They influence almost every cell, organ, and function in the body, including tissue function, metabolism, growth, moods and behavior, and sexual development.
Some hormones are released as part of the body's normal routine (like estrogen during a menstruation) while others are released because of nervous system influences like adrenalin.
All hormones fall into one of three categories:
Some hormones, such as growth hormones from the anterior pituitary, affect all or almost all of the body's cells. Others affect only specific tissues called target tissues that contain a unique receptor specific to the corresponding binding site on the hormone molecule. Hormone receptors are found either exposed on the surface of the cell or within the cell, depending on the type of hormone. At its most basic, the binding of hormone to receptor initiates a cascade of reactions inside the cell that affects function within the cell and elsewhere throughout the body.
Hormones are secreted by both endocrine and exocrine glands.
Endocrine glands are ductless and secrete hormones directly into the blood stream they include the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, the pineal gland, one part of the pancreas, the adrenal cortex, the thyroid gland, the parathyroid glands, and the gonads.
Exocrine glands, on the other hand, secrete hormones via a duct into mucous membranes they include the sweat and salivary glands, as well as the pancreas, which is the only gland with both endocrine and exocrine functions. There are more than 20 different identified hormones created by the endocrine glands. Although most hormones are produced by endocrine glands and transported in the blood throughout the body, some non-endocrine organs, such as the brain, heart, lungs, liver, intestines, stomach, and kidneys, also produce hormones.
The thyroid is located in the anterior of the lower neck. The largest gland in the endocrine system, the thyroid affects metabolism, body temperature, utilization of foods, oxygen consumption, bone growth, and the development of the brain and nervous system in children.
How much we weigh, how warm we feel, and how many calories we burn during a day are all influenced by the thyroid.
The thyroid gland combines iodine, found in many foods, and the amino acid Tyrosine to produce the hormones thyroxine (T4) and thriiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are then released into the blood stream, where they control how quickly cells produce energy by burning fuel from food. Approximately 90% of the thyroid hormones produced are T4; 10% are T3. However, a large portion of T4 is then converted to T3 in the tissues. Every cell in the body requires T3 and T4 to regulate metabolism.
The thyroid gland is controlled by the anterior pituitary gland, which secretes Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) when levels of T3 and T4 get low in the body. As a negative feedback, when T3 and/or T4 rise, TSH diminishes.
The parathyroid glands are located on the front of the neck behind the thyroid glands. They produce the parathyroid hormone (PTH), which regulates calcium levels in the blood. PTH enhances the absorption of calcium and phosphates from foods in the intestine and stimulates the formation of new bone cells. The thyroid and parathyroid are not related.
To understand the key role of the parathyroid, it is important to know what calcium does for our bodies.
Calcium strengthens bones and teeth. Calcium is also the mineral responsible for neural synapse conduction throughout the entire nervous system.
It also is Alkaline and has buffering qualities in the blood along with several other minerals.
Signs of low calcium levels include tingling in the fingers (a nervous system response) or muscle cramps in the hands (a muscular system response).
To ensure our bodies have adequate amounts of calcium for our nervous and muscular systems, the parathyroid glands continuously measure calcium levels in the blood. At the first sign of lowered calcium levels, the parathyroid makes PTH, which increases serum calcium levels in the body by causing our bones to release calcium into the blood.
People with increased PTH have bones that continue to release calcium into the blood, leading to significant loss of calcium from their bones osteoporosis. This is another reason to eat an Alkaline diet.
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The thymus gland is a lymph organ that secretes hormones that play a key role in the body's immune system. Slightly larger than the heart at birth, the thymus takes about two years to mature and become fully functional. It is so important, in fact, that if a fetus fails to develop a thymus, his or her immune system will not completely develop.
T-lymphocytes (T-cells) attack and kill viruses, bacterial infections, fungi, and some parasites. They are white blood cells produced in bone marrow that must migrate to the thymus to fully mature.
The thymus secretes a hormone called thymosin that causes pre-T-cells to mature in the thymus into T-cells. It interacts with the rest of the endocrine system to produce a healthy immune system. Because only a small percentage of the original T-cells actually make it out of the thymus, it is important that our thymus function well.
The thymus is at its most functional during a person's mid-teens. After that, it slowly becomes smaller and less effective. Severe or constant stress greatly speeds the loss of thymus function, and thymic output decreases with age, diminishing to 10% of full function by age 70. The decreasing of thymic output as one ages can be slowed by exercising, eating a proper diet, reducing stress, and recruiting emotional and spiritual support throughout one's lifetime.
