Understanding our Endocrine System Gland by Gland
Each gland of the Endocrine system has a specific task and role when it comes to our hormones. Having an understanding of every gland and a description of the hormones associated with it, allows us to recognize our own hormonal imbalances. It is imperative we have the knowledge of how to support our hormones naturally in order to take control of your own health. It is my goal to provide the tools you will need to be an advocate for yourself and your loved ones when it comes to holistic health. Knowledge truly is powerful! Below I will give you basic information on every gland in the Endocrine system, some of the roles they play in our bodies, and different herbal resources on how to support them!
Hypothalamus Located at the base of the brain, this gland helps control the Pituitary Gland which regulates most of our Endocrine system functions. These glands go hand in hand with one another which makes it very important that they are both balanced. Below I will explain the role of different hormones secreted by the Hypothalamus. The Hypothalamus regulates our secretions of Leptin and Ghrelin, both of which control our appetite. It regulates our Thyrotropin-releasing hormone and our release-inhibiting hormone which are primarily responsible for regulating hunger, thirst, blood temperature, and nerve centers. It regulates our Antidiuretic hormone, which increases how much water is absorbed into the blood by the kidneys. It regulates our Corticotropin-releasing hormone, which helps regulate metabolism and immune response by working with the pituitary gland and adrenal gland to release certain steroids. It regulates our Gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which instructs the pituitary gland to release more hormones that keep the sexual organs working. It regulates our Oxytocin, a hormone involved in several processes, including the release of a mother’s breast milk, moderating body temperature, and regulating sleep cycles. It regulates our Prolactin-controlling hormones, which tell the pituitary gland to either start or stop breast milk production in lactating mothers. Symptoms of Imbalance can include: Depression, headaches, fatigue, mental slowing, weight fluctuations, menstrual changes, dizziness, and chills. Herbs Historically known to support this gland: Maca Root, Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Rhodiola, Bladderwrack, Schizandra Berry, Chaste Tree Berry Supplements Historically known to support this gland: B Vitamins, Vitamin C, fatty acids, Citrus Bioflavinoids. Pituitary Gland The Pituitary gland is known as the “Master Gland”acting as a synergist to most all of the glandular tasks. Located near the optic nerves, it is a small pea-sized gland that plays a major role in regulating vital body functions and general well being. The pituitary gland has two main parts, the anterior pituitary gland and the posterior pituitary gland. The gland is attached to a part of the brain (the hypothalamus) that controls its activity. The anterior pituitary gland is connected to the brain by short blood vessels. The posterior pituitary gland is actually part of the brain and it secretes hormones directly into the bloodstream under the command of the brain. It senses the body's needs and sends signals to different organs and glands throughout the body to regulate their function and maintain a balanced environment. It helps to regulate the production of growth hormones. It regulates the thyroid stimulation hormone, also known as TSH. TSH is a pituitary hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroxine (T4), and then triiodothyronine (T3) which stimulates the metabolism of almost every tissue in the body. It regulates the adrenocorticotrophic hormone which controls the levels of the steroid hormone cortisol, that is released from the adrenal gland. It regulates the anti-diuretic hormone which increases how much water is absorbed into the blood by the kidneys. Symptoms of Imbalance can include: headaches, vision problems, nausea, weakness, unexplained weight gain or loss, feeling cold, irregular periods. Herbs Historically known to support this gland: Chaste Tree Berry, Astragalus, Licorice Root, Kelp, Bladderwrack, Gotu Kola, and Ginseng. Supplements Historically known to support this gland: B Vitamins, specifically B-12, Manganese, Trace Minerals, Selenium, Amino Acids Tryptophan and Taurine. Thyroid Our thyroid is located at the base of the neck in front of the windpipe. It is made up of two halves, called lobes, that lie along the trachea and are joined together by a narrow band of thyroid tissue, known as the isthmus. