Smorgasbord Health Column – The endocrine system and hormones Part One by Sally Cronin


The human body is a complex entity that requires power (nutrients and oxygen) and a round the clock production schedule to make sure that the nutrients that we take in are converted to all the chemical components required to keep us functioning healthily. One of the most important production lines is created by the endocrine system ensuring that the right messages are sent to the various organs to keep them running at full capacity.  Recently I shared the main components required to keep those messages circulating Cholesterol Part Three

The endocrine system and hormones Part One

One of the miracles of the human body is the way it ensures the survival of the species over millions of years. For example, baby girls are born with over 400,000 eggs in their ovaries and over the next 10 to 12 years their endocrine system will mature and various physical, mental and emotional changes will take place to ensure that as a woman, she will be able to give birth to the next generation.

Hormones are vital not just to an efficient reproductive system but to our health in general.. Their protection is essential and maintaining adequate levels throughout our lifetime can be a challenge. And it is not helped by pronouncements by ‘experts’ on the food we eat and the medication that they prescribe to reduce one of the key elements of our hormone production which is cholesterol.

The Endocrine system not only produces the sex hormones but also the other hormones necessary for the healthy growth and development of every cell, organ and function within our bodies. Usually responsible for the slower processes such as cell growth, the endocrine glands and hormones will also work with other systems such as the nervous system to ensure the smooth running of processes like breathing and movement.

Glands

A gland is a group of cells that produce and secretes chemicals from materials that it has selected from the blood stream. It processes these raw materials and either secretes the end product in specific areas, such as the salivary glands or sweat glands in the case of the exocrine glands, or directly back into the bloodstream from the endocrine system.

The main glands that make up the endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary (master gland), thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, pineal, ovaries and testes.

The pancreas is also part of the endocrine system but is associated more with the digestive system and digestive enzymes.

A healthy reproductive system for men or women begins in the brain.

Main-parts-of-the-Brain-72dpiThe Hypothalamus

The other name of the hypothalamus is actually the word homeostasis, which means balance, which is very appropriate. It is located in the middle of the base of the brain and is connected to the pituitary lobes, which form the most important gland in the body and is often referred to as the Master Gland.

The hypothalamus regulates body temperature, blood sugar, water balance, fat metabolism, appetite, body weight, sensory input like taste and smell and sight, sleep, sexual behaviour, emotions, hormone productions, menstrual cycle regulation and the automatic nervous system that controls automatic functions such as breathing and the heart muscle.

The Pituitary gland

The pituitary gland has an anterior and posterior lobe. The anterior lobe regulates the activity of the thyroid, adrenals and the reproductive glands producing a number of hormones.

  • Growth hormone stimulates the growth of bone and body tissues and plays a part in the metabolism of nutrients and minerals.
  • Prolactin, which activates milk production in mothers who are breast-feeding.
  • Thyrotropin which stimulates the thyroid to produce hormones.
  • Corticotrophin which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce its hormones.
  • Gonadotrophs are cells that secret the two hormones that stimulate hormone production in the ovaries and testes. These are called luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and whilst not essential to life are essential to reproduction.

The pituitary gland also secretes endorphins, which act as natural pain relief within the nervous system. It is also the gland that releases hormones that signal the ovaries and testes to make the sex hormones and controls the ovulation and menstrual cycle.

The posterior lobe of the pituitary has two main functions one of which is the release of a hormone to control water balance through its effect on the kidneys and urine output. The second is the release of oxytocin the trigger for contractions of the womb during labour.

The Thyroid

The thyroid is located in the front of the lower neck and is shaped like a bow tie. It produces the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine which are responsible for the speed with which cells burn fuel to provide energy. This is our metabolism or the speed at which we operate. The production and release of these two hormones is controlled by Thyrotropin, which is secreted by the pituitary gland.

The thyroid needs iodine and selenium to produce an enzyme, which converts the amino acid tyrosine into thyroxine. If thyroxine is at a less than optimum level there will be weight gain, fatigue, intestinal problems and thickening skin.

The Parathyroids

Attached to the thyroid are four tiny glands that release parathyroid hormone that is responsible with calcitonin also produced in the thyroid for calcium balance between blood and bones. If this is not working then too much calcium is leached from the bones leaving them vulnerable to osteoporosis

The Adrenal glands

The Adrenal glands are actually situated on top of each kidney and comprise two parts. The first is the cortex, which produces hormones called corticosteroids, which determine male characteristics, sex drive, stress response, metabolism and the excretion of sodium and potassium from the kidneys.

