Hormonal Balancing: : A Holistic Approach
Dec 31, 2014 03:24AM
● By Lisa Singley
Endocrinology is the study of the endocrine system. Endocrine glands secrete hormones into the bloodstream that regulate the function of other cells and organ systems of the body. The endocrine system consists of separate glands such as the adrenals, thyroid, parathyroids, pituitary and pancreas.
The word hormone comes from the Greek word “hormone,” which means “that which sets in motion;” this term was first used by Hippocrates to denote a vital principle. Hippocrates radically changed the way we think about physiology. Before his time, the human body was viewed as an intricate machine with many parts; medical doctors helped their patients by isolating and fixing the part that was not working. Hippocrates believed instead that the human body functioned as one unified organism, or physis, and must be treated – in health and disease – as one coherent, integrated whole. Today, we know the endocrine, nervous and immune systems work together to integrate and harmonize growth, reproduction and homeostasis. The endocrine glands produce hormones, the nervous system uses neurotransmitters, and the immune system releases cytokines.
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) regulates the stress response. Cytokines act at several levels of the HPA axis to release cortisol and epinephrine, the so-called stress hormones. Cortisol and epinephrine act to suppress the immune response, thus forming a negative feedback loop in the body.
The hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis (HPG axis) regulates the reproductive system. The hypothalamus releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) to stimulate the pituitary to release luteinizing hormone (LH), which then signals the gonads. This communication pathway ultimately leads to the production of testosterone, estrogen and progesterone from the gonads.
The adrenal glands control the stress response via the action of cortisol, regulate water retention with aldosterone, and hormone production with pregnenolone and DHEA. The thyroid gland is located in the throat and covers the front surface of the second to the fourth tracheal rings. It has two lobes and a central isthmus. The thyroid gland maintains energy homeostasis and regulates energy expenditure. It synthesizes T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) and T3 (active hormone). T3 is produced in small amounts by the thyroid; most of the T3 is converted in the liver and the kidneys from T4. The ovaries and testes regulate sexual development and reproduction.
Testosterone is the predominant male hormone with the greatest quantity secreted from the testes. Smaller amounts are also secreted in the adrenals and the ovaries. Testosterone promotes male body development and sexual characteristics, male libido and sexual performance. In both males and females, it builds and maintains muscle mass, bone density and strength, maintains healthy skin and immune function, promotes and sustains mental performance and burns fat. Both men and women make testosterone from two hormone precursors, progesterone and DHEA. Estrogen works with progesterone to support female reproduction and develop secondary sexual characteristics. Estrogen promotes proliferation and growth of the lining of the uterus, stimulates breast tissue, increases body fat, causes salt and fluid retention, and interferes with thyroid hormone. Progesterone maintains the endometrium during pregnancy, protects against breast fibrocysts, normalizes blood sugar, burns fat, enhances thyroid action and is a natural diuretic.
Chronic Stress = Imbalances in Sex Hormones
Chronic stress can lead to cortisol imbalances, which can deplete pregeneolone and DHEA, and lead to deficiencies in estrogen, progesterone and/or testosterone. Some of the symptoms associated with excess cortisol are anxiety, an increase in belly fat, decreased muscle tone, impaired thyroid function, impaired immune system function, decreased cognitive ability and high blood pressure. With prolonged stress, the adrenals can burn out and are unable to produce enough cortisol; signs of low cortisol are low blood pressure, feeling light headed, reduced ability to handle stress, fatigue, increased pain and inflammation. Prolonged stress can lead to imbalances in sex hormones; estrogen dominance can impair thyroid function whereas elevated progesterone can aid thyroid function. Also, low iron can prevent uptake of thyroid hormone into cells. Women with estrogen dominance and heavy menstrual periods often have signs of impaired thyroid function.
The best way to diagnose any medical condition is to take a detailed history, perform a complete physical exam, and confirm the diagnosis with appropriate tests. Hormone testing is most commonly done with blood, saliva tests or urine. Blood tests measure the total amount of a given hormone, both the inactive bound and the biologically active free components. Saliva measures free hormone or biologically active hormone levels; many physicians believe a saliva test is a more clinically useful test. Urine hormone levels shows how hormones are metabolized; knowing how estrogen is metabolized can be helpful in evaluating a patient’s risk for certain types of cancers and heart disease.
The first part of supporting a healthy endocrine system is healthy lifestyle practices. It is very difficult to have balanced hormones if your life is out of balance. Proper nutrition, adequate rest, stress management and exercise are essential for a healthy mind, body and spirit. Botanical medicines such as ashwandha, Siberian ginseng, and rhodiola help support the adrenals, the nervous system and the immune system to respond more appropriately to stress. Guggul, ashwagandha and kelp are used for hypothyroid patients. Maca, chaste berry, sarsaparilla and black cohosh help balance estrogen and progesterone. For men, ashwagandha, tribulus and maca can increase testosterone levels.
Targeted nutritional supplements, homeopathic remedies and acupuncture are great adjunctive therapies along with practicing yoga and meditation to help with hormonal balancing.
Lisa Singley, ND, is director of the Natural Health and Wellness Center, located at 2103 Main St, Ste #2, Stratford. The center offers comprehensive natural solutions to prevent illness and maintain optimal health for body, mind and spirit. For more information, call 203-874-4333 or visit NHAWC.com. See ad, page 7.