Glands release hormones, which regulate practically every essential body function, from brain activity, blood pressure, cell metabolism, and reproduction, to how well you sleep at night. They play key roles in cell repair, growth, metabolism, appetite, fertility, and the regulation of pain. Produced through the body, they act as “chemical messengers,” sending signals between cells.
Hormones help maintain harmony and balance through their communication with organs, and one another. As a result, dysfunction in one system will affect other systems. The messaging begins with release of the hormone from a gland (an organ that both synthesizes the messaging or signaling molecules, and secretes them). There are two kinds of glands, exocrine and endocrine. Their regulation and function affect much of how you feel on a day-to-day basis.
- Exocrine glands release hormones into ducts to deliver them to their destinations.
- Endocrine glands release hormones directly into the bloodstream where they must then travel to the appropriate target organ.
- Sex glands (ovaries and testes)
Each hormone has a specific receptor on its target organ, which fit together like a lock and key. When bound together, the targeted organism senses the hormone, and responds to the signal by changing the balance of the body's chemistry. Hormone release is regulated through feedback from the body, allowing it to stay in balance.
When this balance is disrupted, such as in menopause, diabetes, adrenal fatigue or thyroid dysfunction, there can be a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. Although vital to health and wellbeing, hormonal dysfunctions are often overlooked, because they:
- Produce vague symptoms, that are easily ignored
- Are difficult to test for, until symptoms become acute
- (Symptoms) are often seen as being “all in your head”
- (Sub-acute dysfunctions) are treated with lifestyle changes and nutritional supplements, not medication
On the wellness spectrum there is “feeling good” (wellness), and there is “feeling bad” (acute illness), but in the middle you can still feel “not well” (sub-acute) and have your life altered significantly. Listening to the body and raising sub-acute hormonal dysfunction can improve quality of life. Learning about the cause of nagging vagu symptoms and understanding their hormonal origin, is a start. From there, you can make informed choices on restoring hormonal balance to improve wellbeing.
One of the most common hormone dysfunction happens to women. As middle age approaches, women are at risk for hormonal imbalances associated with the onset of menopause. During this time, hormone fluctuations create an imbalance in estrogen and progesterone. Often women between the ages of 30 to 50 may experience estrogen dominance, where a she has more estrogen than is needed or healthy. This can happen in numerous ways. Progesterone and estrogen have opposite roles in the body, buy them work together for health.
Estrogen is produced in the first two weeks of a woman's cycle and progesterone in the last two weeks, if ovulation occurred. If there is no ovulation one month or the woman no longer ovulates, progesterone will not be made. This excess estrogen and insufficient progesterone is a common cause of hormonal symptoms manifesting in mood changes and uncomfortable symptoms. Women who have suffered severe PMS, post-partum depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) earlier in life are more likely to have difficulty in pre-menopause, perimenopause and post menopause.
Because progesterone balances the effects of estrogen in the body, “estrogen dominance” can cause mild to severe mental and physical symptoms, as the two hormones are no longer able to balance and oppose each other effectively. Progesterone supplementation can help correct this imbalance. An easy an effective form is natural progesterone cream, applied directly to the skin, where it is absorbed into the underlying fat layer. Note: (Always check with your physicist to determine what supplements are appropriate for you.)
Hormonal imbalances can occur anytime the demands made on the body, overwhelmed the support provided. Imbalance occurs when the body is forced to cope with those demands at the expense of healthy hormone synthesis and metabolism. Poor nutrition, stress of all kinds and toxins in the environment are just a few of the many sources of “demands” on the body.
Hormone balance requires adequate support. Simple measures such as taking nutritional supplements, small changes in diet, managing stress, and improving fitness habits can all provide this much needed support. These lifestyle behaviors can either assist or inhibit proper hormone functioning, leading to either symptom relief or exacerbation. In Part II of this series on hormonal health, we will look at thyroid and adrenal dysfunction and how to detect and balance these common sub-acute imbalances, to improve overall wellbeing.