The pancreas is located in the upper abdomen, mostly on the left side. This plays a key role in digestion and in insulin and glucose metabolism. It is both an exocrine gland and endocrine gland.
As an exocrine gland, it makes enzymes that digest proteins, fats, and carbohydrates before they are absorbed through the intestine.
As an endocrine gland, it makes insulin and glucagon, which regulate the body's blood glucose levels.
Glucose, or simple sugar, is a source of energy for all of the cells in the body, so its absorption by the cells is critical. Immediately upon ingestion of simple carbohydrates, the glucose that enters the bloodstream triggers the rapid secretion of insulin. Insulin then causes rapid uptake, storage, and use of glucose by almost all tissues of the body, especially the liver, muscles, and adipose tissue.
With the typical poor diets of western cultures, insulin dysfunction is rapidly becoming epidemic. Too much production of insulin leads to hypoglycemia as glucose is driven into the cells; too little leads to diabetes.
The Hypothalamus, Pituitary, and Pineal Glands
The hypothalamus is located at the base of the brain and the pituitary gland is below it, directly above the hard palate in the mouth.
The hypothalamus links the endocrine system and the nervous system.
The hypothalamus controls the pituitary and the pituitary controls most everything else. That is why it is called the master gland of the endocrine system.
The pituitary gland is considered the most important part of the endocrine system because most of the endocrine glands in the body are controlled by hormones secreted from the pituitary.
The pituitary is composed of an anterior lobe and posterior lobe.
The seven major hormones made by the anterior pituitary are:
The anterior pituitary also secretes beta-endorphins, which act on the nervous system to reduce pain.
The posterior pituitary, which is attached to the hypothalamus, releases oxytocin, which activates uterine contractions during labor, and vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone that controls water balance in the body.
The Pineal Gland
The pineal gland is small (approximately 1 centimeter in length) and secretes the hormone melatonin.
Melatonin can stabilize and promote normal sleep and daily bodily rhythms.
Melatonin is typically released from the pineal gland into the bloodstream when light fades, helping to explain why people generally sleep better in the dark.
The Sex Hormones
The primary human reproductive hormones are the estrogens, progesterone, and testosterone.
Estrogen is actually a group of compounds (estradiol, estriol, and estrone) with estrogenic properties.
Estrogen is produced mostly in the ovaries and secondarily in fat cells, with small amounts made in the testicles. It is responsible for the development of secondary female sexual characteristics (breasts, pubic hair) as well as regulating the monthly cycle and maintaining pregnancy. Generally, estrogen stimulates cell growth and proliferation.
These three estrogens estradiol, estriol, and estrone maintain the reproductive tissues, breasts, skin, and brain. Estradiol is often the culprit in many uncomfortable symptoms for women, and it is the hormone most often measured in blood tests. Estrogens are responsible in our early years for feminine characteristics, and in proper balance, keep us youthful and vital. Among estrogen's roles are to:
Progesterone is a steroid hormone produced primarily in the ovaries and the adrenal glands and in small amounts in the brain, peripheral nerves, and possibly other sites. It prepares the uterus for a fertilized egg. If pregnancy doesn't occur, progesterone's sudden decrease causes the uterus to shed its lining and menstruation to occur. Its balance with estrogen is vital to long term health.
Progesterone balances most of the other hormones, particularly estrogens. It both enhances the benefits of estrogens and prevents the problems associated with estrogen excess. In addition, it has calming and diuretic properties. Progesterone plays an important role in helping men maintain prostate health. Among progesterone's roles are to:
maintain lean body mass
cardiovascular health in both sexes
defines sexual characteristics in men
regulates basic metabolism
stimulates red-blood-cell production
facilitates protein synthesis and the building of body tissues, especially muscle
acts as an anti-inflammatory
Men make more of this hormone than women, accounting for men's greater bone and muscle mass. Testosterone is produced in the testicles and to a lesser extent, in the ovaries and adrenal glands.
Androstenedione is a building block for both estrogens and testosterone.
This hormone is formed from the androgens secreted by the adrenal glands, and its levels are easily affected by emotional stress. Often during early menopause, this hormone may be produced in excess by the ovaries, causing "androgenic" symptoms, such as scalp hair loss and facial hair growth.
Testosterone has different functions in men and women, but it plays a very important role in the overall health and well-being of both.
In men, testosterone
In women, testosterone:
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They secrete the hormones commonly known as Adrenaline and Cortisol.
