introduced into the body is different from that produced by your own body. Since supplemental thymus extract is a foreign protein, it may trigger an immune reaction, which, in turn, may cause your body to develop antibodies against itself.