The second part of the gland is the medulla, which produces catecholamines such as epinephrine (adrenaline) to increase blood pressure and heart rate in times of danger or stress.

If your stress levels remain high for long periods of time there will be an effect on the rest of your body. The body slows down digestion, maintenance and repair so that it is ready to run at any moment. It definitely speeds up the ageing process because like anything that is not maintained it slowly deteriorates. It will have a very big impact on all the rest of the hormones in the body including your sex drive, which is why stress plays a very important role in problems such as impotence and infertility.

The Pineal gland

This gland is located in the middle of the brain and secretes melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Being tired all the time will certainly not help maintain a healthy hormone balance.

Ovaries and Testes

These two glands are known as the gonads and are the main source for the sexual hormones. In the female these are the ovaries.. They secrete oestrogen and progesterone as needed, particularly in girls who have reached puberty and are developing breasts and layers of fat around the hips and thighs that would be used primarily to nourish a foetus during pregnancy. Both hormones regulate the menstrual cycle, which is why an imbalance can cause irregular periods or infertility.

Oestrogen hormones include estradiol, estrone and estriol and as well as their role in the developing female they also have important effects on organs outside of the reproductive system. In fact they have an effect on over 300 different tissues throughout a woman’s body including in the central nervous system, liver and the urinary tract. One of their functions is in maintaining bone mass as a woman ages, particularly after the menopause. They also have a positive effect on blood fat and therefore help prevent atherosclerosis and possible heart disease. As we age our skin tends to thicken and oestrogen hormones help preserve the elasticity of the skin as well as promote a sense of general wellbeing.

Progesterone also has duties outside of its reproductive remit and that is its influence on body temperature. This is why taking your temperature every morning during the month can help you pinpoint when you might be ovulating.

As these hormones diminish so does the activity within the ovaries. They become smaller and lighter and the blood vessels that supply them atrophy. The follicles decrease in number and fewer and fewer eggs are produced sometimes skipping several months at a time resulting in irregular periods. Eventually egg production ceases completely, as does menstruation, and after twelve months you are usually unlikely to conceive but it is recommended that you still practice birth control for up to two years after completely finishing your periods.

Thyroid image http://www.medicinenet.com

Next week a closer look at hormones and how the food we eat has a direct impact on their effectiveness.

©Just Food for Health 1998 – 2020

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020

Your feedback is always welcome and if you do find that following any of the posts that I have shared are beneficial then it would be great to hear about it. If you have any questions you can email me on sally.cronin@moyhill.com.

Turning Back The Clock Serialisation – Chapter Three – The Hormone Factor


This week’s chapter is very relevant as during the week I have been looking at Vitamin B3 and cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential for the production of hormones as well as our brain health and other important functions. Whilst having too much of one kind of cholesterol is not healthy for our arteries or heart a balance of all kinds is essential B3 and cholesterol

As we age our reproductive hormones naturally decrease but they do not disappear and they still need the ingredients necessary to produce them. This requires that we maintain a diet that provides those nutrients. I know that this chapter is quite lengthy but please feel free to save to read later.

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CHAPTER THREE – THE HORMONE FACTOR

Isn’t it inevitable that all hormone levels are going to drop as we get older, and will we all be affected?

Most of us, when we talk about hormones, are usually referring to the reproductive ones such as testosterone, progesterone and oestrogen.

We all know that as we get older our reproductive hormones decrease and both men and women go through a menopause. Women are more affected by this, obviously, but men too experience a decrease in testosterone levels and the changes that this brings about.

However, our sex hormones are just three of the many hormones that are produced in our bodies and even though our reproductive abilities may decrease as we get older, the hormones involved are still active within our body. If they, and our other hormones, are looked after they will contribute to a healthy, energetic and youthful appearance. Sex does not stop when we get middle aged it just gets more creative and interesting.

I am not going to cover every form of hormone but it is important to remember that all hormones produced by the body are for a specific reason. They ensure that the complex processes within our bodies are working efficiently. When these processes are not working at an optimum level there is a breakdown in function over time, and damage and aging will take place.

What are hormones exactly?

Hormones are some of the most powerful chemicals to be found in the body. They are bio-chemicals produced in special glands and then carried in the bloodstream to other glands, or cells, where they give instructions that activate certain processes.

They are secreted by a number of different glands such as the Pituitary, Adrenal, Thyroid, Pancreas, Ovaries, Testes and Pineal. Each gland may produce one or more different hormone to affect a process in the body. For example; the Pancreas secretes Insulin, Glucagon and Stomostatin. Insulin and glucagon are secreted according to the level of blood sugar and Stomostatin is the referee to ensure that not too much of either is secreted and that blood sugar levels remain balanced as a result.

