The Throat Chakra is the fifth chakra and it is the first of the higher or spiritual chakras on the “chakra ladder”. This chakra is located in the region of neck and shoulders and its colour is blue.
The gift of this chakra is accepting your originality, expressing your authentic voice and speaking your truth.
The energy of this chakra allows you to seek knowledge that is true, beyond limitations of time and space, beyond cultural and family conditioning.
The main challenge for the fifth chakra is doubt and negative thinking. When you gain and verify your knowledge through meditation and direct experience, then doubt and negativity are removed.
The “way of the Throat Chakra” is the way of inspired creativity, seeking and sharing of the truth. It is the way of standing up for what you believe, saying no when you need to, and being open and honest in what you say.
The fifth chakra is linked directly to your personal integrity and a sense of honour.
As a communication centre, it not only allows you to express who you are and what you stand for, but also allows you to listen deeply to another. A person with an open Visuddha chakra is a good listener, she enables another person to have the experience of being heard – one of the most profound human needs.
Throat Chakra Affirmations
I am open, clear, and honest in my communication.
I have a right to speak my truth.
I communicate my feelings with ease.
I express myself creatively through speech, writing, or art.
I have a strong will that lets me resolve my challenges.
I nourish my spirit through creativity.
I live an authentic life.
I have integrity.
I love to share my experiences and wisdom.
I know when it is time to listen.
I express my gratitude towards life.
I listen to my body and my feelings to know what my truth is.
I take good care of my physical body.
I am at peace.
Sanskrit name: Visuddha
Petals of the lotus: Sixteen
Seed sound: Ham
Vowel sound: Eee
Rights: To speak
Endocrine gland: Thyroid and Parathyroid gland
Physical association: Throat, ears, mouth, shoulders, and neck
Psychological function: Communication
Identity: Creative identity
Developmental stage: 7 -12 years
Plane: Human plane, where the dark night of soul ends
Deity: Sadasiva, Sakini
Mythological Animal: Elephant, bull, lion
Sephira: Geburah, Chesed
Throat Chakra Yoga Poses to Align and Balance Your 5th Chakra
Before you begin to practice yoga, check with your doctor.
Some poses can be challenging for the body and it is best to practice with a qualified yoga teacher. Yoga should never hurt.
The best throat chakra yoga poses are those that open and strengthen the throat area.
Situated at the base of your throat, the Throat Chakra is associated with space ,the ether, or the void. This is the place where nothing exists – only the pure sound of vibration.
According to traditional yogic wisdom, the Universe was created by the sound of “om” and some chakra experts, like Anodea Judith, say that the throat chakra is simply associated with sound. This elemental sound is the cellular wisdom coded into the strands of DNA and RAN locked in the cells of the body.
It is also the emptiness, the void in between the cells, between all the spaces, carrying the wisdom of the universe. It is the space where creation begins.
Naturally then, vocally toning your throat chakra is an incredibly powerful balancing tool. And physically opening the front and the back of the throat chakra is important as well.
The following poses help open and balance your throat chakra:
This posture provides very strong opening for both throat and heart chakras.
Both the throat and the heart are protected in the front and exposed and opened at the back.
This is different from how we usually open the throat or heart chakra. Most of the time we open the front of the body. We are doing something new here. Changing our pattern of opening.
The posture is called the plow pose, because symbolically, we are “plowing” through the field to implant new patterns of behavior which serve us better in our lives.
You may find that you will need a folded towel underneath your shoulders.
- Lie on your back with your arms by your side. Breathe in.
- On an out breath, bend your knees and bring your thighs up towards your belly.
- Engage your core muscles and lift your bottom off the floor.
- Place your heads on your lower back and begin to straighten your legs upwards.
- Stabilize in this posture and take a few breaths. Allow your face, scalp, and neck to release. Observe your breath.
- When you feel you released tension from your face, neck and shoulders and your breathing is even and steady, slowly drop one leg behind your head.
- If your breath remains steady, drop the other leg behind your head.
- Hold the posture for few breaths and visualize your throat and heart chakra gently opening to the power and flow of energy.
Feel the power of self-expression in your throat. Visualize yourself in a situation where you want to express yourself and your feelings. Feel your own truth.With this throat chakra yoga pose, you open the front of your neck. When you are in this pose, visualize blue light coming into your throat chakra. See your chakra spinning and vibrating with energy.
- Sit on the floor with your legs fully extended in front of you.
- Place your hands on the floor behind you, with your fingertips just underneath your buttocks.
- Slowly move your elbows out of the way and allow the head to go back. Always maintain control, never allow the head to just flop back.
- Level yourself on the crown so you feel supported.
- Continue moving your arms out of the way.
- You can either let your arms rest at your side, or you can bring your palms together over your heart in a prayer position. This will enhance the flow of prana in the upper body.
Cobra pose allows for the prana to be directed into the heart and throat chakras, rather than scattered around. This yoga pose also allows for strengthening of the entire shoulder area, providing more stable support for the shoulder.
- Lie on your stomach with your feet extended out, the tops of your feet touching the mat and your forehead touching the ground. Your hands are under the shoulders.
- Press the tops of your feet into the mat and allow your knees to lift off the ground slightly. Let your pubic bone drop down into the mat to stabilize your lower back.
- Take a breath in as your raise your head lifting the upper body using the power of your back. Breath out. Continue engaging your legs and pushing your pelvis into the floor to protect your lower back.
- On your next in breath use the power of your arms to lift your body until you have extended as far as you can go. Make sure your arms are not fully straightened as this may hyper extend your elbows and destabilize the pose.
- Feel your chest opening and your whole front of the body opening gently. Feel the prana flowing through your chest and into your throat.
- Take two to three full breaths in this pose and then release.
In this issue, we conclude our series on the endocrine system with an exploration of the adrenal glands. Surprisingly, the adrenals get far less “publicity” than the pancreas, and yet adrenal fatigue affects far, far more people than diabetes. Just consider the fact that the energy drink market has exploded from non-existent 25 years ago to become today’s multi-billion dollar juggernaut. And for all that, energy drinks and energy shots are dwarfed by the $70 billion plus in sales of coffee as a stimulant that fuels much of the world’s office workers.
And driving all of these billions and billions of dollars in sales in stimulant drinks is the underlying condition of adrenal fatigue. In today’s newsletter, we will explore the anatomy and physiology of the adrenal glands, and how the abuse of these glands has led to a dependency on stimulants that goes far beyond the world’s illicit drug trade.
The adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney; hence, the terms “ad renal” — as in “added” to the renal glands. They are small glands, about 2 inches (5 cm) in length, and weighing about 5 gm each. As part of the kidneys, they are located way, way to the back of the body (as any good martial artist knows) and are abundantly supplied by three sets of blood vessels to ensure redundancy:
- Inferior phrenic arteries off the aorta.
- Middle suprarenal arteries off the aorta.
- Inferior suprarenal arteries of each renal artery.
Like the pituitary gland, the adrenal glands are composed of two entirely separate sections (the cortex and the medulla), and like the pituitary gland, the two sections actually evolve during embryology from two entirely different types of tissue. The adrenal cortex evolves from fetalmesodermal cells (essentially cells that produce connective tissue). The adrenal medulla, on the other hand, evolves from the nervous system. In fact, the adrenal medulla actually consists of modified neurons (neural crest cells). In the fifth week of fetal development, neuroblast cells migrate from the neural crest to form the sympathetic chain and preaortic ganglia. The cells then migrate a second time to the adrenal medulla. Forgetting all the technical names of cells and cell sources, the key point to remember here is that the two parts of the adrenal glands form two entirely different types of cells and share little in common — other than location.
- The adrenal cortex is the outer layer.
- The adrenal medulla is the inner layer.
The adrenal glands, or at least the cortex of the glands, are absolutely essential for life. Then again, although it is possible to survive without the inner layer, the adrenal medulla, the quality of life would be severely compromised.
Let’s now examine the adrenal cortex and medulla in more detail.
The adrenal cortex produces three hormones in three separate zones.
Aldosterone is 96% of this group, and it controls water and electrolyte (sodium and potassium) balance in the body. Without the action of the mineralocorticoids in maintaining electrolyte homeostasis, you would die since this has a direct effect on regulating blood pressure. The action of the mineralocorticoids is on the kidneys, which under the direction of these hormones excrete sodium or potassium as required to maintain optimal balance. Adrenal adenomas (benign, actively secreting growths in the cortex) cause hyper-production of aldosterone, which may account for as much as 25% of high blood pressure patients. Treatment involves removal of the tumor, and positive results are virtually instantaneous. The trick, of course, is arriving at the correct diagnosis. Most adrenal adenomas are discovered by chance when an abdominal computed-tomography (CT) or magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) scan is done for unrelated symptoms.
