There may be a secondary cause to the under or over production; as a result of a disorder of the Pituitary gland. resulting from a Tumour, or a failure in the production of a hormone due to nutrient deficiency. For example the Thyroid hormone is dependent upon Iodine. Several hormones require conversion to an active form after being secreted from the gland. Chronic stress can hinder the conversion of T4 thyroxine to T3 triiodothyronine.
Dysfunction of one system of the body can interact negatively with the endocrine system. For example obesity can result in Insulin resistance, where Insulin is not being utilised effectively, resulting in a rise in blood glucose levels.
The female hormone Oestrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries. After menopause it is found in large amounts outside the ovaries. The body still makes small amounts of oestrogen by changing androgens which are produced by the adrenal glands into oestrogen.
Estradiol the strongest of the three oestrogens binds with SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) in the blood. SHBG is produced in the liver. Oestrogen is down regulated by progesterone. The body sees oestrogen as toxic and therefore any excess is eliminated through the faeces. A fibre deficient diet will interfere with its excretion and it is then reabsorbed. Re-uptake of oestrogen from bile may act as regulatory mechanism for the production of SHBG.
Progesterone can be converted to oestrogen, cortisol, aldosterone, and testosterone in different tissues. It is produced in the adrenals in small amounts, but large amounts in the ovary following ovulation and the formation of the corpus Luteum. Also in massive amounts by the placenta during pregnancy. Its function is to down regulate oestrogen and inhibit oestrogen transcription activated at the DNA level.
Levels of Oestrogen and progesterone appear to play a role in inflammation based diseases, in particular those related to Th1 and Th2 responses. The Th1/Th2 imbalance that seems to occur during pregnancy and around menopause seems to explain why Autoimmune diseases are found more often in women. The immune system plays a role in modulating hormonal balance.
Women also produce testosterone, which is the primary source of libido. Testosterone levels peak early morning and in surges around the time of ovulation and just before Menses. It is produced in the adrenals and ovary. In males 95% of testosterone is produced in the Leydig cells of the testes. The adrenal glands also produce testosterone through conversion of DHEA and androstenedione.
Androgens play a role in; androgenic — growth development and maintenance of the male reproductive tract, Male sexual differentiation in the foetus and adolescence, and maintaining male sex characteristics and spermatogenesis. Its anabolic effects are to stimulate muscle and bone density and erythropoiesis.
Nutritional and environmental factors are modulators of hormone balance, for example Zinc deficiency impacts on steroid hormone function, Obesity plays a significant part in hormonal imbalances.
Stress can be initiated from emotional causes. There are also internal physical factors that can contribute to the body being in a stressed condition.They include: inflammation, insulin resistance, obesity, and endocrine disturbances. For example thyroid dysfunction can increase anxiety. These conditions can be exasperated by stress, so a feedback loop is created, and the stress can develop into a more chronic systemic condition. The body's reaction to stress is controlled by both the endocrine and the nervous systems. On an endocrine level it initiates in the hypothalamus (H), and involves both the pituitary (P) and adrenal (A) glands. Therefore it is often referred to as a condition that affects the HPA axis.
The stress response is initiated by the hypothalamus. Many of the functions of the hypothalamus are to do with the control of homeostasis, for example, body temperature. As the hypothalamus governs a number of functions, it is not surprising that when stress negatively impacts upon the body it can affect a variety of systems. For example, sleep, hunger, and sex drive. The hypothalamus receives a number of sensory inputs and from this information initiates an appropriate physiological response. Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) is secreted. This results in the release of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) by the pituitary gland, which then stimulates the production of cortisol in the adrenal cortex. Stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system results in an increased release of the catecholamines; norepinephrine and epinephrine.
In non-stressful conditions, cortisol release follows a particular pattern. The highest level occurs between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. and there is a continual drop throughout the day, until it is at its lowest between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m., after which it will begin to rise again. There is a small peak around 4 p.m.
Due to the fact that stress impacts not just upon external responses but internally, it is important to support Many of the physiological responses to stress.
- Cortisol and blood sugar levels have an intimate relationship. Skipping meals or eating snacks rich in simple carbohydrates can create a hypoglycaemic state. Stress and hypoglycaemia releases cortisol which soon initiates; glyconeogenesis, decreased insulin sensitivity, amino acid mobilisation, and protein catabolism. Avoiding the intake of chemical stressors can be beneficial; Caffeine amplifies Cortisol production many hours after ingestion, therefore should be avoided if feeling overstressed. The same will apply to any food allergens which need to identified and eliminated from the diet.
- Supporting the adrenal glands would be beneficial. Also achieving adequate potassium levels. A potassium sodium ratio >5:1 through the diet. A natural diet rich In fruits and vegetables can produce a potassium sodium ratio greater than 50:1, therefore increasing fruit intake would be beneficial. However it is worth considering whole fruit rather than fruit juices, as fruit juices can increase the intake of sugar. Excess stress can result in the depletion of Vitamin C, which again is contained in a number of fruit and vegetables.
- Magnesium; low-levels are seen in stressed individuals. Magnesium reduces the activity of HPA axis, Legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables (such as spinach) are good sources of magnesium.
- Omega 3 fatty acids; DHA blunts sympathetic activity. If vegan it is worth considering finding a supplement as most food sources tend to be within oily fish.
- Pantothenic acid, B5 and Vitamin B6, pyridoxine; are effective in treating fatigue and anxiety. B5 is Part of coenzyme A, which is necessary for fatty acid synthesis and degradation, steroid synthesis, and the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins. Coenzyme A, a vitamin-like substance, is essential for the formation of cortisol in the adrenal cortex. Pantothenic acid deficiency results in adrenal atrophy. Symptoms include; fatigue, headache, sleep disturbances, nausea, and abdominal discomfort. B6 deficiency is associated with fatigue.
There are a number of herbal adaptogens which can support adrenal functioning.
Rhodiola rosea; Works on the hypothalamus to increase resistance to toxins and stress. Improves the oxygen carrying capacity of blood, and helps increase stamina and endurance.
Liquorice; spares cortisol, but care needs to be taken over long term use as it can affect blood pressure levels.
Withania somnifera/ashwaganda used in Ayurvedic tradition for general debility and nervous exhaustion.
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