The female hormone Oestrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries. After menopause the body still makes small amounts of oestrogen by changing androgens which are produced by the adrenal glands into oestrogen. But it mainly comes from fat tissue.
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 from the body. Oestrogen is metabolised by the liver and excreted through the faeces. A fibre deficient diet will interfere with its excretion and it may be 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 can o occur during pregnancy and around menopause which appears to explain why Autoimmune diseases are found more often in women. Conversely 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 in testes. The adrenal glands also produce testosterone through conversion of DHEA and androstenedione, which are precursors to testosterone.
Androgens play a role in; androgenic — growth development and maintenance of the male reproductive tract, Male sexual differentiation in foetus and adolescence, and maintains male sex characteristics and spermatogenesis. Its anabolic effects are to; stimulate muscle and bone density and erythropoiesis.
There are a number of conditions that can affect endocrine function. Disorders can be due to an imbalance where the Gland produces the hormone in excess or there is a deficiency in production. Primary disorders are due to the problems residing in the Gland itself, for example Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the cells of the body that produce Insulin are destroyed. Other examples of Autoimmune conditions are, Graves Disease which results in Hyperthyroidism, or Hashimoto's thyroiditis leading to Hypothyroidism.
There may be a secondary cause to the under or over production due to a disorder of the Pituitary gland as a result of a Tumour, or a failure in the production of the hormone as a result of a 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, for example 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 which results in Insulin not being utilised effectively resulting a rise in blood glucose levels.
Stress has a trigger and a specific response. This trigger may be physical or emotional. It involves the rapid activation of the sympathetic nervous system with the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline, and the involvement of the adrenal glands. They both promote; enhanced vigilance, alertness, arousal, and attention.
If the body is seen as a homeodynamic system constantly changing around an equilibrial point, stress can be viewed as an appropriate state which reaches a peak and then returns to a baseline once the stressor has been dealt with. However when the stressors are prolonged, or in excess of the body's ability to cope, its effects can become more damaging.
Stress can be initiated from emotional causes, but also there are more 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 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 release cortisol which soon initiates; glyconeogenesis, decreased insulin sensitivity, amino acid mobilisation, and protein catabolism. Avoiding 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. Adequate potassium levels, a potassium sodium ratio >5:1. 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 fruits 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 with oily fish which contains high amounts.
- Pantothenic acid (B5) and Vitamin Pyridoxine (B6); 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 metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins. Coenzyme A is essential for the formation of cortisol in 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.
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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