Cortisol (also called hydrocortisone) is 95% of the total, plus corticosterone, and cortisone.
- Cortisol depresses the immune system.
- It is an anti-inflammatory (as a result of depressing the immune system).
- It retards allergic overreactions, but as a result slows wound repair.
- It promotes the breakdown of protein (catabolism).
- It promotes lipolysis, the conversion of triglycerides to stored fatty acids.
- Many weight-loss supplements sold today theoretically address this problem by relieving stress, thereby reducing cortisol production and correspondingly eliminating excess fat storage. Although the theory is sound, how well any individual supplement works, of course, is open to debate.
- It promotes glucose formation (gluconeogenesis).
- It promotes resistance to stress, resulting in higher blood pressure.
Addison’s disease results from acute adrenocortical insufficiency.
- The symptoms are lethargy, low blood pressure, weight loss, anorexia, and low blood sugar.
- Addison’s disease is treated with a steroid hormone (cortisol in various forms, natural and synthetic) replacement.
- John F. Kennedy may be history’s most famous Addison’s disease patient and required regular cortisone injections to deal with stress. Since one of the side effects of cortisol injections is a “tanning” of the skin, JFK looked his best (tanned and relaxed) during times of stress — immediately after injections.
- Full blown Addison’s disease is extremely rare. However, “low level” adrenal fatigue is extremely common, and we will be discussing it in more detail later.
Cushing’s syndrome, on the other hand, results from excessive adrenal cortical function. It results in spindly arms and legs, a moon-face,a buffalo hump on the back, flushed skin, hypertension, osteoporosis, and decreased resistance to infection or stress.
Androgens are masculinizing hormones that occur in insignificant amounts in the adult male. The primary and most well-known androgen is testosterone. In men, the vast majority of androgens are produced in the testes, but in women, the adrenal glands are responsible for the overwhelming quantity of androgen production. Surprisingly, for women, the masculinizing hormones produced by the adrenal glands are essential for well being. In females, androgen accounts for sexual drive, energy, and “joie de vivre.” It is converted into female hormones (estrogens) after menopause.
Incidentally, old treatments for breast cancer involved removing the pituitary gland to prevent the adrenal glands from producing estrogen by stopping release of ACTH that would normally have stimulated the adrenals. Nowadays, this is accomplished with pharmaceuticals.
Hormones in the medulla are produced in the chromaffin cells (“chromium + affinity”). They get their name from the fact that they stain readily in the presence of chromium salts. Chromaffin cells are neuroendocrine in that they are activated by neurotransmitters released by nerve cells located in the autonomic nerve fibers coming directly from the central nervous system. In response to this input, the chromaffin cells of the medulla release hormone messenger molecules into the blood. In this way, they integrate the nervous system and the endocrine system, a process known as neuroendocrine integration.
Because the chromaffin cells are directly activated by the nerve fibers from the autonomic nervous system, they respond very quickly — as is necessary in a system that responds to emergency situations. On the other hand, chromaffin cells continue to secrete adrenal hormones “long” after nervous stimulation has passed. In fact, hormonal effects can last up to ten times longer than those of neurotransmitters. In a sense, neurotransmitters respond in the short term to emergencies, whereas the medullary hormones cover the longer term. In this way the sympathetic division of theautonomic nervous system and the medullary secretions function together.
So which hormones are we talking about?
The adrenal medulla releases two hormones: adrenaline (80%) and noradrenaline (20%), more commonly known among the medical establishment as epinephrine and norepinephrine. Collectively, they are called catecholamines. As I mentioned earlier, unlike the adrenocortical hormones, the medullary hormones are not essential for life — at least when the body is in the resting state. Without stress, you don’t need these hormones — with one primary exception. Standing up from a reclining or sitting position would entail an unsustainable drop in blood pressure, as blood pooled in the feet and legs, if not for a compensating action governed by the medullary hormones. (We will talk more about this in a moment.)
Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) increases heart rate, contracts blood vessels, dilates air passages and participates in the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system. As a hormone, epinephrine acts on nearly all body tissues. Its actions vary by tissue type and by the differing responses of the various receptor sites scattered throughout the body. For example, epinephrine causes smooth muscle relaxation in the airways, but causes contraction of the smooth muscle that lines most arterioles.
Norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline) both complements the actions of adrenaline and adds its own stimulus to the brain. Along with adrenaline, noradrenaline also responds to the fight-or-flight stimulus by directly increasing heart rate, triggering the release of glucose from energy stores, and increasing blood flow to skeletal muscle. In addition, though, noradrenaline affects parts of the brain where attention and responding actions are controlled. Noradrenaline also works as an anti-inflammatory agent in the brain.
I’ve fallen down, and I can’t get up
When a healthy individual stands up, gravity, if not accounted for, would cause approximately 10-15% of their blood to settle in the stomach and limbs. This blood pooling would mean that less blood reaches the brain — resulting in lightheadedness, seeing stars, tunneled vision/darkening, and even fainting. In healthy individuals, however, this does not happen because special pressure sensors in blood vessels instantaneously act (via the involuntary nervous system) to trigger important responses in the body. These responses maintain normal blood pressure and flow to the brain and body primarily by pumping adrenaline and noradrenaline into the bloodstream. As we discussed earlier, these hormones cause the smooth muscle that lines most arterioles to contract. They also cause the veins of the lower body to contract. The net result of all this contraction is the raising of blood pressure and the forcing of blood up into the head. Also, the heart is stimulated to increase its output by increasing the number of heart beats per minute, the volume of blood pumped per beat, and the force with which each beat squeezes. We can actually feel this happening, from time to time. (Pay special attention and check it out the next time you stand up.) The end result is more blood returning to the brain and heart. Usually, if all components of the circulatory reflexes are working properly, the move from lying to standing proceeds without symptoms.
Common adrenal problems
For the most part, the adrenal glands function so well, and can handle almost any abuse we throw at them, that we barely give them a thought. But if pushed too far, they will crack. Addison’s disease, which we’ve already discussed, is the primary “disease” of the adrenals, but there are several “lesser” problems worth discussion. Although not normally recognized by the medical community, they actually represent the vast majority of adrenal problems people face in today’s high stress world. We’re talking about non-clinical adrenal fatigue, weight gain, and caffeine addiction.
According to the Mayo Clinic, adrenal fatigue is a term applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances, and digestive problems. The term often shows up in popular health books and on alternative medicine Web sites, but it isn’t an accepted medical diagnosis. The “unproven theory” behind adrenal fatigue is that your adrenal glands are unable to keep pace with the demands of perpetual fight-or-flight arousal. As a result, they can’t produce quite enough of the hormones you need to feel good. Existing blood tests, according to this theory, aren’t sensitive enough to detect such a small decline in adrenal function — but your body is. That’s why you feel tired, weak, and depressed. However, the only real, diagnosable, medically accepted form of adrenal fatigue is Addison’s disease (discussed earlier).
But is that true?
What I find absolutely delicious in the Mayo Clinic’s commentary on adrenal fatigue is their conclusion. “Unproven remedies for so-called “adrenal fatigue” may leave you feeling sicker, while the real cause — such as depression or fibromyalgia — continues to take its toll.” How wonderful to include fibromyalgia as a “real” condition. Lest anyone forget, it was just a few years ago that the medical establishment was dismissing fibromyalgia as an alternative health fantasy…just like adrenal fatigue. And many doctors still dismiss it as such. So with that in mind, what is adrenal fatigue?
First of all, contrary to what the Mayo Clinic claims, adrenal fatigue probably affects as many as 80% of adults at some point in their lives. These patients often end up going from doctor to doctor trying to find out why they feel exhausted and sick. Too often they’re told after extensive testing, as the Mayo Clinic would do, that there is nothing wrong with them — or perhaps that they are suffering from stress and need to relax more. The problem is that, from a medical point of view, adrenal fatigue has a broad spectrum of non-specific, yet often debilitating symptoms, including:
- Fatigue, lethargy:
- Difficulties getting up in the morning.
- Lack of energy in the mornings, and also in the afternoon between 3 and 5 pm.
- Often feel tired between 9 and 10 pm, but resist going to bed.
- Sleep difficulties.
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering (brain fog).
- Need coffee or stimulants to get going in the morning.
- Feel better suddenly for a brief period after a meal.
- Cravings for salty, fatty, and high protein food such as meat and cheese.
- Lowered blood pressure and blood sugar.
- Lightheadedness (including dizziness and fainting) when rising from a sitting or lying-down position.
- High frequency of getting the flu and other respiratory diseases — plus a tendency for them to last longer than usual.
- Tendency to tremble when under pressure.
- Pain in the upper back or neck with no apparent reason.
- Increased symptoms of PMS for women; periods are heavy and then stop, or are almost stopped on the 4th day, only to start flow again on the 5th or 6th day.