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body's metabolic rate controlling heart, muscle and digestive function, brain development and bone maintenance. The function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine, and convert it into thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Its correct functioning depends on a good supply of iodine from the diet. Thyroid cells combine iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make T3 and T4. T3 and T4 are then released into the blood stream and are transported throughout the body where they control the metabolism of every cell. Below I will explain the role of each thyroid hormone. Thyroxine (referred to as T4), is a relatively inactive prohormone. A prohormone is usually an inactive form of a hormone, which needs to be converted to the active form before it has an effect in the body. The thyroid produces 80% of T4 hormone which needs to be transformed into and active form (T3). Triiodothyronine (referred to as T3) is the highly active thyroid hormone. The Thyroid only produces 20% of T3 which does not be transformed in order to be active and have an effect on the body. There are other hormone-producing cells within the thyroid gland called C-cells. C-cells produce calcitonin. Calcitonin plays a role in regulating calcium and phosphate levels in the blood, which is important for your bone health and maintenance. Symptoms of Imbalance can include: dry skin, brittle nails, numbness or tingling in extremities, constipation, abnormal menstruation, joint pain, thinning hair, fatigue, weight fluctuation, and anxiety. Herbs Historically known to support this gland: Ashwagandha, Bladderwrack, Echinacea, Kelp, Dulse, Black Walnut, Gentian. Supplements Historically known to support this gland: Iodine, Zinc, Selenium, Iron, Vitamin D, B Vitamins, Potassium, Sodium, Tyrosine Adrenal Glands The body has two Adrenal glands each one sits on top of our kidneys and are another essential body system. Each adrenal gland is composed of two distinct parts: the outer part called the adrenal cortex and the inner adrenal medulla. The adrenal glands secrete different hormones which act as 'chemical messengers'. These hormones travel in the bloodstream and act on various body tissues to enable them to function correctly. All adrenocortical hormones are steroid compounds made from cholesterol. The Adrenals are responsible for regulating our blood sugar, mineral content, digestive functioning, energy levels, and two of the bodies major hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones control our reactions to short-term stress and acute stress. Mineralocorticoids: the most important of these is aldosterone. This hormone helps to maintain the body’s salt and water levels which, in turn, regulates blood pressure. Without aldosterone, the kidney loses excessive amounts of salt (sodium) and, consequently, water, leading to severe dehydration and low blood pressure. This hormone is produced in the adrenal cortex. Glucocorticoids: predominantly cortisol. This hormone is involved in the response to illness and also helps to regulate body metabolism. Cortisol is your bodies main stress hormone. Cortisol stimulates glucose production helping the body to free up the necessary ingredients from storage (fat and muscle) to make glucose. It can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure. Adrenal androgens: male sex hormones mainly dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and testosterone. All have weak effects, but play a role in early development of the male sex organs in childhood, and female body hair during puberty. The adrenal medulla produces catecholamines. Catecholamines include adrenaline, noradrenaline and small amounts of dopamine – these hormones are responsible for all the physiological characteristics of the stress response, the so called 'fight or flight' response. Adrenaline can increase the heart rate, increase blood pressure, expand the air passages of the lungs, enlarge the pupil in the eye, redistribute blood to the muscles and alter the body's metabolism, so as to maximize blood glucose levels primarily for the brain. Symptoms of imbalance include: extreme fatigue, irritability, mental fogginess, sleep disorders, food addictions, PMS, diabetes, headaches, chronic low blood pressure, weight fluctuations, hot flashes, and memory loss. Herbs historically known to support this gland: Ashwagandha, Licorice root, Gingko, Rhodiola, Hawthorn berry, Chamomile, Rose hips, Skullcap, Lobelia, Cayenne pepper. Supplements Historically known to support this gland: Iodine, B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Probiotics, Pantothenic acid, Trace Minerals. Pancreas The Pancreas sits across the back of our abdomen, behind the stomach. The first major role of the pancreas involves releasing digestive enzymes needed to help convert starches into simple sugars. The second role is to control blood sugar by secreting the