The endocrine system is made up of a network of glands that secrete hormones to regulate many body functions, such as growth and development; homeostasis, or the internal balance of body systems; cellular metabolism and energy; reproduction; and response to stimuli (stress or injury).
A hormone is a chemical substance that serves as a messenger molecule (or signal) to control and regulate the activity of certain cells or organs. Think of your hormones as the communication network in your body. When the endocrine glands fail to produce the correct amounts of hormones (too much or too little), endocrine diseases can occur. There are eight endocrine glands in the body:
- Hypothalamus: located in the brain; acts as the CEO of the body.
- Pituitary: located in the brain; releases many hormone activators.
- Pineal: located in the brain; controls how light affects the body.
- Thyroid: located in the throat; produces thyroid hormones and helps regulate the body's temperature and metabolism.
- Parathyroid: located in the throat; helps regulate calcium levels.
- Pancreatic islets: part of the pancreas; they manufacture insulin and enzymes.
- Adrenals: located on top of each of each of the kidneys; manufacture stress and sex hormones.
- Gonads: ovaries in women, testes in men; manufacture sex.
Hormones are key to reproductive health in women. They regulate menstruation, fertility, menopause, and libido. In women, the hypothalamus releases luteinizing-hormone-releasing-hormone (LHRH, formerly known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone) to stimulate the pituitary to release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). The ovaries are stimulated by FSH to produce estrogen, mostly during the first half (days 1 - 14) of a woman's menstrual cycle. When estrogen levels peak around day 14, luteinizing hormone (LH) is released by the pituitary, resulting in ovulation, or the release of an egg.
Progesterone levels rise during the second half of a woman's menstrual cycle (days 14 - 28) to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, then menstruation, or the shedding of the lining of the uterus, takes place.
Estrogen and progesterone must remain in balance for optimal health. Chronic stress and liver congestion worsen imbalances, of which the most common is estrogen dominance.
Hormone imbalance can and often does have several contributing factors. A diet high in processed foods, excess refined sugar and refined flours, industrial plant oils, artificial ingredients, conventionally-raised meats, and conventional produce (grown with the use of pesticides) promotes inflammation throughout the body, congests the liver, provides little nutrition to the body and, ironically, requires more nutrients from the diet to be processed. A whole foods diet that favors fresh vegetables, low glycemic fruits, naturally-raised meats, quality (unprocessed) fats, and high fiber supports healthy hormone balance.
Additional factors to consider include such lifestyle contributions as excess or lack of exercise, environmental toxins (xenoestrogens, mold, heavy metals, etc.), gaining or losing a significant amount of weight, travel, and illness. For most, stress is the biggest lifestyle factor needing to be addressed. Stress has both direct and indirect negative affects on hormone balance.
Prolonged, or constant, stress causes the adrenal glands to overproduce the stress hormones cortisol and DHEA, the estrogen and testosterone precursor hormone. Over time, the adrenals can become exhausted and no longer help the body cope with stress. As DHEA levels then decline, there are less sex hormones available. Chronic stress may also cause progesterone to be converted into cortisol, reducing available progesterone. The main function of the adrenal glands is to respond to both acute and chronic stress. They are a long-term hormone replacement system and can release any female hormone that is needed. Poor diet, alcohol, caffeine, stimulants, smoking, prescription drugs, oral contraceptives, psychological stress, and lack of sleep are some of the common factors that contribute to the depletion of the adrenal glands.
In addition to diet and lifestyle considerations, underlying medical conditions and medications can also be factors in hormone imbalances.
- DeMaria, Robert. Dr. Bob's Drugless Guide to Balancing Female Hormones. Elyria, OH: Drugless Doctor, 2010. Print.
Writer Danielle Cicak is the Northern Colorado and Wyoming Sales Representative and Regional Educator for WishGarden Herbs located in Louisville, Colorado. In 2003, Danielle began her career working in the supplement aisles at Natural Grocers. Inspired to help others with their health and wellbeing, she pursued an education in holistic nutrition from the Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver, Colorado. As a Master Nutrition Therapist (MNT), Danielle served as a Nutritional Health Coach (NHC) before advancing to become the NHC Development Specialist where she led and developed the NHC training program for Natural Grocers. As a Colorado native, Danielle is thrilled to work with another local, family-owned business that promotes health and activism through education: WishGarden Herbs! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, creating healthy dishes in her kitchen, and enjoying the beauty Colorado has to offer!
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or to sell any product.