- Reduced sex drive — particularly in women.
- Tendency to gain weight and unable to lose it, especially around the waist.
The bottom line is that being consistently under stress eventually exhausts the ability of the adrenal glands to produce sufficient amounts of hormones — particularly cortisol. As the Mayo Clinic indicated, because they are prepared only to diagnose extreme dysfunction in the adrenals such as Addison’s disease, conventional endocrinologists and medical tests cannot diagnose adrenal fatigue. But that does not mean that it is untestable. Beyond the symptoms themselves, natural healers can conduct a saliva cortisol test to evaluate your adrenal function. This will pick up more subtle dysfunctions in your adrenal glands than the typical medical tests.
If you are diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, or simply believe you have it, you will want to consider the following steps.
- Relax! Chill out! Find some way to reduce your stress levels. Remember, adrenal fatigue is almost always the result of unrelenting stress.
- Eliminate or cut way back, on your use of stimulants such as coffee and energy drinks. They work by stimulating the adrenals. If your adrenals are already exhausted, stimulants merely drive your adrenals further into “the red.”
- Switch to a low glycemic diet since high sugar levels increase stress on the body and consequently increase cortisol levels. In turn, elevated cortisol levels interfere with the body’s ability to handle sugar — thus raising blood sugar levels and locking you into a vicious circle.
- Consider using a formula such as Standard Process’ Drenamin to “feed” the adrenals.
- Supplement with a formula that contains adaptogenic herbs to help rebuild the adrenals. It would also be useful if the formula helped free up bound testosterone since this would take a burden off of the adrenals as they would no longer have to “make up the difference” caused by low free testosterone levels.
Cortisol is elevated in response to stress. The adrenal glands are not particular, any kind of stress will do. The stress can be physical, environmental, chemical, dietary, or imaginary. The human brain is hard wired with automatic responses to protect the body from harm. All forms of stress produce the same physiological consequences.
As we mentioned earlier, one of the primary roles of cortisol is to promote the conversion of triglycerides into stored fatty acids. It also promotes glucose formation (gluconeogenesis). The bottom line is that chronically elevated cortisol levels contribute to the accumulation of abdominal fat and make it very difficult to eliminate.
- Lowering cortisol levels requires the same five steps mentioned above for relieving adrenal fatigue.
Last year, I devoted an entire newsletter tocaffeine. In summary, the way caffeine works on the adrenal glands is as follows:
Caffeine works by blocking adenosine’s ability to slow nerve cell activity in preparation for sleep, and instead increases the speed of nerve cell activity and of the neuron firing in the brain. (The caffeine molecule is structurally similar to adenosine, and binds to adenosine receptors on the surface of cells without activating them — an “antagonist” mechanism of action.) The pituitary gland “sees” all of the increased neuron firing in the brain and thinks some sort of emergency must be occurring, so it releases hormones that tell the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline, which gives your body a boost, so it can remain active and alert in response to the perceived “emergency.”
If you’re drinking five, six, ten cups of coffee a day, or if you’re slugging down five or six energy drinks a day, you’ve put your body in a state of continual “alert.” This produces a constant drain on the adrenals — eventually leading to adrenal fatigue.
So yes or no on consuming caffeine? Unfortunately, when it comes to caffeine, the devil is in the details.
- Natural caffeine is preferable to “added” caffeine. Natural caffeine comes packaged with a number of powerful antioxidants such as:
- The Mayo Clinic says under 300 mg a day is fine. I set the figure much lower — at about 100 mg a day. That still allows for 3 cups of green tea a day. The exception to this guideline is that if you take your caffeine bound to fiber, as in guarana (not guarana extract), the caffeine releases over time rather than in powerful bursts, which allows you to consume more without the negative side effects.
- Don’t use caffeine as part of a daily ritual such as “every morning” to start the day. Use it selectively, if possible, to get a boost only when needed. And take at least two days off each week — totally caffeine free — to allow all caffeine to clear from your body on a weekly basis.
- And if you’re already in a state of adrenal fatigue, you might want to consider stopping all caffeine consumption at least until you give your adrenals a chance to rebuild some of their lost reserves.
Thyroid and Parathyroid Gland
In our last newsletter, we began an exploration of the endocrine system by examining the three endocrine glands in the brain: the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and the pineal gland. In this issue, we move down the body to examine the five endocrine glands found in the neck: the thyroid and the four parathyroid glands. The thyroid gland regulates the rate and intensity of the body’s chemical/metabolic reactions, and the parathyroid glands regulate the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. As it turns out, malfunctions in these glands are not that uncommon, can produce serious problems such as over excitement of the muscle and nervous systems, bony demineralization, high calcium levels, duodenal ulcers, kidney stones, and behavioral disorders. And if left unchecked, they can kill you. Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize the chances of these problems occurring in the first place, or relieving them through alternative means if you get them.
With that in mind, let’s begin by looking at the thyroid gland.
In essence, the thyroid gland is the thermostat of the body. It regulates both the rate and intensity of chemical/metabolic processes. It is one of the largest endocrine glands in the body and specifically controls how quickly the body uses energy, how it makes proteins, and the body’s sensitivity to other hormones. The function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine and convert it into thyroid hormones — primarily, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Normal thyroid cells accumulate and retain iodide far, far more efficiently than do any other cells in the body. Most cells don’t absorb iodine at all, but some, including thyroid cancer cells and breast epithelial cells, can to a limited degree. Thyroid cells combine iodine and the amino acid tyrosine (as bound to thyroglobulin) to make T3 and T4. (We will cover this process in more detail a little later.) T3 and T4 are then released into the bloodstream and transported throughout the body, where they control metabolism (i.e., the conversion of oxygen and calories to energy). Every cell in the body depends upon thyroid hormones for regulation of their metabolism.
Anatomically speaking, the thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland (two larger lobes connected by a narrower isthmus) located between the Adam’s apple and the clavicle. When viewed from the front of the body, the thyroid totally covers the trachea. Nevertheless, a normal thyroid gland cannot be felt externally. If a doctor can “see” it or “feel” it when touching the neck with his fingers, it’s enlarged. Under normal circumstances, it’s soft and flat.Not surprisingly for such an important organ, it is richly serviced by multiple arteries and veins, which makes surgery on the thyroid that much more difficult. In addition, surgeons face further complications since the nerves that service the vocal cords run right next to the arteries that provide blood to the thyroid. Bottom line is that the thyroid is intricately entwined with key nerves and blood vessels. And it’s not just surgery on the thyroid that presents problems. Tracheotomies, for example, must be performed either above or below the thyroid gland. It is also the main reason doctors prefer to “kill” the thyroid with radioactive iodine rather than remove it surgically (a procedure we will talk more about later).
At the micro level, the thyroid is primarily comprised of spheres called follicles. The follicles themselves are primarily composed of two types of cells:
- On the outside circumference of the follicles are the cuboidal follicular cells. The follicular cells produce two iodine based compounds, thyroxine (tetraiodothyronine, also known as T4) and triiodothyronine (also known as T3). On the inside circumference, or lumen of the follicle, is a brush border composed of hairlike extensions (not visible in the slide below). This allows for the easy deposit and removal of key hormonal components into the follicular lumen (see slide below) as required for production of T3 and T4.
- The parafollicular cells (C cells) sit scattered about the outer edge of the follicles on top of the follicular cells and produce calcitonin, a minor regulator of calcium in the body.
When talking about thyroid hormones, we’re actually talking about four bio-chemicals:
- Thyroglobulin is a protein (not a hormone) produced by the thyroid. It is synthesized from amino acids and iodide and stored in the follicular lumen as colloid and used entirely within the thyroid gland in the production of the thyroid hormones.
- T3 (triiodothyronine) affects almost every physiological process in the body, including growth and development, metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate. Production of T3 and its prohormone, T4 (T3 is actually produced by the breakdown/conversion of T4), is activated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is released from the pituitary gland. As a side note, the 3 in its name refers to the fact that it contains 3 iodine atoms.
- T4 (thyroxine, AKA tetraiodothyronine) is the prohormone from which the body extracts T3. It is synthesized from residues of the amino acid tyrosine, found in thyroglobulin. Every cell in the body depends upon the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 for regulation of their metabolism. The normal thyroid gland produces about 80% T4 and about 20% T3. However, T3 is about four times “stronger” than T4. T4 is converted to T3 in body cells. This allows the body to fine tune the metabolic regulating capabilities of T3 and T4. As with T3, the 4 in T4’s name refers to the fact that T4 contains 4 iodine atoms.
- Calcitonin is produced in the parafollicular cells and regulates calcium levels in the blood (to a minor degree), along with the parathyroid glands (the main regulator). It lowers blood calcium and phosphorus by decreasing the rate of re-absorption of these minerals from bone.
