I am writing this ‘Infoblog’ because at the moment we are experiencing many issues involving hormonal balance – or imbalance. Whichever way we wish to view it there is a problem.
Many women are suffering from menopausal symptoms. Couples are experiencing difficulty with starting a family, and there are complications during pregnancy and after.
We are also seeing much more depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.
So I started out to explain the ‘how to’ deal with these symptoms to bring back some quality of life. BUT, I then realised, after discussing the issue of hormones generally, that there was a lack of understanding regarding the complexity of the hormonal system.
So I have put this first hormone ‘infoblog’ together to lay the foundation as to the detail and functioning of the hormone system. This hopefully will make the understanding of the symptomatic conditions mentioned above easier to understand.
So Let’s begin.
People have a nasty habit of equating “hormones” with a particular set of behaviours and conditions, most of which have to do with reproduction or sexual development,
Now, I’m not saying that hormones aren’t at the root of sexual attraction, or zits, or occasional bouts of extreme emotion, because they are. That’s just not all that they do – not even close.
When people talk about “hormonal” in the context that I just mentioned, what they really mean is “sex hormones.”
But sex hormones are just one kind of hormone that you have coursing through your body right now.
In fact, there are at least 50 different types of these chemical messengers at work in your body at this very minute, but only a very few of them have anything at all to do with sex.
The truth is, from birth to death, just about every cell and function in your body is under your hormones’ constant influence. They’re floating through your blood, regulating your metabolism, your sleep cycle, your response to stress, and the general and incredibly important overall homeostasis that keeps you alive.
Some hormones are just there to make other hormones trigger even more hormones — in a kind of chemical relay race that biologists refer to, rather elegantly, as “cascades.” These hormones run through you no matter what your mood is, or whether you have zits.
So the answer to my question:
ARE YOU HORMONAL? is …..
ALL OF THE TIME – I hope!!
OK, to begin to understand our hormones — and the endocrine system that produces, releases, and re-absorbs them — we have to step back and take a wider view of how the body systems work synergistically.
Not only by emphasising that – sex hormones aren’t the only hormones you have — but also by looking at how your hormones interact with your other eleven main organ systems.
Two Complementary Systems
Your body has two complementary systems that are constantly shouting instructions to all of your eleven organ systems to make sure that homeostasis is achieved in the body.
Both your endocrine system and your nervous system are constantly trafficking information around your body, gathering intel, making demands, controlling your every move. They just have totally different ways of doing it.
Your nervous system uses lightning-fast electrochemical potentials, delivered by an expressway made of neurons to specific cells and organs.
But your endocrine system prefers a slower, wider stream of data. It secretes hormones that travel through your blood — NOT through neurons — so they move more slowly, but they also produce widespread effects that last a whole lot longer than an action potential.
Now, compared to your heart or brain or other, arguably more glamorous organs, your endocrine system’s organs and glands are rather small and lumpy. They’re also individualists — instead of being all nestled together like your other organ systems, these guys are scattered all over the place, from your brain to your throat, to your kidneys, to your genitals.
The Master Gland
A gland is just any structure that makes and secretes a hormone. The master gland in your body is the pituitary, this produces many hormones that signal other glands – like the thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, and pineal glands – to make their own hormones.
The endocrine system also includes a few organs — like the gonads, the pancreas, and the placenta in pregnant women – all of which have some other non-hormonal functions and are made up of multiple tissue types.
Technically the hypothalamus in your brain is in the endocrine club too, since in addition to all of its busy brain duties, it does produce and release hormones.
So, thanks to these glands and organs, you’ve got all these hormones diffusing through your blood, doing all sorts of different things, but the thing to remember about them is that a hormone can only trigger a reaction in specific cells – their so-called target cells – that have the right receptors for it.
So, just like some keys can open many locks, while others only work with one, so too can the hormone-target-cell relationship either be widespread or localised.
OK, so what does that mean?. Let’s take our thyroid as an example – it sits at the bottom of your throat and produces the hormone thyroxine. This stimulates metabolism (all life-enhancing factors) and binds to receptors in most of the cells in your body.
But your pituitary — which is nestled all comfy under your brain — produces follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which helps regulate growth and triggers sexual maturity, and it only targets specific cells in the ovaries and testes.
So how do hormones bind to their target cells?
Well, chemically, most hormones are either made of amino acids -including their more complex structures like peptides or proteins – or they’re derived from lipids, like cholesterol.
And this is the key, because a hormone’s chemical structure determines if its water soluble, like most amino acid-based ones are, or, lipid-soluble, like steroids are. Solubility is important because the cell membranes are made of lipids. That means that water-soluble ones can’t get across them.
So target cells for those kinds of hormones have receptors for them on the outside of their membranes.
Lipid-soluble hormones, on the other hand, can just basically glide right through that lipid cell membrane, so their receptor sites are inside their target cells.
Either way, when a target cell is activated, the hormone alters its activity, by either increasing or decreasing some of its functions. Usually, the goal is of maintaining your body’s homeostasis in one way or another.
So, if hormones are keeping your body IN balance, what’s putting your body OUT of balance?
Well! – could I interest you in some pie?
If you have a couple of nice, generous helpings of strawberry-rhubarb pie – and just to make things interesting, let’s say they’re appealing to the sweet tooth, – your blood glucose level is going to go through the roof.