The hormones from the adrenal cortex are necessary to live, unlike the Sex Hormones and hormones from other endocrine glands.
Because of this, the adrenal hormones are considered top priority by your body, and your body will wisely sacrifice functions of your reproductive organs and digestive tract in an attempt to repair your adrenals.
Each adrenal gland is made up of two parts:
outer region, called the adrenal cortex
inner region, called the adrenal medulla
Adrenal cortex = produces a group of hormones called corticosteroids, which are synthesized from cholesterol.
Categories of Corticosteroids:
Mineralcorticoids have an effect on electrolyte balance of extracellular fluid (most noticed when one feels puffy from water weight gain).
Glucocorticoids have an important effect on blood glucose concentrations.
Sex Hormones – (called androgenic hormones) also produced in small amounts
Adrenal Cortex primary hormones are:
Cortisol (hydrocortisone), which controls the body's use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, as well as exhibiting anti-inflammatory and immune system effects
Aldosterone, which maintains blood volume and blood pressure
Androgen hormones (in small amounts), which play a role in the regeneration of tissue, particularly the bones, muscles, and skin, and have an effect on the development of masculine characteristics.
Cortisol production is almost entirely controlled by adrenocorticotropic hormones (ACTH) from the anterior pituitary.
ACTH also encourages the production of androgens.
ACTH, in turn, is controlled by the hypothalamus through the human chemical corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF). The cells that make CRF are believed to be in the limbic portion of the brain, indicating that CRF can be strongly affected by external stressors and emotional states of being.
Adrenal Medulla = helps us deal with the physical and emotional stresses.
Epinephrine (Adrenaline) - increases our heart rate and the force of heart contractions, facilitates blood flow to the muscles and brain, causes relaxation of smooth muscles, and helps with conversion of glycogen to glucose in the liver. It is considered one of the "fight or flight" hormones.
Norepinephrine - strong vasoconstrictive effects, thus regulating blood pressure.
Adrenals: Stress and Cortisol
Adrenal Fatigue and Stress Syndrome
Stress is the cause of many modern day disease states.
Hans Selye, born 1907 in Vienna, is considered the father of the stress syndrome. He coined the term stress, or "General Adaptation Syndrome" (shortened to G.A.S.) to describe a series of events that occur in animals and humans in response to extreme stimuli. His "Three Stages of Stress" are still used today as a standard of diagnostics and treatment for stress-related disorders.
The initial phase of G.A.S. is the Alarm Reaction. This is the fight or flight reaction that most are familiar with when discussing the adrenal glands. In response to external stimuli, the adrenal glands produce cortisol and adrenaline. In an ideal situation, at that point, we either fight to defend ourselves, or we flee the situation, resolving the problem and becoming safe once again. This primordial survival defense mechanism was well suited until modern times, when stressful, or seemingly unsafe, situations became the consistent norm rather than the occasional event.
Now, professional athletes such as MMA (mixed martial arts) fighters can put their systems through amazing amounts of stress everyday, just trying not to get hit or choked out. Whereas, someone at a stressful job can spend 8 hours stressing at work and then come home and still experience stress just thinking about it.
External stimuli can be in one of four forms:
It is important to note that the hypothalamus-adrenal response will occur whether the situation is real or perceived. In other words, our thoughts and emotions are as strong a stimulus to initiate cortisol production as the slamming of brakes at a busy intersection. The hypothalamus makes no discernment between these stressors.
With our lives moving at a faster and faster pace, the adrenal glands are being called on continuously, often even through the night. The effects of insomnia due to worry and anxiety are twofold: the lack of rest and recuperation creates more hypoadrenal exhaustion, and the lack of catecholamine reserves creates an even more anxious state of being.
The second stage of stress is the Resistance Stage. The body continues its response to stress, and cortisol is created in the body. Its rise and fall is the causative factor in many diseases and syndromes. At this stage, the body is still able to adapt and respond to external stimuli and to function in most situations. The adrenal glands actually hypertrophy to maintain survival, and hyperadrenia can occur if the stress is continued without relief. At this point, the individual moves into the last phase of G.A.S.
The third and final stage is the Exhaustion Stage. It is this phase where hypoadrenia becomes apparent and symptoms begin to appear.