As we discussed previously, thyroid chemistry is an iodine-based chemistry; iodine must be ingested because it can’t be manufactured in the body; it is an element, not a compound. In fact, follicular cells actively trap virtually all iodine/iodide molecules in the body. Any iodine you ingest is trapped exclusively by cells in the thyroid to be used for manufacturing thyroglobulin and, ultimately, T3 and T4. This fact is exploited by endocrinologists when it comes to treating several thyroid disorders. (We will talk more about this later.) If iodine is not present in sufficient amounts, the body will develop a benign goiter (enlargement of the thyroid) over time. It is common in areas where iodine does not naturally occur in food.
In the early 1900’s, Western countries began adding iodine to salt to combat this problem. And it worked, in the sense that goiters are now uncommon in the Western world. But using iodized saltpresents its own problems. Surprisingly, a number of “older” societies recognized the connection between iodine and goiters. The ancient Greeks, for example, consumed iodine-rich seaweed to successfully combat goiters — without the problems associated with iodized salt. Sometimes grandma really does know best.
As seen in the slide above, the thyroid stores something called colloid (which is manufactured in the follicular cells) in the center (lumen) of the follicles in large quantities. Although colloid contains some T3 and T4, it is primarily comprised of thyroglobulin, which is converted to T3 and T4 and released into the body when triggered by thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), released by the pituitary. In fact, a healthy thyroid stores about a three-month supply of thyroglobulin at any given moment in time.
As we touched on in our last newsletter, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the anterior pituitary regulates the processes via a negative feedback loop. That is to say, thyroid releasing hormone (TRH) from the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary to release TSH into the bloodstream, which stimulates thyroid follicular cells to add iodine to the amino-acid (tyrosine) component of thyroglobulin (which, once again, is stored as colloid within the lumen of the thyroid follicles). Once converted, the T3 and T4 hormones are released into the bloodstream. This arrangement essentially works as a reserve system for thyroid hormones, allowing it to release active hormones into the body on an as needed basis. As more thyroid hormones are produced, blood levels of T3 and T4 rise. Ultimately, these hormones make their way through the bloodstream back to the hypothalamus, telling the hypothalamus that enough is enough and to stop releasing TRH, which stops the pituitary from releasing TSH — shutting down the cycle.
It should be noted that the thyroid hormones are slow acting. Unlike adrenalin, for example, it takes awhile for anything to happen with thyroid hormones.
Thyroid hormone functions
Thyroid hormones regulate the following activities:
- Oxygen uptake (they up regulate it).
- Gross basal metabolic rate (they up regulate it).
- Maintenance of body temperature.
- Intracellular metabolism (microscopic protein synthesis, lipid breakdown, and cholesterol breakdown.) Patients who are hypothyroid, for example, will have higher levels of cholesterol in the blood because of reduced thyroid up regulation. Patients who are hyperthyroid will often be thin and have lower levels because of too much up regulation.
- Growth and development; that is, body growth rate and nervous system development.
- Thyroid hormones also enhance the effects of catecholamines, accounting for high blood pressure, nervousness, sweating, and fast heart rate in hyperthyroid patients.
Iodine uptake and control
Iodide (I-) ions circulating in the blood are actively taken into follicular cells through capillaries and become trapped in the endoplasmic reticulum inside the follicular cells. Once iodine is present, the follicles begin synthesizing thyroglobulin. Vesicles (small transport membranes) transport some of the iodide further into the follicles, where it is combined with thyroglobulin to produce the amino acid tyrosine. This combination of thyroglobulin and tyrosine is bound into colloid, which can be transformed into T3 and T4 as needed.
Incidentally, the thyroid’s ability to trap iodine can be used clinically.
- Low levels of radioactive iodine (I-131), combined with x-ray exposure, can map thyroid function.
- Higher levels of I-131 will irradiate and destroy thyroid tissue, when needed, without damaging surrounding cells. This can be used to kill off some of the thyroid to down regulate its function, or kill the whole organ. When Kristen was diagnosed with Graves’ disease many years ago, this was the first thing they wanted to do to her. She chose to go an alternative route. A quarter of a century later, she still has her thyroid, and it functions perfectly. (At some point, I will get her to tell her complete story in a newsletter — when she can find the time.)
- Theoretically, if doctors give a hypothyroid patient some synthetic thyroid hormones, they’re not too concerned if they give a little too much, since the negative feedback loop will pick up the extra hormone in the blood and stop the pituitary from releasing more TSH. If they give too little, the functioning cells in the thyroid will be stimulated to release enough to “top” levels off. But that assumes that there’s still some functioning thyroid cells in the neck to respond to stimulation if necessary. If the thyroid has been surgically removed or killed off by I-131 irradiation, then there is no self-regulatory mechanism. Trying to mechanically balance thyroid levels with pharmaceuticals at that point is almost impossible, and people are forced to live the rest of their lives in a borderline psychotic state. It was for that reason that Kristen chose a natural solution.
- Cancerous cells will not trap iodine when normal thyroid tissue is present. Tumors must be surgically removed or thyroid tissue must be destroyed with higher levels of I-131, before I-131 can be re-administered to destroy cancerous thyroid cells.
The two main types of thyroid disease fall into hyperthyroidism (Graves’ disease), and hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis).
Hyperthyroidism causes increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, high body temperature and sweating, nervousness, diarrhea, heat intolerance, and weight loss despite high caloric intake. In other words, the metabolic processes are up regulated to dangerous levels. Also, it can lead to severe neurotic behavior. Graves’ disease, a specific form of hyperthyroidism, is an autoimmune disorder in which antibodies mimic the effects of TSH but are not constrained by the negative feedback system for turn-off and control; thus, they continue to drive the thyroid to release stimulating T3 and T4 hormones without letup. This disease causes goiter, enlargement of the thyroid, and exophthalmos (bulging eyeballs caused by the build-up of fat behind the eye). Curing the diseases (often involving the destruction or removal of the thyroid followed by the lifelong administration of synthetic hormones) may not cure exophthalmos, which may leave the eyes open to injury. When talking about Graves’ disease and bulging eyes, the late actor, Marty Feldman almost immediately comes to mind.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone. Early symptoms include:
- Being more sensitive to cold
- Fatigue or feeling slowed down
- Heavier menstrual periods
- Joint or muscle pain
- Paleness or dry skin
- Thin, brittle hair or fingernails
- Weight gain (unintentional)
There are two fairly common causes of hypothyroidism. The first is a result of inflammation of the thyroid gland which leaves a large percentage of the cells of the thyroid damaged (or dead) and incapable of producing sufficient hormone. The most common cause of thyroid gland failure, however, is called autoimmune thyroiditis (aka Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), a form of thyroid inflammation caused by the patient’s own immune system. (Think of it as the flip side of Graves’ disease.)
Dr. Lee covers hypothyroidism in What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Menopause. First, he points out that thyroid problems are far more common in women than in men — a strong indicator that we’re dealing with an estrogen issue. Then he points out that for most women, when they start using progesterone crème, their need for thyroid supplements is greatly reduced — and often even eliminated. Note: just because it is more common in women, does not mean that men cannot have estrogen problems also — caused by exposure to chemical estrogens.
If you suffer from hypothyroidism, removing your thyroid or blasting it with radiation or trying to balance it out with synthetic medication are not your only options. There are natural progesterone crèmes (for both men and women), which easily can be found by searching the net. Also, immunomodulators such as cetyl-myristoleate and L-carnosine might make sense in case the problem is associated with an autoimmune disorder. And finally, thyroid extracts such as Standard Process’ Thytrophin PMG can be helpful in rebuilding lost thyroid function.
Hypothyroidism during fetal development totally disrupts normal development patterns, leading to dwarfism, mental retardation, and physical deformities. (Now usually called “thyroid dwarfism.”)
Cancerous thyroid tumors (nodules) are most often associated with patients who have had their faces irradiated (at one time this was done to treat acne — really), but these cancers are easily curable by simply removing the cancerous nodules. Other risk factors include:
The parathyroid glands
The four parathyroid (“beside the thyroid”) glands are located on both sides of the thyroid but have functions totally unrelated to the thyroid. This physical relationship of the parathyroids to the thyroid is typical of the endocrine system. Last issue we saw that the pituitary, although extremely small, is comprised of two parts — anterior and posterior — that have totally unrelated functions, that develop out of entirely different parts of the body despite their close proximity, and that are for all intents and purposes entirely separate glands. When we explore the adrenals, we will see the same disparate relationship between the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla. The bottom line is that the only connection the parathyroids have with the thyroid is their physical location.
Specifically, the parathyroid glands are located behind the thyroid, and they are intimately connected to the covering of the thyroid gland. There are two on each side. They are supplied by the same blood vessels that supply the thyroid. Each parathyroid is about the size of a large kernel of rice. They can be extremely difficult for surgeons to locate and identify. And something that can make the job even harder is that the parathyroid glands sometimes “disengage” from the thyroid gland and migrate down into the chest cavity, making them difficult to find and remove.