Hormones are manufactured from components of food, which means that the type of diet you follow has a major impact on keeping hormone levels in balance! Hormones are either protein-like as in insulin, or fat-like as in steroid hormones.

Since our primary focus is on maintaining our health; through eating an optimum diet, we need to concentrate on providing the body with the most perfect environment for hormone balance and therefore lack of stress; which leads to damage and disease.

The hormone functions I am going to cover are Metabolism, Blood Sugar Levels and Stress Response because these, combined with low levels of the sex hormones Testosterone, Progesterone and Oestrogen, are some of the leading causes of aging.

Whatever the level of hormones produced by particular glands, if they are not communicating when they get to their destinations (such as the Thyroid Gland, Kidneys or Ovaries, they will not be effective – and the on-going functions they are supposed to stimulate will be disrupted.

How do we create the perfect environment?

Well, a good start is to be following a diet which is primarily sourced from all natural ingredients, is low in refined sugars and contains healthy fats. Being near a healthy weight will also help. There are certain foods that are very nutrient dense which are very important in creating the right atmosphere for hormones to work efficiently in balance.

One of the most important food sources is Essential Fatty Acids which are Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fatty acids). The body must have these essential fatty acids, yet cannot make them itself.

One of the main functions of essential fatty acids is the production of prostaglandins which are hormone-like substances that regulate many body functions. Basically, they control every cell of the body on a second-by-second basis by acting as interpreters between the hormones and the cells they are being delivered to. As far as aging is concerned they are required for energy production, increasing oxidation and metabolic rates. Energy levels go up with high stamina with decreased recovery time from fatigue.

Prostaglandins are particularly important in the way that they balance all hormones including the reproductive ones. You also need to note that the brain does not function without essential fatty acids.

Monounsaturated fats are also important, as both these types of fats protect brain cells and the membranes and ensure effective passing of nutrients within the brain.

This last point is particularly important, because when we talk about hormones we tend to ignore the power behind the throne, which is the Hypothalamus. The other name of the Hypothalamus is actually the word Homeostasis, which means balance, which is very appropriate. It is located in the middle of the base of the brain and is connected to the Pituitary lobes, which form the most important gland in the body.

The Hypothalamus regulates body temperature, blood sugar, water balance, fat metabolism, appetite, body weight, sensory inputs – such as taste and smell and sight, sleep, sexual behaviour, emotions, hormone productions, menstrual cycle regulation and the automatic nervous system that controls functions such as breathing and the heart muscle.

So, when we talk about hormones we need to talk about brain health as a priority.

Apart from essential fatty acids – what else does the brain need to function?

I am sure that it is no surprise that I am going to say FLUIDS are essential for adequate brain function. Dehydration causes to cells to dry up and die but also prevents the nutrients and oxygen reaching the brain, uphill through the carotid artery.

Headaches, nervousness, dizziness and nausea are all symptoms that the brain is dehydrated. That’s what you get when you drink too much coffee and alcohol and get a hangover. They are mild diuretics that can drain the body including organs such as the brain, of fluid. Additionally, every organ in the body, including the brain, has a pH balance that needs to be maintained. Without fluid the brain can become too acidic and damage occurs as I explained in the previous chapter on acidity and alkalinity.

B vitamins are critical for the brain.

B1 (Thiamine) essential for the nervous system.

B2 (Riboflavin) works with Vitamin C to help the Adrenal glands and therefore energy levels.

B3, (Niacin) assists Tryptophan in making Serotonin and the formation of the steroid hormones and for warding off senility.

B5 (Pantothenic acid) is required for making neurotransmitter chemicals and for steroid hormones Testosterone and Oestrogen, B6 (Pyridoxine) Serotonin manufacture, sleep patterns,

B12 (Cyanocolbalamin) essential for proper functioning of the nervous system.

Vitamin C a powerful antioxidant that protects the brain from free-radical damage but also works with other vitamins and minerals in a number of vital processes.

Vitamin E which helps increase circulation of oxygen and glucose rich blood to the brain. As an antioxidant it also protects brain cells from damage and destruction. It also protects the essential fatty acids and the Prostaglandins from oxidising (more next week)

Tryptophan that works with B3 and B6 particularly to manufacture Serotonin and Melatonin in the brain.

Calcium which calms the brain and assists in sleeping (hot milk at night). Magnesium to help Calcium work and to help calm panic attacks.

Phenylalanine an antidepressant nutrient that also stimulates memory.

Zinc, which has a calming effect on the brain function and with vitamin C, protects the membranes.