hormones insulin and glucagon. Insulin allows your body to use sugar, glucose, from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high, hyperglycemia, or too low, hypoglycemia. Glucagons role in the body is to prevent blood glucose levels from dropping too low. To do this, it acts on the liver in several ways: It stimulates the conversion of stored glycogen, stored in the liver, to glucose, which can be released into the bloodstream. This process is called glycogenolysis. Symptoms of imbalance include: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, fever, hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia. Herbs historically known to support this gland: Licorice Root, Grape seed, turmeric, ginger, alfalfa, Juniper berries, uva ursi, saw palmetto, goldenseal, ho shou wu. Supplements Historically known to support this gland: B vitamins, chromium, selenium, manganese, sodium and amino acids, specifically isoleucine and leucine. Ovaries The ovaries are situated at the opposite ends of the pelvic wall, on either side of the uterus. They help to maintain a women’s reproductive health, They produce two major hormones, estrogens and progesterone. There are different types of estrogen which I will explain below. I will also explain the function of progesterone as well. Estrone is an estrogen that is present in the body after menopause. It is a weaker form of estrogen and one that the body can convert to other forms of estrogen, as necessary. Estradiol is an estrogen both males and females produce and it is the most common type of estrogen in females during their reproductive years. Too much estradiol may result in acne, loss of sex drive, osteoporosis, and depression. Very high levels can increase the risk of uterine and breast cancer. However, low levels can result in weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Estriol is an estrogen where levels rise during pregnancy, as it helps the uterus grow and prepares the body for delivery. Estriol levels peak just before birth. Progesterone helps to regulate your cycle, but its main job is to get your uterus ready for pregnancy. After you ovulate each month, progesterone helps thicken the lining of the uterus to prepare for a fertilized egg. If there is no fertilized egg, progesterone levels drop and menstruation begins. Symptoms of imbalance include: pain and tenderness or sore/ burning sensation on the lower abdomen, increased facial hair growth, irregular periods, ovarian cysts, PCOS, etc. Herbs historically known to support this gland: Borage oil, Evening Primrose, Black Cohosh, Blue Cohosh, Red Raspberry, Black Walnut, Bladderwrack, Chaste Tree Berry. Supplements Historically known to support this gland: Selenium, Fatty Acids, Trace Minerals, Sodium, Potassium. Pineal Gland The Pineal Gland is often referred to as the “third eye” this gland is right in the center of the brain. The pineal gland is best known for the secretion of the hormone melatonin, which is released into the blood and possibly also into the brain fluid, known as cerebrospinal fluid. Melatonin is responsible for maintaining our circadium rhythm, otherwise known as our biological clock. It is known to help us keep peace within ourselves. It also maintains appropriate levels of Gonadotrophins, which are essential to the function of the ovaries. Symptoms of imbalance include: sleep disorders, breast soreness, alcohol cravings, and menstrual irregularities. Herbs historically known to support this gland: Oregano, Neem, Cacao, Chlorophyll, Chlorella. Supplements Historically known to support this gland: Melatonin, Iodine, Vitamin K, Fatty Acids, Tryptophan. Thymus Gland The thymus gland is located behind your sternum and between your lungs. The Thymus gland is considered the youth gland. This gland will not function throughout a full lifetime. The Thymus helps the body protect itself against autoimmunity, which occurs when the immune system turns against itself. Before birth and throughout childhood, the thymus is instrumental in the production and maturation of T-lymphocytes or T cells, a specific type of white blood cell that protects the body from certain threats, including viruses and infections. Unlike most organs, it is its largest in size in children. Once you reach puberty, the thymus starts to slowly shrink and become replaced by fat. This is why it is extremely important to nourish this gland while it is still active in children! By the age of 75, the thymus is mostly fatty tissue. Fortunately, the thymus produces all of your T cells by the time you reach puberty. Symptoms of imbalance include: lowered immune system, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, loss of appetite. Herbs historically known to support this gland: Lobelia, Hops, Passionflower, Skullcap, Bladderwrack. Supplements Historically