So what do the parathyroids do? The chief cells (principal cells) produce parathormone (PTH, parathyroid hormone). The oxyphil cells produce…???? In fact, the function of the oxyphil cells is as yet unknown.
Parathormone, PTH, parathyroid hormone
PTH has one simple function. It regulates the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. It accomplishes this by increasing the cells of the bone (osteoclasts), which reabsorb calcium. It also increases urinary re-absorption of calcium by the kidneys. In addition, it causes the kidneys to form calcitrol, a hormone made from vitamin D that increases absorption of calcium from the GI tract.
And finally, it increases excretion of phosphorus by the kidneys (which, in turn increases calcium levels). Calcium and phosphorus always go in opposite directions — in a defined relationship called the solubility constant. Bottom line: parathormone increases calcium levels.
Note: Calcitonin (from the thyroid gland) participates in the negative feedback system that regulates the parathyroids by forcing calcium back into the bones.
Pathology of parathyroid dysfunction
Hyperparathyroidism refers to increased PTH production, usually because of a benign tumor of one or more of the parathyroid glands (parathyroid adenoma). If PTH is produced in excess, calcium is reabsorbed from the kidneys, bones, and stomach back into the blood. This leads to a condition that many endocrinologists call “Stones, bones, groans, and moans.” This terminology refers to the classic set of four symptoms associated with hyperparathyroidism: kidney stones, de-mineralizedbones (osteoporosis), groans of pain from intestinal distress (including duodenal ulcers), and themoans of psychosis.
Hyperparathyroidism is almost always caused by parathyroid adenoma. Removing a parathyroid adenoma, a fairly simple surgery, can cause an immediate and drastic return to normal function and the disappearance of all symptoms.
Another form of hyperparathyroidism is called parathyroid hyperpiesia, in which all four parathyroid glands overproduce PTH for no obvious reason. In other words, there is no adenoma causing the problem. Surgeons usually attempt to fix the problem by removing most of the parathyroid glands.
On the other hand, if the surgeon makes a mistake and removes too much (or all) of the parathyroid tissue by accident, you can end up with hypoparathyroidism. Hypoparathyroidism leads to low serum calcium levels and an elevated state of excitement for nerves and muscles, resulting in twitching and over-activity of the muscular and nervous systems. In the extreme, this can lead to convulsions and death. Again, it is caused primarily by inadvertent surgical removal. This is an extremely difficult condition to live with, as it is almost impossible to self regulate. Fortunately, there is one medical alternative that works in some cases…if the surgeon recognizes the error in time.
Removed parathyroid glands can be chopped up and implanted into muscle tissue in other areas of the body (such as the forearm), where sometimes, they will survive and start producing PTH again. If that doesn’t work, hypoparathyroid patients require lifelong calcium and vitamin D injections, which are almost impossible to manage accurately.
When it comes to maintaining the health of the thyroid and parathyroid glands, you want to address several key issues.
- Autoimmune problems
By using immunomodulators such as L-carnosine, Cetyl-myristoleate (CMO), and the Transfer Factor found in bovine colostrum, you can retrain the immune system to not overreact — which, as we’ve seen is one of the biggest factors associated with the onset of thyroid problems.
- Estrogen dominance
Constant exposure to chemical estrogens in our food, water, and environment creates a condition called estrogen dominance in both men and women. (Consider the fact that the average man by the age of 65 contains more estrogen than the average woman of the same age — the reason so many men develop breasts as they age.) In any case, the regular use of amen‘s or women‘s progesterone crème is advisable — not to mention their value in minimizing serious prostate, breast, and uterine problems.
Again, if you’re not using iodized salt (and there are good reasons not to), you need to make sure you’re getting iodine in your food, or you’re using a supplement that contains your daily requirement for iodine (about 150 mcg a day). Seaweed, kelp, shrimp, lobster, and other shellfish are all good sources of iodine. Cod, sole, haddock, and ocean perch are also decent choices, and they are relatively low in mercury. Yogurt, cow’s milk, eggs, and many cheeses may also contain reasonable amounts of iodine — depending on whether or not the feed the cows lived on was grown in soil that contained iodine. Strict vegetarians may need to rely on supplemental sources, unless the produce they eat is grown in iodine rich soil.
- Thyroid gland extracts
Extracts derived from bovine thyroid glands can provide critical cell factors that help re-establish normal cell function. Check out Standard Process’ Thytrophin PMG.
- Body pH
Proper pH is required for the thyroid to access and utilize iodine. In fact, the higher the pH, the more iodine that accumulates in the thyroid, as the thyroid uses the iodine, as part of an exchange mechanism to regulate thyroid pH. pH can be raised using alkaline teas, potassium based water drops, and water ionizers.
In our next issue, we’ll move on down the body into the pancreas. In our previous newsletters on the digestive system, we explored the pancreas’ production of digestive enzymes. But the pancreas has two distinct functions in the body. In addition to producing digestive juices, it also is part of the endocrine system and produces several key hormones, most notably insulin and ghrelin (the appetite hormone). We will explore those hormones in our next newsletter.
Today, we begin our exploration of the endocrine system. In many ways, the endocrine system can be viewed as a partner, or complement, to the nervous system. Whereas the nervous system uses nerve impulses that last milliseconds to control short term events in the body, the endocrine system uses hormones that can sometimes take minutes, hours, or even days to take effect and control events. And sometimes those effects can last a lifetime.
Once you understand how important the endocrine system is in controlling every aspect of your life, from your moods to your sexuality to your energy levels to your ability to grow and be strong, you realize how important it is to keep it optimized. And yes, there are things you can do to keep it optimized.
The endocrine system is comprised of a group of ductless glands that secrete hormones directly into the spaces surrounding their cells. From there, the bloodstream picks them up and circulates them throughout the body — ultimately reaching the organ or cells designed to respond to a particular hormone. It is the ductless nature of the glands that defines them as part of the endocrine system. As for hormones, they are the body’s chemical messengers that tell the body what to do…and when. Hormones produced by the endocrine system are necessary for normal growth and development, reproduction, and maintaining bodily functions (homeostasis). In humans, the major endocrine glands are the hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal, thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, the ovaries, and the testes.
Secretion of hormones in the endocrine system is controlled either by regulators in a particular gland that detect high or low levels of a biochemical and inhibit or stimulate secretion or by a complex mechanism involving the brain, the hypothalamus, and the pituitary.
It should be noted again that the nervous system and the endocrine system are complementary — both in terms of form and function. Both systems share a primary function of coordinating the activities of the body’s many systems. For example, the nervous system tells muscles when to contract and relax, whereas adrenalin tells the body how to respond to stress or threats. The primary difference is that nerve impulses execute their effect in milliseconds…and the effects tend to be short-lived. The endocrine system, on the other hand, takes substantially longer for hormones to wend their way from the gland that produces them, through the bloodstream, and ultimately to the organ or cells where they take effect. In addition, the actions of hormones are much longer lasting than the milliseconds of nerve impulses. Another way of putting this is to say that the nervous system directs the body’s short term responses, whereas the endocrine system directs the body’s longer term responses.
One other point of note is that both systems are mutually interconnected. For example, when the nervous system needs to control things longer term, it acts through the endocrine system by stimulating the release or inhibition of hormones themselves from the endocrine organs. On the other hand, adrenalin, released by the adrenal glands, acts upon the brain to stimulate the fight or flight response.
Before we continue, we need to lock down some important definitions.
- As mentioned above, endocrine glands (endo = “within”) are glands that secrete directly into the spaces around the cells and whose products are picked up and circulated by the bloodstream.
- In contrast to the endocrine glands are the exocrine glands (exo = “out”, krinein = “to secrete”). Unlike endocrine glands, exocrine glands secrete into ducts, which in turn, carry the secretions out of the glands and into the lumens (the inner cavities of a tubular organ such as blood vessels and the intestinal tract) or other body cavities or even out of the body. By an overwhelming majority, most glands in the body are exocrine glands, and most exocrine glands secrete their “products” outside of the body. These include sweat, oil, and mammary glands. (We will not be discussing the exocrine glands in this particular series of newsletters.)
- The endocrine system includes some organs that are wholly endocrine in function such as the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, adrenal glands, and pineal gland. (It is these glands in particular, along with the pancreas, that will be the focus of this series of newsletters.)
- Endocrine organs that have other functions as well as endocrine functions include the pancreas, liver, ovaries, stomach, hypothalamus of the brain, small intestine, kidneys, testes, and placenta. These are compound glands/organs. (Most of these will be covered when we explore their other functions.)
Endocrine gland locations
- The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and pineal gland are located in the brain.
