When your brain, adrenal glands, sex organs, pancreas and thyroid gland work together, they produce just the right amounts of hormones and chemical messengers that control many of the body’s basic functions.
When it’s working together, you feel great. When any of these organs are out of sync, however, you can feel awful. Problems start when too much or not enough of a hormone (or several) is produced, which can throw off the delicate balance.
You can experience two types of problems when your hormones are out of balance:
1. Uncomfortable symptoms that can begin to change how you think, feel and act, affecting your quality of life.
2. An increased risk of illness, such as depression, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and certain cancers.
Communication between hormones and the brain is strongly two-way: The brain produces signals that trigger the release of hormones, and hormones from other parts of the body also influence the brain. When thyroid activity is low, brain activity is typically low as well. That’s why an under-active thyroid often leads to depression, irritability and brain fog.
Meet the Hormone “Family”
There are hundreds of hormones in the body that affect the brain. Here are 7 of the most important ones, we will discuss today:
Thyroid: The Energy Regulator
The thyroid—a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in your lower neck. These hormones are among the most influential in your body, and all have to be in the right balance to keep brain and body healthy.
Too little of any thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) makes you feel like a slug; you just want to lie on the couch all day with a bag of chips. Everything works slower, including your heart, your bowels and your brain. This is because the thyroid gland drives the production of many neurotransmitters that run the brain, including serotonin, dopamine and GABA.
Thyroid problems can occur at any time in a person’s life, though women are especially prone to problems after having a baby—usually within six months of the birth. During pregnancy, certain parts of the immune system relax so that immune cells and antibodies will not reject the baby’s placenta, which is attached to the mother’s uterus. This is why many women with thyroid problems feel that pregnancy is the best time of their lives, as it calms those issues.
How Many People Have Thyroid Problems?
Tens of millions of men and women are thought to have thyroid problems—5 to 25 percent of the world’s population.
Most thyroid issues are autoimmune, which means that the body is attacking itself. This may be due to environmental toxins that are stored in our bodies, food allergies (gluten and dairy products, in particular) or to something in the air we breathe.
Factors that Inhibit Thyroid Production:
• Excess stress and cortisol production
• Selenium deficiency
• Deficient protein, excess sugar
• Chronic illness
• Compromised liver or kidney function
• Cadmium, mercury, lead toxicity
• Herbicides, pesticides
• Oral contraceptives, excessive estrogen production
Cortisol and DHEA: Our Lady of Perpetual Stress
The adrenals, a pair of triangle-shaped glands that sit atop your kidneys, are critically involved in your body’s reaction to stress. The adrenals produce the hormones adrenaline, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA) and cortisol, which are released in the famous “fight-or-flight response.” Here is how it works: Let’s say you’re hiking through the woods with your children when you see a mountain lion; immediately, your adrenals start producing adrenaline and the other hormones that will give you the burst of energy you need to either fight the lion or pick up the children and run.
The problem is, your body doesn’t differentiate among the various kinds of stress you experience. Whether it’s physical stress at the sight of the mountain lion or mental stress caused by your raging teenager or catty coworkers, your body reacts the same way, pumping out those chemicals. But when you run away from the mountain lion, your body processes the chemicals and gets them out of your system. Not so when you get stressed over the way your coworker treated you; all you can do is return to your office or cubicle and stew. That leaves a dangerous cocktail of chemicals surging through your body until every one of them is finally metabolized.
Can Stress Be a Trigger?
In today’s world, you’re likely faced with psychological stress daily. You wake up to a blaring alarm, and the first thing you do is check your e-mail to see what people are demanding of you. On the way to work you get stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic or sardined on a delayed train and arrive late to face a slew of impossible deadlines. Your son’s school calls to tell you that he has been getting into fights.
When cortisol is chronically elevated, blood sugar and insulin levels also rise. And your brain doesn’t fare well. Serotonin, the calming brain chemical, drops, leading to anxiety, nervousness or depression. Food cravings increase, your sleep is disturbed and your health can spiral out of control. Chronic exposure to stress hormones has been shown to kill cells in your hippocampus, a major memory center in the brain, especially when DHEA is also low.
Hormones & Sex
Adrenal fatigue leads to an especially dangerous buildup of fat in your abdomen. Not only do you ruin your chances of having a flat belly, but you’re at greater risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Low cortisol also promotes inflammation, affects immune function and alters blood sugar control and sex hormone production. When the adrenals are busy making stress hormones, they divert your stores of DHEA, which would have eventually been converted to sex hormones.
Feel Better Today
At Amen Clinics, we have spent decades helping people just like you improve their overall health and thus their brain health. We offer a full breadth of treatment options and services, including an integrative medicine program. Call us today at 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit.
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