Because of the constant influx of external stresses in our modern world, many infants are now born with hypoadrenia. This is due to the stress suffered by the mother during pregnancy. If the pregnant mother is in the exhaustion stage of G.A.S. (as is becoming more and more prevalent), she will begin to use the adrenal hormones of the fetus during the third trimester of gestation. She begins feeling much better as delivery nears because her baby's adrenal glands are being stressed to support her. When the baby is born, the mother's adrenal supply is suddenly cut off, and she falls into post-partum depression. The infant almost immediately begins to display signs of adrenal fatigue: allergies, recurrent infections, and sleeping problems. Prior to two weeks old, the infant is then immunized with strong viral injections, calling on his or her already fatigued adrenal glands to produce an immune response. The stage is set for this baby to grow up with chronic fatigue, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, and addictions. These children are often labeled hyperactive, attention-deficit students and crave nothing more than sweets and breads to eat.
This is also the underlying issue in the rise in popularity of extreme sports. Fatigued and depleted adrenal glands require more and more stimulus to release the body's opiates and get a "natural high" and overall feeling of health and well-being.
The adrenal hormone cortisol, which is released in the body during times of stress, has gained attention as the "stress hormone"
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that includes in its many roles the regulation of blood pressure and cardiovascular function, the use of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats by the body, modulation of anti-inflammatory effects, and initiation of the process of gluconeogenesis, or the breakdown of glucose into energy.
Many modern doctors are realizing the inadequacy of a single blood test to measure cortisol. Cortisol displays behavior known as a diurnal variation, in which normal concentrations vary throughout a 24-hour cycle. Cortisol should be highest in the morning between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. This is what naturally awakens us from sleep. Cortisol's lowest point should be around midnight. To appropriately measure a patient's cortisol rhythm, a saliva test that can accommodate multiple readings throughout the day is best. This flow of cortisol tells more about health than a single reading.
The extremes of cortisol dysfunction are named Addison's Disease in the case of hypoadrenalism, and Cushing's Syndrome in the case of hyperadrenalism.
In less severe stages, the Adrenal Fatigue stages, this lack of adrenal production contributes to hormonal imbalances in the reproductive cycle. The adrenal glands are the "backup" gland for the ovaries and testes, and their inability to function fully can lead to lowered levels of progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA.
Hypersecretion of cortisol by the adrenal cortex, or Cushing's Syndrome, is much more commonly seen in our world today. One of the predominant characteristics is the accumulation of fat throughout the upper torso, giving rise to "buffalo torso" appearance. It also leads to a roundness of the cheeks of the face and often excess growth of facial hair (Hirsutism). This facial appearance is described as "moon face."
This hypersecretion, if unabated over months or years, can lead to "adrenal diabetes".
In the presence of high levels of cortisol, muscle wasting and weakness result from the increase of protein catabolism. This loss of protein synthesis leads to a suppressed immune system, sometimes so severe the patient may die from infection. The lack of protein deposition in the bones over time causes osteoporosis.
Occasionally you will find pituitary tumors are at the root cause of this problem, especially if severe. More often than not, however, the problem is a result of continued stressors on the body demanding constant cortisol output. With the half-life of cortisol being six hours and with the "tigers" that we are fighting encountered almost constantly, it is easy to see how cortisol levels can easily increase to health-endangering levels. At varying stages, these increased cortisol levels can range from quality-of-life changing to life threatening.
Adrenal Dysfunction: Signs and Symptoms
With mild to moderate levels of increased cortisol, you may observe:
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If the stress continues and the resistance phase is maintained in the body, cortisol can begin to rise throughout the day, as well as staying high during the night. When this occurs, you can observe all of the above symptoms, plus:
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As the stressors continue, an individual moves over the top of the sine wave curve from the peak point, and cortisol begins to decline as he/she enters the exhaustion phase. At this point, cortisol output is lower than normal, and the person may exhibit a myriad of symptoms, including:
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It is important to note how many symptoms listed above mimic other diseases. Often, a patient is diagnosed with blood sugar dysfunction, perimenopause, or another symptomatic complaint and treated specifically for that symptom.
The measurable signs of adrenal exhaustion include Postural Hypotension, determined by measuring blood pressure. Ideally, when a person rises from supine position to standing, there is a rise of 8 mm mercury in the systolic reading. In the adrenal-compromised patient, the comparative blood pressure reading will actually be lower by several points when tested standing after being tested lying down.
The doctor may observe an altered pupillary reflex. In the healthy individual, directing a light at the pupil will cause the pupil to contract and stay contracted until the light source is removed. In the adrenal insufficient patient, the pupil will initially contract, then begin to "pulse" or undulate, and may finally dilate after approximately 30 seconds.