- The thyroid gland is located in the neck, with the four parathyroid glands situated behind it.
- The thymus is in the chest (will be covered when we discuss the immune system).
- The adrenal (AKA the supraneal) glands lie on top of the kidneys.
- The pancreas, stomach, ovaries, and testes are located in and beneath the abdominal cavity and have multiple functions — some of which include endocrine functions.
As we mentioned earlier, the endocrine system releases chemical messengers called hormones (hormone = “urge on”), which act on other organs in different parts of the body. Effectively, hormones are the body’s chemical messenger system — they tell the body what to do and when. Some hormones promote or inhibit nerve impulses, while others (epinephrine and norepinephrine, for example) may act as neurotransmitters themselves in certain parts of the body. Then again, these hormones act as hormones (rather than as neurotransmitters) in other places. (This will be much easier to understand when we explore the adrenal glands in a subsequent newsletter.)
Also, as we mentioned earlier, hormones may take seconds, minutes, or hours to work their effects, and their duration of action may be short- or long-lived. How long?
Consider that once estrogen tells a fetus to become a girl, the effect lasts an entire lifetime — unless a doctor intervenes at some point. In general, though, hormones regulate growth, development, reproduction, metabolism, mood, and tissue function.
General properties of hormones
Although they may reach all the cells of the body via the bloodstream, each of the 50+ hormones in the human body affects only a tiny handful of very specific cells. This selectivity is key to the functioning of the endocrine system. How is it accomplished?
- Target cells contain highly specific receptors, which are surface glycoproteins (proteins which include a carbohydrate and a simple protein).
- The geometry of the glycoprotein molecules allows only for very specific hormones to attach to the receptor in the target cell surface. Think of it as a lock and key mechanism. Exceptions include:
- Chemical mimics such as xenoestrogens (petroleum-based hormone lookalikes) and synthetic growth hormones in meat, etc. — which can be potent in amounts as small as a billionth of a gram. These are never good.
- Plant mimics such as phytoestrogens consumed in the diet or in supplements, which can fill receptor sites, making them unavailable to the stronger natural hormones (or chemical mimics for that matter) in the human body. This effect can often be used to advantage to tone down overly strong hormonal responses in the human body.
Each target cell has up to 100,000 receptors for a given hormone. When there is an excess of that hormone, the number of receptors decreases, reducing sensitivity. This reduction of sensitivity is known as “down regulation.” Also, as just explained, chemical and phyto mimics can fill receptor sites on a cell making those sites unavailable to the actual hormones — thus down regulating the cell. Or in the case of some chemical mimics, up regulating them. (Note: cells contain receptors for multiple hormones, not to mention neuropeptides produced by the brain, and other kinds of receptors too. Thus a single cell may actually have millions of receptor sites on its surface.)
If an abnormally low number of hormone molecules is circulating, the number of receptor sites on individual cells will increase to raise the level of sensitivity and thus compensate. This is known as “up regulation.”
Locally acting hormones:
These hormones do not enter the general circulation. There are two types — one of which, in particular, is of special concern to us.
- Paracrine hormones (para = “near”) act on cells next to the secreting cells without entering the bloodstream — just passing through the interstitial fluid between cells.
- Autocrine hormones (auto = “self”) act on the cell that secreted them. These can play a critical role in terms of our health. Cancer cells use autocrine signaling to trigger growth. This means that cancer cells are autonomous. They don’t take orders from other cells in the body. They tell themselves what to do. That’s one of their features that makes them so dangerous.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what the endocrine system is, what it does, and how it works, let’s start making our way down through the body and begin by taking a look at the three endocrine glands in the human brain: the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and the pineal glands.
The hypothalamus is located below the thalamus and posterior to the optic chiasm. In humans, the hypothalamus is roughly the size of an almond. But within that small size, it contains a number of small nuclei with a variety of functions. One of the most important functions of the hypothalamus is to link the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus actually controls the pituitary gland; and it integrates many messages from parts of the brain based on feedback from all over the body and tells the pituitary what to do.
Communication between the hypothalamus and the pituitary is effected through a portal blood capillary system, which connects the two glands over a very short distance. This provides a direct venous to venous connection. The advantage of this type of direct connection is that a portal flow allows blood-borne molecules from the hypothalamus to act on the pituitary before they are diluted with the blood in larger vessels, thus it takes very, very few molecules to direct the pituitary.
The hypothalamus synthesizes and secretes neurohormones, often called hypothalamic-releasing hormones, and these in turn stimulate or inhibit the secretion of pituitary hormones. Among other things, the hypothalamus, through its action on the pituitary, controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue, childbirth, emotions, growth, milk production, salt and water balance, sleep, weight, and circadian cycles. It is responsive to light (the length of the day for regulating both daily circadian and seasonal rhythms). It is also responsive to olfactory stimuli (including pheromones), steroids, neurally transmitted information (from the heart, stomach, and reproductive system, stress, changes in body temperature caused by infection, and blood-borne stimuli (including leptin and ghrelin (appetite regulating hormones), angiotensin, insulin, pituitary hormones, cytokines, and glucose, etc.)
For the most part, the hypothalamus functions pretty much problem free for the vast majority of people. However, any of the following can cause it to malfunction: anorexia, bulimia, malnutrition, too much iron, bleeding, head traumas, infections, inflammation, genetic disorders, tumors, radiation, and surgery.
At one time, the pituitary gland, also called the hypophysis, was once thought to be the “master gland” that controlled all the other endocrine glands. But, as mentioned above, we have since learned that the hypothalamus actually controls the pituitary gland; and it integrates many messages from parts of the brain based on feedback from all over the body and tells the pituitary what to do. In any case, the two glands are tightly integrated. Together, they regulate all processes having to do with primitive reactions, such as stress, rage, flight, body temperature, thirst, hunger, sexual activity, and survival in general. And between them, they secrete 16 hormones.
The pituitary is about 1 cm in diameter, and it lies in the sella turcica (“Turkish saddle”) at the base of the brain, directly behind the optic chiasm. It is divided into two embryologically and functionally different parts: the anterior pituitary and the posterior pituitary. Embryologically refers to what tissue the gland developed “out of” starting as an embryo. The anterior pituitary evolved anatomically up from the floor of the mouth. The posterior pituitary, on the other hand, evolved downward from the base of the brain. In fact, the two parts of the pituitary don’t even talk to each other.
The anterior pituitary gland is also called the adenohypophysis, and it makes up 75% of the pituitary gland — the remaining 25% belonging to the posterior pituitary. Seven releasing hormones (including growth-hormone-releasing hormone and growth-hormone-inhibiting hormone) are secreted by the hypothalamus and are responsible for the release or inhibition of the anterior pituitary hormones. They are generally controlled by negative feedback mechanisms.
Once triggered by the hypothalamus, hormones released by the anterior pituitary flow into the general circulation for action in far parts of the body. Like the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary hormones are also controlled by negative feedback from the brain and the target organ. That is, when the target organ responds to the activating hormone from the pituitary, it will release its own hormone back into the blood, which will travel back to the brain through the circulatory system, which in turn triggers the hypothalamus to turn off production of the stimulating hormone in the anterior pituitary. For example, the pituitary stimulates the thyroid to release thyroid hormones, which travel throughout the bloodstream stimulating metabolism in select parts of the body as required. Through the negative feedback loop, the brain learns that the metabolism has been activated enough (in other words, that enough thyroid hormones have been released) and tells the hypothalamus/pituitary to stop stimulating the thyroid. This completes the negative feedback loop.
Principal anterior pituitary hormones
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) stimulates the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormones, which tend to upregulate metabolism.
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) together stimulate the release of estrogen and progesterone, which cause the maturation of ova in the female and sperm cells in the male, as well as the release of testosterone.
- Prolactin (PL) stimulates the production of milk by the breasts. As a side note, prolactin can cross the placenta-blood barrier, causing “witch’s milk,” or milk production from a baby’s nipples.
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulates the release of adrenal cortical hormones by the adrenal glands.
- Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) causes increased skin pigmentation.
- Human growth hormone (hGH, or somatotropin) stimulates body growth and regulates metabolic processes. High hGH increases the growth of the skeleton during childhood, and it maintains muscle and skeletal size in the adult. Since hGH is probably the best known hormone produced by the pituitary — and in the news constantly because of its illegal use among amateur and professional athletes looking for a competitive edge — let’s take a look at this particular hormone in a little more detail.
