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When we think of hormones, we typically think of women, PMS, menopause, and estrogen. However, the endocrine system consists of nine glands: the pituitary, hypothalamus, thyroid, adrenals, thymus, pineal, pancreas, ovaries, and testes. Each one of these glands secretes one or more hormones in an attempt to communicate with the cellular structure of the body. Each gland is directly or indirectly dependent on the other. That is why, for instance: hypothyroidism is not just a problem with the thyroid, and hot flashes or night sweats cannot be isolated as simply a problem of estrogen production or ovary function.

As the endocrine (also referred to as glandular or hormonal) system regulates various activities in the body through the secretion of hormones, it also influences cellular metabolism. The entire glandular system, as well as all organs and systems of the body must be considered.

The nervous system is the body’s primary messaging system and the endocrine system is the secondary messaging system. Each of the glands sends messages (hormones) throughout the body to various receptor sites. These receptor sites are very specialized and will only receive messages from specific glands—if the cellular structure of the receptor site is functioning properly. The hormonal messages then regulate hormone secretion through negative feedback. Negative feedback (which is a good thing, by the way) occurs when a substance is produced in the body in response to the proper input signal. For example, the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal (HPA) axis provides a cascade of hormonal and biochemical information along that axis. The main signal is sent from the hypothalamus to the pituitary, which then sends information to the adrenals. If all is working correctly, the adrenals return a signal back to the hypothalamus to close the loop. This is a snapshot of healthy feedback. Examples of things that can interfere with this negative feedback loop are stress, food allergies, heavy metals, chemicals, viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

It is absolutely critical to life that these hormones be regulated. For example, the thyroid secretes PTH (parathyroid hormone), which stimulates the release of calcium from the bone. It also secretes calcitonin, which inhibits the release of calcium from bone. Eating a poor diet including carbonated beverages drives up the amount of phosphorous in the blood, creating more acid. Calcium acts as a buffer to return the pH level of the blood to normal, about 7.35. The chemical process of releasing calcium from the bone to satisfy the blood pH level is another example of the negative feedback loop working as God intended.

Hormonal stability is a very tricky scale of balance, especially in the unhealthy individual. For years, physicians have prescribed pharmaceutical preparations to women carte blanche simply based on symptoms. A prescription is written with no mention of testing. This is wrong! Since “natural” hormone replacements are more easily obtained these days—on the internet and over-the-counter— the general population can self-diagnose and add a hormone. This is also wrong if no testing was done first! Supplemental hormones, including glandular extracts, taken without proper screening and testing can harm the body. Supplemental hormones taken if the body is naturally producing those hormones will cause the body to suppress its natural function creating chaos within the endocrine and central messaging systems of the body.

Before adding hormones, please do yourself a favor and get tested periodically by your health care professional. At least once a year—male or female—get a saliva test to determine your levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and cortisol. Saliva tests are more accurate than blood tests since the activity of the hormone takes place at the cell level, not in the blood. Saliva tests also identify how much of the hormone being produced is actually available for use. Testing adrenal function is also important. The outer layer—the adrenal cortex—produces the sex hormones DHEA, pregnenolone, progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone, and are involved in tissue repair, body rebuilding, and anti-aging. They are a back-up system for the ovaries and testes.