What part do amino acids play in hormone production?

Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins, which of course is what we are made of. Vitamins and minerals can’t perform their specific functions effectively if the necessary amino acids are not present. Amino acids are either classified as essential or non-essential. The non-essential ones can be manufactured in our bodies but the essential amino acids have to be obtained from food.

All hormones require amino acids for their production. For example L-Arginine encourages growth hormones and constitutes 80% of semen, which is why a deficiency causes sterility and is also essential for prostate health. L-Tryptophan helps in the production of Serotonin and Melatonin and helps to control emotional behaviour. L-Glutamine is helpful for Thyroid gland function. Taurine is used for hyperactivity and poor brain function.

What about the health of the other hormone producing glands?

Most of the above applies throughout the body. A diet rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C and E and essential fatty acids and amino acids will promote health everywhere. Having created a near perfect working environment for the bosses (the Hypothalamus and the Pituitary), we can turn our attention to the health of the Thyroid (metabolism, energy and growth) Adrenal Gland (sex drive, stress response and metabolism) and Pancreas (Blood sugar levels). If these organs are producing the hormones they are supposed to in the right quantities many of the problems we associate with old age would be much more manageable. Including energy and the ability to process our nutrients efficiently keeping us away from degenerative disease such as arthritis.

How can we take care of the thyroid?

The Thyroid needs Iodine and Selenium to produce an enzyme, which converts the amino acid Tyrosine into Thyroxine. If Thyroxine is at a less than optimum level there will be weight gain, fatigue, intestinal problems and thickening skin. This gland also produces a hormone that is responsible for calcium balance between blood and bones. If this is not working then too much calcium is leached from the bones leaving, them vulnerable to osteoporosis.

What function does the adrenal gland have?

The Adrenal gland is actually in two parts the cortex (male characteristics, sex drive, stress response, metabolism and the excretion of Sodium and Potassium from the kidneys). The Medulla, which produces the Adrenaline for metabolism and the fight or flight stress response.

If your stress levels remain high for long periods of time there will be an effect on the rest of your body. The body slows down digestion, maintenance and repair so that it is ready to run at any moment. It definitely speeds up the aging process because, like anything that is not maintained and is under stress, it slowly deteriorates. It will have a very big impact on all the rest of the hormones in the body including your sex drive – which is why stress plays a very important role in problems such as impotence.

A note here that if you have food intolerances you will be in a constant state of stress as the body deals with the invader. It will put a great deal of strain on the entire body, contributing to aging, which is why following a rotational eating plan (healthy eating programme) will help.

All the B vitamins, as well as Vitamin C, are necessary for the Adrenal glands as these are the nutrients that the body uses up most when in a stress reaction. Therefore they need to be replaced.

The Pancreas – Insulin production and blood sugar levels. What nutrients are needed for that to function healthily?

Like any of the hormonal glands, all of the nutrients that we have already mentioned are going to help the pancreas function better. In addition, it is important to follow some guidelines about eating certain foods that are going to stress the gland and put excess sugar into the bloodstream in addition to that made by the body.

So it is important to avoid too much refined carbohydrates and sugar (follow the healthy eating programme)

You should not eat too much saturated fat. Do not drink too many stimulants such as coffee and alcohol; be at a reasonable weight.

How about the food sources for the essential nutrients that are required to balance the hormones?

Essential Fatty acids

olives

Omega 3. Flaxseed oil, walnuts, pumpkinseeds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, avocados, dark green vegetables such as spinach, salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, tuna.

Omega 6. Flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, olive oil, evening primrose oil, chicken.

Omega 9. Olive oil, olives, avocado, almonds, sesame oil, pecans, pistachio, cashews.

Heat and oxygen destroy essential fatty acids so keep oils in dark glass containers.

vegetables

Antioxidants are found in all fresh fruit and vegetables and if you are eating 50% to 60% you will be doing great.

salmon

B vitamins. Apricots, avocado, brown rice, carrots, chicken, eggs, whole grains, lambs kidney and liver, melon, nuts, oats, oily fish, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, all salad vegetables and yoghurt.

Amino acids are found in proteins either animal or vegetable. Main sources are Soya beans, peas, beans, whole grains like brown rice, dairy products, poultry, lean meats and eggs.

At the moment I am working through the B vitamins in my weekly posts in more detail and you can find these here.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/vitamins-and-minerals-of-the-week/

©SallyGeorginaCronin Turning Back the Clock 2013

I hope you are finding the serialisation of my book interesting and helpful and I would be delighted to have your feedback and also grateful if you could share.