We’re spilling the beans on (some of) your hormones, once and for all. Aiyana Fam, welcome to Endocrine System 101 (the long overdue female edition).
Oftentimes when women think about their hormones, they focus solely on hormones secreted by the reproductive organs–the ovaries. But what controls the ovaries? Do they magically decide to produce varying levels of estrogen, testosterone and progesterone over the course of your life? To no fault of our own, women are simply not taught to understand why we produce certain hormones at specific times of the month in certain quantities. We are taught to recognize changes and symptoms and fight through any imbalances we might feel. We want to take you back to the basics, to Grade 10 biology (we promise it’s going to be FUN!) and help you develop an understanding of how your hormones are so much more than your monthly cycle and the symptoms that come with it.
Instead of looking at specific endocrine organs, we are going to examine the whole endocrine system, all endocrine glands, their respective functions and most importantly how they’re designed to work in harmony.
First: the endocrine organs in the brain. Yep, that’s right the mind/body connection involves your hormones. Naturally, the signs of hormonal imbalance can manifest physically or psychologically. So let’s dig in.
The Queen Bee of the endocrine system. She controls the Pituitary Gland.
The Pituitary Gland.
Where all hormones that are responsible for controlling all other glands are made, stored and secreted. Problems with estrogen balance? Progesterone too low? Testosterone too high? These are signs your Hypothalamus or Pituitary glands may be playing tricks on you.
The Pineal Gland.
Small but mighty. Responsible for producing melatonin and regulating the circadian cycle (think of this as the body’s internal alarm system that tells when to wake up, when to sleep, when we are hungry etc). Optimal melatonin secretion is necessary for hormonal balance–not just for recognizing the time for a restful night's sleep.
Now let's move down the body to the collarbone area, where will find the Thyroid gland and the Parathyroid gland.*
The Thyroid Gland.
This is one we have been led to believe is responsible for a fast or slow metabolism of food. Although part of this is true, the thyroid is responsible for the growth and development of the ovaries and uterus and if pregnant, the placenta. Thyroid health is vital to your monthly menstrual cycle and fertility.
The Parathyroid Gland.
Responsible for secreting parathyroid hormone (PHT) and is responsible for regulating calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D in the body. Imbalances in parathyroid hormone can lead to osteoporosis, kidney stones and changes in bone density.
In the abdominal cavity, we have the pancreas and the adrenal glands.
This organ has two main functions and is a part of both the digestive and endocrine systems. She can be a bit of an overachiever. Within the endocrine system, her responsibilities are mainly to regulate insulin and glucagon, ultimately regulating our blood sugar. What many of us don’t know is that imbalances in blood sugar have been linked to imbalances in estrogen and testosterone.
The Adrenal Glands.
These two glands that sit on top of the kidneys help regulate essential bodily processes–immunity, stress response, metabolism of all energy, blood pressure, etc. Focusing in on stress response, when a perceived threat arises, the hypothalamus (Queen Bee) sends a signal to the adrenal glands to prepare by producing adrenaline. This causes a shift from a parasympathetic state (rest, digest and healthy hormones) to a sympathetic state (fight, flight or freeze). When the body is in a sympathetic state, all nutrients are redirected in response to the current stressor rather than helping nurture hormonal balance. When you are chronically in a stressed state, we call this an imbalance of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA axis.
Last but not least, we have finally reached the pelvic section that has your oh, so neglected ovaries.
They are primarily responsible for producing estrogen and progesterone. Much like the adrenal glands, the ovaries are a part of an axis that we call the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis. The Hypothalamus sends a signal to the Pituitary to release various hormones throughout your monthly cycle in order to stimulate follicular growth and ovulation via estrogen and progesterone. As explained earlier, when the adrenal glands (or HPA axis) is imbalanced, the HPO axis is not able to receive the proper signals because it believes an incoming threat is more important. This can lead to more hormonal imbalances, menstrual cycle dysfunction and infertility.
Now that you know how all the endocrine organs work in harmony, it’s so important for you to track how you’re feeling and communicate it to your health care professionals, partners and fellow sisters. The female endocrine system is complex to say the least. Suffering in silence is not going to solve any problems but rather delay compounding issues that will take deep nurturing, patience and time to fix.
Part of our mission at AIYANA is to help bring awareness to women's issues and help you solve some of the problems. Providing crowd-pleasing, nutrient-dense food can help eliminate the stress of feeding a family and check one item off your to-do list. Advocating for you and your family to spend quality and stress-free time together is foundational to our mission. We hope you enjoyed today’s class, learned something new and leave feeling empowered. We look forward to the next one.
*We left out the Thymus Gland due to the nature of the topic but lest we forget her. The Thymus Gland is largest during childhood and is responsible for releasing hormones that develop your immunity. She shrinks in size overtime but can be stimulated by tapping on your breast bone to ignite immune function.