Many experts agree that your body’s most important functional system is the endocrine system. It is composed of glands (the endocrine glands) that produce hormones that control everything happening in the body. So, it’s time to meet your hormones. Or, as one of my favorite clients called them: her “horror-mones!”
Hormones are very powerful biological chemicals produced in very small amounts by the endocrine glands. Hormone levels are precisely and carefully monitored and controlled by the body. They are released into the blood stream and carried to specific cells to initiate specific activities; regulating, controlling, and coordinating all body functions. Many hormones are made at additional tissue sites as well as their “parent” gland. You can think of this as your body’s own inherent back-up system.
Hormones from the different endocrine glands interact with each other in complex ways. One of the best illustrations of this I have seen is from endocrinologist Dr. Henry Harrower. You can see this below or follow this link: http://naturalhealthtechniques.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Harrowers_chart_Endocrine_Imbalance.gif
Proper nutrition is critical for the endocrine glands. Each gland relies on a specific trace mineral to support its normal physiology and biochemistry. We consume these trace minerals when we eat real foods from both plant and animal sources. Without sufficient amounts of these minerals the glands will not function properly ultimately leading to a variety of symptoms in the body. We will discuss these symptoms in more detail later when we explore each gland.
The endocrine gland and its associated trace mineral are as follows: pituitary (manganese); thyroid (iodine); adrenal (copper); pancreas (chromium); prostate/uterus (zinc); and testes/ovaries (selenium). The other major endocrine glands are the hypothalamus, pineal, parathyroid, thymus, and believe it or not – your fat cells.
Here are a few more basics about hormones to provide you with additional background. Each human cell has receptor sites. You can think of these as ‘gates” located on the cell membrane that control the entry of hormones and other bio-chemicals into the cells. These receptors determine if and how effectively a hormone message is received.
There are a variety of scenarios in which these sites are not functioning optimally. They can become “resistant” to the hormone meaning more of the hormone is required to deliver the message. You may have heard of “insulin resistance” a condition that often precedes diabetes. In other cases an excess of one hormone may block the gate of another, or another substance may mimic a hormone and block a receptor site (this is called a xenohormone).
Hormones exist two ways in the blood stream. Protein-bound hormones are considered inactive (as they are bound to a protein). “Free” hormones are the active form that is able to bind to cell receptors and initiate the cellular response.
Hormones have a lag time from secretion to activation that ranges from seconds to hours. They are either amino acid based or steroid based (gonadal, adrenal). The liver and the kidney flush excess hormones out of the body.
The main control of the endocrine system rests in the hypothalamus-pituitary axis (or H-P axis). The hypothalamus is part of the limbic system so it is in the brain and receives information which it relays to the pituitary. The pituitary is also known as “the master gland” because it sends information to other endocrine glands based on what it has learned from the hypothalamus.
In Part 2 of this article we will take a brief look at each gland, the hormone(s) it produces, and the basic function of those hormones.