Human Growth Hormone
The rejuvenating powers of growth hormone (GH) are no secret to the wealthy and professional athletes: for the last 30-40 years, GH has been available from doctors, requires two injections a day, and costs up to $1,800 a month. Over the last few years, however, several alternatives for the rest of us have become available. And while I could never recommend the injections (for a variety of reasons), I can endorse the alternatives. Many fantastic claims are made for the effects of growth hormone, even claims of “almost” eternal youth. Would that it were so! Although the effects are more subtle for most people, they are nevertheless wide ranging:
- Fat loss (14 percent on average after six months, without dieting)
- Elimination of cellulite
- Higher energy levels and enhanced sexual performance
- Regrowth of heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, and other organs that shrink with
- Greater heart output and lowered blood pressure
- Improved cholesterol profile, with higher HDL (“good”) cholesterol and
- lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
- Superior immune function
- Increased exercise and athletic performance
- Better kidney function
- Stronger bones
- Faster wound healing and recovery from injury
- Younger, tighter skin
- Hair regrowth
The most important function of GH, however, is telling the liver to produce insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), the main key to anti-aging. Specifically, the benefits of GH can be measured in terms of how much it increases the body’s production of IGF-1 (above a 20 percent increase starts to be significant
in terms of effectiveness).
There is some concern that, because it increases IGF-1 levels in the body, GH may increase the risk of prostate cancer. A simple reality check, however, calls these observations into question. First, both GH and IGF-1 levels decline as we age, yet the incidence of prostate cancer increases as these levels decline — the exact opposite of the expressed concern. In addition, in numerous studies involving thousands of patients receiving growth hormone over many years, there were no observed increases in prostate cancer. In fact, based on real-life observation, there is evidence that growth hormone supplementation may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Supplementing with Growth Hormone
Most supplement formulas will increase IGF-1 levels by a minimum of 20 percent, with some even approaching 100 percent. But keep in mind that just one 30-minute aerobic session can easily increase IGF-1 levels by 100 percent, and a solid session of weight training can increase levels by an incredible 400–800 percent. Injections, on the other hand, which work directly on the liver (almost like a massive “pulse”), can increase IGF-1 production by only 20–40 percent. A downside to injections, in addition to cost, is that they can give too much GH to the body, shock the body, and can stop the pituitary from producing its own GH. This may explain why injectable GH produces more immediate results, yet ultimately plateaus in terms of effectiveness.
Incidentally, you can no longer actually buy true hGH or human growth hormone. Technically, only growth hormone actually taken from human beings can be called “human” growth hormone. Thirty years ago, the sole source of growth hormone was human cadavers, but that was abandoned when it turned out that growth hormone taken from people had a major downside (in addition to cost) — it occasionally caused the human equivalent of mad cow disease.
Fortunately, at around the same time, recombinant DNA technology came into its own and scientists learned how to alter the DNA of a single-cell yeast plant, and more recently from bacteria, so that they could produce large amounts of growth hormone (molecularly identical to real hGH), safely and inexpensively. Because this growth hormone is identical to hGH, people often use the terms growth hormone and human growth hormone interchangeably, but it should be referred to as a “plant-based growth hormone.”
Given this good, inexpensive source of growth hormone, another problem remained: the growth hormone molecule is so large (containing 191 amino acids) that it cannot be absorbed orally. That meant it could only be administered by injection, which required a doctor and was very expensive. Because of the cost, growth hormone injections became known as the secret youth formula of movie stars, athletes, and the very rich.
For most people, then, the best alternative to GH injections is the use of amino acid-based precursor formulas (also called a GH secretagogues). Typically, these formulas contain ingredients such as glutamine, tyrosine, GABA, arginine, and lysine. Although not as powerful as growth hormone injections, these formulas can be quite effective, provided your pituitary is functioning well, and they carry none of the downside of injections.
Things that sometimes go wrong with the anterior pituitary gland
Not surprisingly, since the pituitary is so involved with regulating growth, some of the key problems associated with a malfunctioning pituitary are related to growth. These include:
- Pituitary dwarfism: Low levels of hGH during the growth years causes bone-growth-plate closure before normal size is achieved. Also, many organs are smaller than normal, and the person has a childlike stature. Fortunately, injections of synthetic hGH produced by recombinant DNA technology in bacteria can prevent this if diagnosed in time.
- Pituitary giantism: Hyposecretion of hGH during childhood causes long bones and tall stature but otherwise normal proportions.
- Acromegaly: Usually caused by functioning pituitary tumors in the already normal adult, it causes thickening of bones of the face, hands, and feet (bones can get longer after the closure of growth centers) and thickening of the tongue, eyelids, and nose.Andre the Giant, the well known wrestler and actor, was one of the world’s best known examples and was, in fact, often billed as The Eighth Wonder of the World. Another famous (possible example) might have been the biblical Goliath, who was slain by David with a slingshot. In fact, there is a very interesting theory, with real scientific basis, that proposes that Goliath’s acromegaly might actually account for how he was slain by David. According to the theory, a pituitary tumor, because of the pituitary’s placement right behind the optic chiasm, can sometimes place pressure on peripheral vision nerve fibers, resulting in tunnel vision. If Goliath had that condition, which sometimes does occur with acromegaly, he would have been blind to David, if David approached from the side, and a rock hurled from the side would hit the temple at the thinnest part of the skull, thus stunning the giant. Once stunned and on the ground, David would then be able to safely approach his now helpless victim and cut off his head. And thus the legend was born — or so the theory goes.
Posterior pituitary gland
As I mentioned earlier, the posterior pituitary gland (AKA the neurohypophysis) is anatomically derived from a down growth of the brain and is not technically a gland since it does not synthesize hormones, but rather, stores and secretes two hormones actually made in the brain. These two hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, are transported from the brain in small packets for storage in the posterior pituitary — to be released as needed.
- Oxytocin (oxytocia = “rapid child birth”; AKA Pitocin) enhances the strength of uterine contractions and stimulates the ejection of milk after delivery. It may also foster maternal instincts and sexual pleasure during and after intercourse. Now synthesized and readily available, it is often given to women to help them have stronger contractions and expel the fetus in a more timely manner…when necessary.
- Vasopressin (Antidiuretic hormone, ADH) decreases urine production by increasing re-absorption by the kidneys, a useful trick when suffering from dehydration. The effect, though, is to raise blood volume and, therefore, to raise blood pressure. Alcohol inhibits ADH secretion, thus producing profuse urination after a drinking binge, which leads to severe dehydration, and the severe dehydration leads to the headache and thirst associated with a hangover.
The pineal gland is about the size of a grain of rice, is shaped like a tiny pine cone (hence its name), and is located in the center of the brain in a tiny cave, behind and above the pituitary gland. For years, mystics considered it to be the seat of the mystical third eye, whereas the medical community considered it vestigial and, thus, pretty much non-functioning. Since then, the mystics have not necessarily been refuted, but the medical community has been. The pineal gland is now known to be the major source of melatonin production in the body. It is full size in children, a size it maintains throughout adulthood — although its weight can drop significantly starting with puberty. And it is not unusual for the gland to literally calcify in many adults. The gland most likely plays a significant role in sexual maturation, circadian rhythm and inducing sleep, and in seasonal affective disorder and depression. In animals, it plays a key role in hibernation.
The trigger for production and release of melatonin is total darkness — any light in the room will inhibit this process. Today, however, living in a world with nightlights in the bedroom or streetlights sneaking through the window, we actually have an epidemic of people with insufficient melatonin production, even at a very young age. The problem doesn’t just come from light falling on our eyes while we sleep, but from light falling on any part of the body. Even if you wear an eye-mask, if any light is falling on your arms or chest or feet, that’s enough to slow melatonin production. Without artificial light, we would normally be in total darkness 8–12 hours a night, producing melatonin during all of those hours. Living in a city or suburban area may cut the hours of total darkness to six or less, and in many cases, zero. Melatonin levels also decline significantly as we age. Since its discovery in 1958, melatonin has been studied extensively and shown to be widely beneficial to the body. The benefits of supplementation to compensate for abnormally low production in the body include:
- Better Sleep — Lowered levels of nighttime melatonin reduce the quality of sleep, resulting in the need for more sleep. If your pineal gland does not produce adequate melatonin early enough in the evening, both the quality and quantity of your sleep may suffer. Lack of melatonin may make it difficult for you to fall asleep or may cause you to wake up too soon. Too much melatonin and you will feel exhausted or “drugged” throughout the day. By taking melatonin instead of other sleep aids, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (dreaming) is not suppressed nor does it induce “hangover” effects when used as directed.
- Enhanced Immune Function — Many people report that supplementation with melatonin has significantly reduced their incidence of colds and infections. The exact way in which melatonin affects the immune system is not known. However, since much of the activity of the immune system takes place at night, some researchers have proposed that melatonin interacts with the immune system during sleep, helping to buffer the adverse effects of stress. It has been proposed by some that the increased incidence of cancer we see today is partially due to the extended time we are exposed to artificial lighting. This is reflected in the fact that melatonin levels in breast cancer and prostate cancer patients are half of normal.
