The endocrine system includes the areas in the body that regulate and produce hormones. Hormones are the messengers that allow our organs and cells to communicate to produce a coordinated effect. Without our endocrine system, various parts of the body would work independently from one another. Some of the organs that produce hormones includes the pineal gland (which sets the circadian rhythm), the thyroid (which sets cellular metabolism), the pancreas (which is involved in digestion and blood sugar control), the ovaries and testes (which produce the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone), and the adrenal glands (which produce cortisol that balances emotional and physiological stress to maintain homeostasis). The hormone levels fluctuate through the day and are released in a pulsatile manner throughout the hour, day or month. This pulsatile release is set by the circadian rhythm. Melatonin can be considered the re-set button for the circadian rhythm and it allows the body to recover and repair from work done during the day. The caveat, is that melatonin is produced during the stage of deep sleep, making good healthy sleep critical for balancing the endocrine system.
What are the top factors that throw off balance within the endocrine system?
- As discussed above, inadequate sleep.
- Environmental pollutants such as exhaust fumes, pesticides, paint fumes, heavy metals, plastics, unfiltered drinking water, smoking, and estrogens found in water bottles and makeup.
- A lack of Vitamin D from staying in the office too long and not getting out in the sun. Yes, this is how you can still be Vitamin D deficient in Southern California. Vitamin D is a potent modulator of the endocrine system, especially with the sex hormones.
- Emotions – the production and release of our neurotransmitters (GABA, serotonin, dopamine, etc) are linked with the endocrine hormones. An imbalance in one system, whether it’s an insufficient production of a neurotransmitter like serotonin, can throw off the balance of the other system.
- Stress – whether emotional or physical such as from chronic pain like endometriosis, will cause an consistent rise in cortisol from the adrenals. This will alter neurotransmitter production (affecting your emotions), it will deplete nutrients needed to produce other hormones and neurotransmitters, it will steal the production line away from other hormones and shunt the production supplies to making cortisol (creating imbalances in hormones such as estrogen and progesterone), and it burns through key nutrients such as the B vitamins, zinc, and Vitamin C. A stress is more than just an emotional stress, it can also be from a physical stress such as from persistent low blood sugar, chronic pain, chronic disease, inflammation, food allergies, and imbalances in the gut.
You can start to heal your endocrine system through nutrition. The phrase “you are what you eat” rings true. The basic dietary approach goes back to understanding that all hormones are made from cholesterol, so avoid low fat diets and consume good healthy fats that are rich in omega fats. It is well studied that eating a diet rich in varied, colorful veggies will give your body the nutrients and nutrition that it needs to function properly and to prevent cancer. An example is dark green leafy veggies are packed full of B vitamins, essential nutrients when you are under stress. Your body also needs Vitamin C, which is found in the green leafies, oranges, mango, parsley, broccoli, and cabbage. Vitamin C prevents free radical damage, strengthens and maintains healthy cell integrity, improves wound healing, enhances immune function, inhibits cancer formation, and lower inflammation. Natural carotenes, the orange pigment found in carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe aid balance by promoting healthy differentiation of cells, is a potent antioxidant, and enhances the immune system. And the constituent in green tea, epigallocatachin-3-gallate, stops free radical damage and lowers inflammation. Wow, all of that just from good food! There is even more food that is crucial to the endocrine system, but I would turn this post into a book.
When it comes to balancing the endocrine system, you have to look at all of the systems and influences in the body: mental, emotional, physical, environmental, genetic predisposition, and nutrition among others. You have to first identify and remove any barriers that are preventing the body from healing and creating balance. Once the barriers are gone, then with the right support and nourishment that body can heal. Nutrition, herbs, vitamins, and other Naturopathic modalities are great at aiding this re-balancing process. The goal of Naturopathic medicine is to balance the endocrine system is to support the innate ability of the body to heal, to treat the cause of the underlying dysfunction, and prevent progression of imbalance preventing large issues down the road.
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