Many experts would argue that among your body’s functional systems the most important is the endocrine system. It is composed of glands (the endocrine glands) that produce hormones that control everything that is happening in our 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 that are produced in very small amounts by our endocrine glands. They are released into the blood stream and carried to specific cells where they initiate specific activities. They regulate, control, and coordinate 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. They are powerful in very tiny amounts so their levels are precisely and carefully monitored and controlled by the body.
Hormones from the different endocrine glands interact with each other in complex ways to coordinate the body’s systems. 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:
Proper nutrition is critical for the endocrine glands. Each of the major glands 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. If we do not consume sufficient amounts of these minerals the glands will not function properly which will ultimately lead to a variety of symptoms in the body. More on this later when we look at 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.
A few more basics about hormones to provide you with additional background. On each human cell are 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 the term “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 in two formats 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.
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 all the 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.
Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.