The patient or Athlete may complain of chronic knee pain or low back pain, due to the association of the sartorius, gracilis, gastrocnemius, soleus, and tibialis posterior muscles. These muscles can weaken with adrenal exhaustion, and knee stability will decrease. Vulnerability to injury, tripping, frequent accidents, and lack of awareness of their surroundings will be observed.
Xeno-hormones and Estrogen
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We are constantly bombarded with synthetic hormonal substances that affect our health. These substances, called xeno-hormones, are most often estrogenic in nature and contribute to the estrogen dominant plague we are experiencing in American society.
These synthetic hormones are similar enough to the real things that they can bind to receptor sites in the body designed for naturally occurring estrogens. With these binding sites filled, real estrogens can no longer fulfill their role in the body, protecting against such symptoms as insomnia and restless sleep, night sweats and hot flashes, and premature aging of the skin and performing their supportive role in pregnancy. Some xeno-estrogens appear to induce the formation of additional estrogen receptor sites in the body, leading the way for estrogen dominance problems.
Men also suffer from estrogen dominance as a result of xeno-hormone exposure. And children, even newborns, are being inundated with estrogenic substances, creating a society of larger people, fatter people, unhealthier people, and a less virile and potent reproductive species.
Where do xeno-hormones come from?
U.S. farmers have been giving sex hormones to cattle to fatten them up since the 1970s.
The use of hormones has caused quite a stir Europe. In fact, due to concerns about early puberty, tumors, cancer risks, and genetic problems, the European Union has banned hormone use in cattle. The FDA has said there is no evidence these hormones are dangerous. However, Europe's scientific committee found in three separate studies that no acceptable daily intake could be established for any of the six hormones. It also found substantial evidence that estradiol-17 is a complete carcinogen, meaning it shows both tumor-initiating and tumor-promoting effects.
Pesticides are found in almost everything we eat. Non-organic vegetables, grasses and flower gardens, and washing your dog in a flea shampoo contribute to estrogen dominance.
Sitting on a lawn for a picnic at your local park, swimming in the lakes and rivers, and living in a home that uses extermination for pests all contribute greatly. It is not uncommon to find PCBs, dioxin, DDT and other pesticides in breast tissue of women and men.
They even exist in abundance in automobile exhaust. Obviously, there are few places left on the planet free of this exposure in this 21st century. Solvents are a critical problem in our world today. The most commonly used, and the most problematic, are fingernail polish and fingernail polish remover.
Always check products labels for the following, and avoid these whenever possible:
Cooking with plastics in any form (haven't we all microwaved something in a plastic carton?) will release xeno-hormones into the food contained within.
Emulsifiers in soaps and cosmetics are also a problem, as they are typically rubbed into the skin, where they are directly absorbed into the body.
Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
decreased libido, weakness, fatigue, slow heart rate, weight gain, dry skin, low blood pressure, sinusitis and allergies, intolerance to cold, muscle cramps, restless sleep, constipation, depression, irritability, memory loss, and abnormal menstrual cycles.
Some patients report a feeling of "fullness" in their throat area and have difficulty perspiring even when exercising. Losing the outer 1/3 of the eyebrow, as well as hair loss on the scalp, are classic indicators of sluggish thyroid performance.
Hypothyroidism is commonly diagnosed allopathically and treated with synthetic T4.
However, patients are often not deficient in T4 itself but are rather deficient in the enzymes to convert T4 to T3. Besides selenium, the amino acid tyrosine, as well as free Iodine, must be present in bio-available form.
Additionally, estrogens compete with thyroxine for binding sites, and if the patient is estrogen dominant or has a significant amount of xeno-estrogens in the body, thyroxine receptor site availability may be significantly reduced.
Because of the estrogenic properties of soy foods, vegetarians who rely on soy for protein can be especially prone to hypothyroidism. Eating insufficient protein, undercooked or raw Brassica vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rape, rutabaga and turnip), avoiding table salt (which contains iodine), and not eating enough good fats is a common route that leads many health conscious individuals to a hypofunctioning thyroid gland.
Too much cortisol can suppress the function of the thyroid hormones. As cortisol rises because of stress, diet, or trauma, it can effectively create hypothyroid symptoms. Often, attempts to heal the thyroid gland fail because of neglecting to correct the adrenal functionality.
Testosterone Deficiency Symptoms
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Many of the symptoms on this list can also be applied to testosterone deficiency in women. The best method for determining testosterone deficiency is with thorough testing.
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