Keeping your endocrine system healthy helps balance your hormones – from sleep and mood to metabolism and tissue function. But what is the endocrine system, and how does it work? Learn more about the complex system that impacts every aspect of life and how to maintain a healthy endocrine system to balance your hormones with these tips.
What is the Endocrine System?
The endocrine system is a collection of glands and organs that produce and maintain hormones for proper body function at all stages of life. These glands and organs send hormones into the bloodstream and send signals to body tissue to instruct how to perform. According to the Merck Manual, the endocrine system affects almost every organ and cell in the body, so a healthy endocrine system is imperative.
Hormones play a large role in how the body operates physically and chemically, and affect functions such as:
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Anatomy of the Endocrine System
In the Brain
- Hypothalamus: To connect the endocrine system with the nervous system and guide the pituitary gland on when to start and stop producing hormones.
- Pituitary Gland: To send signals and transmit information to other parts of the endocrine system through various hormones. This gland produces adrenocorticotropic hormone to stimulate steroid hormones like cortisol, growth hormone to regulate growth and metabolism, gonadotrophins for sex hormone production, thyroid stimulating hormone, and more. This is considered the “master gland” of the endocrine system.
- Pineal Gland: To aid in sleep through the production of melatonin.
In the Neck
- Thyroid Gland: To control metabolism through the production of thyroid hormone.
- Parathyroid: To regulate bone health through the management of calcium and phosphorus.
Between the Lungs
- Thymus Gland: To fight infection and aid in the development of children’s immune systems with T-lymphocytes.
On Top of the Kidneys
- Adrenal Glands: To trigger “fight or flight” with adrenaline production and maintain metabolism and sexual function with corticosteroids.
Behind the Stomach
- Pancreas: To ensure blood sugar levels are maintained by managing insulin and glucagon levels.
In the Pelvic Region
- Ovaries: To develop breasts, regulate menstrual cycle, and support pregnancy through estrogen and progesterone production.
- Testes: To grow facial and body hair at puberty and producing sperm through the production of testosterone.
How to Maintain a Healthy Endocrine System
While hormone imbalances are sometimes unavoidable, knowing how the system works and how to maintain a healthy endocrine system can help lessen the chance of health issues.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Maintaining hormonal balance requires a healthy diet filled with the proper nutrients to facilitate hormone production. Eating a balance of carbs, proteins, and healthy fats is key. High-fiber and probiotic food can also improve your diet for balancing hormones. Avoiding inflammatory foods such as added sugar, trans fats, refined grains, and alcohol will keep your diet on the right track for endocrine system health.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise is extremely important for endocrine health. Not only does maintaining a healthy weight through these methods help improve your overall health, but being active can stimulate hormone production and aid in alleviating hormonal imbalance. Exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity, boost testosterone, and relieve stress to reduce harmful cortisol hormones.
Make Note of Hormones and Medications
From birth control to insulin, keeping track of which hormones and medications you are adding to your regimen is important for both you and your doctor. Always consult with a doctor before changing, adding, or removing any medications your health care. As hormonal imbalance issues can arise at any time, being aware of always wise in case you have a sudden change in health.
Use an Infrared Sauna
The endocrine system can be greatly impacted by infrared sauna use. Saunas help stimulate hormone release and reach optimal hormonal balance. Some of the most notable benefits of saunas for endocrine system health are the reduction of cortisol, and the increase of growth hormone, beta-endorphins, prolactin and norepinephrine secretion. The endocrine system response to infrared sauna use is heavily correlated with stress reduction.
Cortisol is a hormone produced when the body is under stress and the HPA axis, or hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal, is consistently in use. Stress can lead to a number of health issues when left unattended to. Thankfully, reducing stress is one of the more fun things to change in your life! As mentioned before, relax in a sauna, take a day off for yourself, or simply put aside 30 minutes every night to unwind.
Potential Endocrine System Health Issues
Keeping a balance of hormones allows the body to perform optimally. Unfortunately, bodies aren’t always in perfect balance, and hormones can be over or under produces. Imbalances can be caused by internal, such as age and genetics, and external forces such as stress and diet. Though aging tends to take a toll on the body and genetics cannot be changed, there are plenty of manageable lifestyle factors that can impact endocrine system health. Below are some common health issues arising from hormonal imbalance.
If insulin is not produced or utilized properly in the body, blood sugar regulation is not possible. Type 1 diabetes is unavoidable, as it is an autoimmune condition. However, the risk of type 2 diabetes can be lowered with proper lifestyle choices.
Hyperthyroidism & Hypothyroidism
An over-producing thyroid gland, or hyperthyroidism, may cause an increased heart rate, lost weight, and impacted energy levels. Alternatively, an under-producing thyroid gland suffering from hypothyroidism may result in lower energy, weight gain, and digestive issues.
When hormone imbalance occurs in the ovaries and testes, ovulation and sperm production may occur. Similarly, those with hormonal imbalances in the ovaries may suffer from irregular menstrual cycles.
Learning how to maintain a healthy endocrine system and putting healthy habits into action are necessary to prevent future health issues. Though some endocrine system health issues are unavoidable, prevention is always preferred to treatment. If you feel you are suffering from a hormonal imbalance, speak with your doctor about next steps.