The pancreas will now try to regulate your blood sugar by releasing two different hormones – insulin and glucagon.
Once you have a belly full of that pie, beta cells in your pancreas release insulin, which helps lower your blood sugar by increasing the rate at which your cells store the sugar either as glycogen or as fat for later use.
Now, let’s say you’ve done the opposite: You’ve eaten no pie – you’re pie-less – in fact, you’ve eaten nothing for hours. If your blood sugar drops too low, the alpha cells in the pancreas will instead send out glucagon. This helps raise your blood sugar levels, in part by decreasing the storage of sugar in your cells and triggering their release of glucose back into the blood.
Lots of different endocrine-related illnesses – like diabetes or hyperthyroidism – tend to be the result of either hyper (too much) or hypo (too little) secretion of certain hormones, which throw your homeostasis off balance.
But there are lots of more common, and less obvious, ways your hormones can get out of balance. Not because of some disorder, but because these signalling chemicals are just caught up in a chain reaction, which can take a while to subside.
Some hormones just exist to control other hormones, which in turn control still more hormones. So as soon as one hormone starts to trickle out, you can pretty quickly wind up with a cascade on your hands.
The HPA axis
You’ve got a few different hormone cascades going on at any given moment, but one of the big ones – one that’s really worth understanding – is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or the HPA axis – shortened because you don’t want to have to say that every time.
This is a complex series of interactions between three glands that ultimately regulates lots of your body’s daily processes, like digestion, sexuality, immune response, and how you handle stress.
It is very complex – not just because of all the glands involved – but it’s also one of the more crucial instances of your endocrine system coordinating with your nervous system. Specifically, it’s behind that fight-or-flight response that everybody keeps talking about. The HPA Axis is essentially the endocrine system’s companion to the sympathetic nervous system.
This is the STRESS reaction and plays a major role in the poor health of our society. So let’s break that down a bit further.
The sympathetic system, in times of high stress, does things like speed up your heart rate and direct blood away from the digestive organs and to the muscles. But many of the other effects of the stress response are carried out by your endocrine system.
Getting your nervous and endocrine systems to work together in times of crisis is where the hypothalamus comes in. It’s the hub of where the two systems meet – it keeps tabs on what’s going on all over your body, analysing your blood for signs that something might be wrong.
So, let’s dig a bit deeper into our fight-or-flight response; let us take a burning house scenario.
So you’re sleeping, dreaming about your holiday – laying on the beach with your Pina Colada or whatever – when the smoke alarm goes off. Well, action potentials in your brain trigger neurons in your hypothalamus to release the peptide hormone CRH or corticotropin-releasing hormone. The CRH makes the very short trip through the bloodstream to the anterior pituitary gland, where, because its water soluble, it binds to receptors on the outside of its target cells. There, it triggers the release of an adrenocorticotropic hormone or ACTH.
The ACTH travels again through the bloodstream to the adrenal cortices of the adrenal glands on top of your kidneys. When the ACTH binds to receptors on cells in the adrenal cortex, it triggers the release of a frenzy of different freak-out compounds known as glucocorticoid and mineral corticoid hormones.
Typically these guys help us deal with day-to-day stress by keeping our blood sugar and blood pressure balanced.
Modern health issue link
But under major stress, like waking up in a burning building, these stress hormones, like cortisol, cause the classic fight-or-flight response: ramping up your blood pressure, dumping glucose into your bloodstream, shutting down non-emergency services like your immune system and sperm and egg development.
Here we see the issue of starting families with the male sperm and the female egg damage due to the stress that is evident in our daily confrontation with our fast-paced highly competitive world.
Now that all these stress hormones are pulsing through your blood, the hypothalamus in the brain senses them, and because its job is to monitor and maintain balance whenever possible, it then stops secreting CRH. This eventually causes the other glands to stop secreting their panic hormones.
Now, because this element of the stress response is hormonal rather than electrical, it comes on more slowly than the nervous system part, and it takes longer to subside, too, as those stress hormones linger in the blood before being broken down by enzymes.
What did we learn?
So, having been through the hormonal pathways I hope you’ll join me in dispelling the stereotypes that surround these powerful and important chemicals and give them the respect they rightly deserve.
We looked at the endocrine system, and how it uses glands to produce hormones. These hormones are either amino-acid based and water soluble, or steroidal and lipid-soluble, and may target many types of cells, or just turn on specific ones.
We also touched on hormone cascades, and how the HPA axis affects your stress response.
Hopefully, as you read through this ‘infoblog’ you will start to get some connections to your own hormonal system and how it affects you.
The next blog will cover how the environmental and lifestyle choices are causing the symptomatic conditions mentioned at the beginning of the ‘infoblog’.
A useful Remedy
I have found that using DIM as a remedy works very well to balance the good and bad estrogen and has many research papers showing its beneficial effects such as:
- Promotes beneficial estrogen metabolism in both women and men
- Breast, cervical, uterine health
- Helps to block the conversion of testosterone to estrogen
- Prostate health
- Menopausal symptoms
- Weight problems
- Polycystic Ovaries
- Fibroid tumours
Please comment and let me know if this information has been helpful to understand the Endocrine and Nervous System function and response to your world.
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