known to support this gland: beta-carotene, B vitamins, zinc, calcium, phosphorus. Parathyroid Glands The parathyroid glands are small pea-sized glands located in the neck just behind the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland. Most people have four parathyroid glands, with two parathyroid glands lying behind each 'wing' of the thyroid gland. The parathyroid glands produce a hormone called parathyroid hormone. The parathyroid glands are important in tightly controlling calcium levels in the bloodstream. This is important to ensure the nervous system and the body’s muscles can work properly, and also that bones remain strong. The main target organs where parathyroid hormone exerts its effects are the bones and the kidneys. The parathyroid glands are important in tightly controlling calcium levels in the bloodstream. Because of this, calcium levels are generally very stable. This is important to ensure the nervous system and the body’s muscles can work properly, and also that bones remain strong. The main target organs where parathyroid hormone exerts its effects are the bones and the kidneys. When calcium levels are low, parathyroid hormone is released by the parathyroid glands into the blood and causes the bones to release calcium and increase levels in the bloodstream. It also causes the kidneys to stop calcium being lost in urine as well as stimulating the kidneys to increase vitamin D metabolism. Another method that parathyroid hormone uses to increase calcium levels in the bloodstream is activation of vitamin D. This occurs in the kidney too; the activated vitamin D then increases calcium absorption from the gut. Symptoms of imbalance can include: fatigue, bone and joint pain, depression, sudden increase in blood calcium levels, muscle weakness Herbs historically known to support this gland: Ashwagandha, Chaste Tree Berry, Dandelion, Bladderwrack, Kelp, Sanicle, Alfalfa, Astragalus Supplements Historically known to support this gland: Vitamin D, Calcium, Iodine, Zinc, Trace Minerals, B complex, Selenium, Magnesium Testes The Testes are the male gonads, or reproductive glands. Their female counterpart are the ovaries. The testes lie outside of the body and are maintained at a temperature about two degrees Centigrade lower than the body's core temperature. This is because sperm production and quality is optimal at this lower temperature. When stimulated by the release of pituitary gonadotropins, these glands produce and secrete the hormones that control the development of male sexual characteristics and the reproductive function of the adult male. The main hormone secreted by the testes is testosterone, an androgenic hormone. Testosterone is secreted by cells that lie between the seminiferous tubules, known as the Leydig cells. The testes also produce inhibin B and anti-Müllerian hormone from Sertoli cells, and insulin-like factor 3 and oestradiol from the Leydig cells. Anti-Müllerian hormone is a protein hormone which is important in the development of the reproductive tract in a male fetus and is also produced (before birth) by the testes and ovaries. Oestradiol is a powerful reproductive hormone that has a wide range of actions in both men and women. Testosterone is important in the first stages of developing the male reproductive organs in a fetus. It also causes the development of male characteristics such as growth of facial hair, deepening of the voice and the growth spurt that takes place during puberty. Testosterone is important in maintaining these secondary male characteristics throughout a man’s life. From puberty onwards, testosterone provides the main stimulus for sperm production. Symptoms of imbalance include: sharp pain or ache in or around the testicles, swelling of the testicles, redness, discharge from the penis, trouble passing urine, pain in the back or lower abdomen, swelling or tenderness in the breast tissue. Herbs historically known to support this gland: Ashwagandha, Pine Bark, Garlic, Saw Palmetto, Korean Ginseng, Wood Betony, Irish Moss, Bladderwrack Supplements Historically known to support this gland: DHEA, Zinc, Vitamin D, Arginine, Chrysin. I hope getting to know the Endocrine system will help you to recognize when there is an imbalance in your body! With this knowledge you can start to address imbalances any imbalances in your body and implement a plan of action! Want to find specific imbalances in your body using holistic modalities and herbal remedies? Set up a personalized one on one consultation with me today! Stay tuned for more hormonal health information! Next up, I will address common issues that can arise from imbalanced hormones such as PCOS, PMS, Adrenal Fatigue and more! Resources: www.yourhormones.info Todays Herbal Health for Women, Louise Tenney Herbal Hormone Handbook, Carmen Reeves