- Powerful Antioxidant Capabilities — Melatonin is one of the most powerful antioxidants produced in the body. In addition, since it is both water and fat-soluble, melatonin can reach almost every cell in the body. However, since it cannot be stored in the body, it must be replenished daily.
- Mood Elevator — Nighttime melatonin levels are low in people with major depressive and panic disorders. Individuals with mood swings or who are melancholic also have lower melatonin levels. Both seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and cyclic depressions are related to the peaks and valleys of melatonin levels.
While the physiological function of the pineal gland remained unknown until recently, mystical traditions and esoteric schools, have long considered the pineal gland to be the connecting link between the physical and spiritual worlds…and the seat of extrasensory perception. I am not here to argue the spiritual qualities of the pineal gland, nor talk about its extrasensory capabilities, excepting one: its sensitivity to light.
As medically theorized, the pineal gland responds to the ebbs and flow of light entering our eyes during the day. In the evening, the pineal gland reacts to the diminishing levels of daylight and starts to produce melatonin, which is then released into the blood and flows through the body making us drowsy. Its secretion peaks in the middle of the night during our heaviest hours of sleep. In the morning, bright light shining through the eyelids reaches the pineal gland which reacts by switching off the production of melatonin, thus removing the desire to sleep. And we wake!
But this description is incomplete in one significant aspect. As it turns out, the pineal gland can be diminished not only by light shining on the eyelids, but by light shining anywhere on the body. Literally, light striking any part of your skin can reduce production of melatonin from the pineal gland. It seems the pineal can “see without eyes.” How’s that for ESP? Even more interesting is the fact that in some lower vertebrates the pineal gland actually has a well-developed eye-like structure and is considered by some scientists to be the evolutionary forerunner of the modern eye. In other vertebrates, though not organized as an eye, it functions as a light receptor — effectively a third eye.
In any case, the key when it comes to the pineal gland and melatonin is that it’s important to sleep in a darkened room, with no light coming through the curtains or night lights turned on in the room. And wearing eyeshades won’t help as the pineal can sense any light shining on your skin. Failure to sleep in a darkened room will inhibit melatonin production, which presents a series of health problems, not the least of which is an inability to sleep deeply. But beyond that, if continued for too long, it will literally shut down the pineal and cause it to atrophy. At that point, your only choice will be to use melatonin supplements.
We’ll pause here and pick up our discussion of the endocrine system in the next newsletter with an exploration of the thyroid and parathyroid glands. One of the interesting things you’ll notice is that as we move down through the body, you’ll find that you have progressively more options for altering the behavior of your endocrine glands. That said, you can nevertheless consider using the following supplements to assist the hyopthalamus, the pituitary, and the pineal glands in the optimal performance of their basic functions.
Please chip in now to help Nepalis recover from Saturday’s devastating earthquake:
Most of us keep a box of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) around the house. It makes baked goods rise, eliminates acid-induced odours in refrigerators, carpets, and litter boxes and is a minimally abrasive “green” cleaning agent that can be used to scrub everything from sinks and dishes to fruits and vegetables.
In addition to these household applications, sodium bicarbonate has several medicinal uses.
7 Uses of Baking Soda for Health
Health Benefit of Baking Soda #1: Kidney Disease. Bicarbonate is an alkaline substance naturally produced in the body that buffers acids and helps keep pH in check. In people who have chronic kidney disease, which is most often caused by diabetes or hypertension, poorly functioning kidneys have a hard time removing acid from the body. This often results in a condition known as metabolic acidosis.
In one study, British researchers treated patients with advanced kidney disease and metabolic acidosis with oral sodium bicarbonate in conjunction with their usual treatment for two years. The sodium bicarbonate slowed the rate of decline in kidney function by two-thirds, and just 6.5 percent of the patients treated with sodium bicarbonate required dialysis by the end of the study, compared to 33 percent in a control group. Discuss this with your physician and encourage him to look into this promising therapy, which can slow the progression of this devastating disease.
Health Benefit of Baking Soda #2: Cancer. Studies have shown that dietary measures to boost bicarbonate levels can increase the pH of acidic tumors without upsetting the pH of the blood and healthy tissues. Although this hasn’t yet been studied in human clinical trials, animal models of human breast cancer show that oral sodium bicarbonate does indeed make tumors more alkaline and inhibit metastasis. Based on these studies—plus the fact that baking soda is safe and well tolerated—we’ve adopted this therapy at Whitaker Wellness as part of our overall nutritional and immune support protocol for patients who are dealing with cancer.
At the clinic, we use 12 g (2 rounded teaspoons) of baking soda mixed in 2 cups water, along with a low-cal sweetener of your choice. (It’s quite salty tasting.) Sip this mixture over the course of an hour or two and repeat for a total of three times a day.
Health Benefit of Baking Soda #3: Occasional Heartburn and Indigestion. Most over-the-counter antacids, such as Alka-Seltzer, Tums, and Rolaids, contain some form of bicarbonate. But a more cost-effective way to relieve occasional heartburn and indigestion is to stir half a teaspoon of baking soda into half a cup of water and drink it an hour or two after meals.
Health Benefit of Baking Soda #4: Dermatological Conditions. British researchers found that adding one-half cup of baking soda to bathwater soothed itchiness and irritation in patients with psoriasis. And a paste made of baking soda mixed with a little water and dabbed on sunburn, insect bites, allergic rashes, and skin exposed to poison oak/ivy reduces discomfort. That same paste also makes a nice, gentle exfoliant.
Health Benefit of Baking Soda #5: Natural Deodorant. Simply mix about a teaspoon of baking soda with enough water to create a milky liquid, and rub it on your feet and underarms.
Health Benefit of Baking Soda #6: Oral Health. Baking soda is a popular ingredient in toothpastes and mouthwashes since it has been shown to enhance plaque removal. Of course, you could just dip your toothbrush in baking soda, but due to its abrasive qualities, it may wear down enamel over time. Therefore, I recommend going with the commercial products.
Health Benefit of Baking Soda #7: Athletic Performance. When taken before intense exercise, sodium bicarbonate buffers the lactic acid that builds up in hard-working muscles, delays fatigue and enhances athletic performance.
Topical use of baking soda is safe and nontoxic. Oral use is also safe, provided you do not exceed the recommended doses, as this could upset the body’s acid-base balance. Larger amounts can cause temporary nausea and diarrhea.
Note: Although sodium bicarbonate contains quite a bit of sodium, it does not raise blood pressure.The hypertensive effect of salt (sodium chloride) comes from the combination of sodium and chloride.
by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Warmth and presence during shock and healing.
This two day course will introduce you to Craniosacral therapy, cranial-sacral therapy, which is a form of bodywork focused primarily on the concept of ‘primary respiration’ and regulating the flow of cerebrospinal fluid by using therapeutic touch to manipulate synarthrodial joints.
Keeping it Simple
Many people struggle with safety; it can be hard work negotiating being in the body. Coming into relationship with a skilled therapist can ease the pain. The inherent drive for self-regulation within our physiology is very powerful. Appreciating how the human body strives for health and how health is expressed as coherence, connection and a pulsing flow, is the skill of cranial work.
The essence of my work uses presence, education, movement and touch to help people reconnect with health. I use embodied presence supported via non-doing touch.
Awe and wonder is a huge part of biodynamics. It is mesmerising being alive, being conscious and being part of nature. There is a lot of spirituality in the writing about biodynamics. It often over complicates the simple process of touch. When people use the word spirit I just insert the word nature. Spirit does not speak to my experience, it is frequently far too speculative. There are many responses to the mystery of why there is ‘something other than nothing’. Religious frameworks are not part of my practice or teaching of biodynamic craniosacral therapy. I find they tend to obscure and confuse the simple path to the body.
The other big complication for me in the field of cranial work is a focus on alignment models. I am deeply uninterested in the position of bones and in trying to line up, stretch, and balance tissues if the focus is on an external model of how something should be positioned. Cranial work, despite the unfortunate name, is really not about how bones in the skull move. Sutherland’s model is in urgent need of an update in the light of so little evidence supporting rocking bones. The head probably creaks and accommodates tensions in membranes and muscles, but it is becoming increasingly hard to justify more than that.
There is wonderful evidence to support what happens in a biodynamic cranial session. There is good science on the power of mindfulness and presence, touch feeding our sense of self and research on using education about pain and the nervous system as a tool to relieve pain. We know that being in relationship with other people and the wild and natural world supports health. There are clear models on how interacting with the neurology of creating safety helps to overcome trauma. Systems theory helps us understand how intelligence emerges from complexity. That is a lot of great stuff without recourse to mysticism, esoteric anatomy and outdated paradigms of ‘issues in the tissues’.
Keeping it simple is my constant goal. I try to be as present as I can whilst using a light touch. As the relationship deepens I can be a witness to the patterns held in my client’s gently pulsing body. Something happens, always. Easy really. – Steve Haines