MILK 'N HONEY HEALTH FOODS

 

NUTRITION 101: LESSON TEN

HORMONES:

       The body produces dozens of hormones that regulate hundreds of metabolic functions.  The word hormone is taken from a Greek word which means “to excite” or “to urge on.”  There are two basic categories of hormones.  One category is water soluble hormones made from amino acids and the other category is fat soluble hormones made from cholesterol.  Hormones are picked up by receptor sites located on cells resulting in the activation of specific chemical messages leading to specific cellular responses.

       Hormones are transported in the body by carrier proteins within the blood plasma. When in close proximity to a cell, hormones are released from their carrier proteins and readily pass through cell membranes into the cytoplasm of cells.  If they encounter an appropriate receptor, they migrate into the cell's nucleus for binding with an accessible DNA element.  This results in the formation of a specific RNA by which the cellular effects of the hormone are accomplished.  

      As already stated, the body produces dozens of hormones involving hundreds of metabolic processes.  In this article, we will discuss some of the better known hormone producing glands and the hormones they produce. These will include the thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals pancreas, hypothalamus, ovaries, testes and pituitary gland.

THYROID GLAND: 

       The thyroid gland is located at the front of the throat and underneath the voice box.  It is primarily known for its production of the water soluble hormone called thyroxine, also known as T4. It also produces the hormone calcitonin which we will discuss in the section on the parathyroid glands. 

       Thyroxine (T4) is made from the amino acid tyrosine and the mineral iodine. Thyroxine contains 4 iodine atoms which is why it is named T4 . Tyrosine comprises 35% of thyroxine. Thyroxine enters the blood stream complexed to another protein called plasma globulin.  Thyroxine increases the number and activity of mitochondria in the cell.  Mitochondria are the millions of little “energy factories” found throughout the body.  This hormone regulates the rate of carbohydrate metabolism and protein synthesis and its breakdown in the body.  Thyroxine activity is controlled by another hormone called thyrotropin, also known as TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). TSH is released by the pituitary gland which is located at the bottom of the brain. When the amount of thyroxine in the blood drops, TSH is secreted by the pituitary which stimulates the thyroid gland to take up more iodine from the blood in order to manufacture more thyroxine.

       The major form of thyroxine in the blood is T4 Once in the cell, T4 is converted to T3 (triiodothyronine) which is three to four times more potent than T4.  The ratio of T4 to T3 in the blood is roughly 20 to 1.  T3 contains 3 iodine atoms and thus it is named T3. Some T4 is converted to reverse T3  (RT3) which inhibits the speed of the metabolic process.  Most of the thyroid hormone circulating in the blood is bound to carrier proteins. Only a very small fraction of circulating thyroxine is unbound and biologically active.  When thyroid hormone is bound, it is not active, so the amount of free T3/T4 is what is important. For this reason, measuring total thyroxine in the blood does not provide an accurate picture of thyroid hormone activity in the body. When testing for thyroid function you want to test for free T3/T4 and also for TSH levels.  Most thyroxine activity is accomplished by T3.

Fluoride and Thyroxine Research:

       Research has shown that the chemical fluoride, as found in some drinking water, can inhibit thyroid activity.  Intake of as little as 1 part per million of fluoride can inhibit the output of thyrotropin from the pituitary gland resulting in reduction of thyroxine output.  Fluoride also competes with iodine for receptor sites on the thyroid gland which respond to thyrotropin, further reducing thyroxine production. Fluoride inhibits the enzymes that produce thyroid hormones in the thyroid gland.  It inhibits the process whereby iodine is attached to tyrosine during the production of thyroxine.  It is advisable to avoid drinking fluoridated water. For a comprehensive overview of water and point of use purification systems go to Nutrition 101: Part Nine.  For discussion of the mineral iodine, go to Nutrition 101: Lesson Seven.

Diseases of the thyroid:

       Hyperthyroidism is an ailment characterized by over activity of the thyroid gland.  Grave’s Disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism. This disease is caused by overproduction of thyroid hormones.  It is considered to be an autoimmune disease involving a genetic defect in suppressor T-cells.  Grave’s Disease occurs seven to ten times more frequently in women than in men.

       Hypothyroidism is an ailment characterized by under-activity of the thyroid gland where there is insufficient production of thyroid hormones. Hashimoto’s disease is a particular disease of the thyroid where your immune system attacks the thyroid causing it to become swollen and irritated. The most observable sign of hypothyroidism is a low basal temperature upon awakening in the morning.  Low thyroid activity can result in a lower basil metabolic rate (BMR) and slower burning of calories in general.  This will impact a person’s ability to lose weight.  To determine thyroid activity, you can administer the following test.

        On the night before the test, shake down an oral thermometer and leave it at an accessible place beside your bed. The very moment you awake, after a good nights sleep, stay in bed and place the thermometer firmly in the armpit and leave it there for ten minutes.  If your reading is lower than 97.8, (normal resting temperature), it’s an indication that your thyroid is underactive. It is wise to repeat this test several times in a row in order to make a proper determination.  If you are a women of child bearing years, perform this test on only the second and third days of menstruation.

Treatment of Hypothyroidism: 

       Conventional medical treatment of hypothyroidism often uses only T4 supplementation with a synthetic thyroid product such as synthroid.  Ideally the treatment of hypothyroidism should supply both T3 and T4.  Clinical studies have demonstrated that treatment of hypothyroidism with combination thyroid hormone therapy is more effective than treatment with T4 alone.  Conventional medicine assumes that treatment with T4 will result in conversion of T4 to T3 within the body.  Research indicates that this is not the case.  Many hypothyroidism patients have a defective mechanism for the conversion of T4 to T3

       Armour Thyroid is a brand name of natural, desiccated thyroid, derived from the gland of pigs. It contains natural forms of the thyroid hormones T4, and T3 plus two other forms along with other components. This product was the sole thyroid hormone replacement for the first half of the 20th century but has largely been replaced by synthetic thyroid hormone products which are most often only T4. Armour is still available by prescription.       

Our daily need for iodine:

       Research has shown iodine to be a dynamic in prevention of breast disease. It is interesting that ductal cells in the breast, the ones most likely to become cancerous, are equipped with an “iodine pump” which is responsible for the uptake of iodine. This pump mechanism is just like the one responsible for the uptake of iodine by the thyroid gland.  The very presence of such a pump in the breasts shows iodine to be a necessary nutrient to the health of this tissue.  In addition to the thyroid and breasts, a number of other tissues possess an iodine pump and include the stomach mucosa, the salivary glands, ovaries, thymus gland, the skin, choroid plexus in the brain, which makes cerebrospinal fluid, and the joints, arteries and bone.

       Iodine is known to induce a process called apoptosis which is programmed cell death. This process facilitates the destruction of cancer cells and cells infected with viruses. It has been shown that when human lung cancer cells are caused to take up and utilize more iodine, they undergo apoptosis and shrink.

       Since there is apparent need for iodine in many ways other than for thyroid function, it may be wise to consider increasing dietary iodine.  The daily requirement for iodine is recommended at 150 micrograms. This amount was established by the government many years ago as the minimum required to prevent thyroid deficiency. Since many additional needs for iodine have been identified, it may be that higher levels of iodine intake are justified.  The Japanese average over 12,000 micrograms of iodine per day obtained from there normal diet which is high in iodine containing sea weeds such as kelp and dulse. 

       Supplementally, you can eat kelp, which is a good source of organic iodine, or take an iodine supplement. The herb cayenne can stimulate thyroid function. Guggulipid extract can stimulate the production of thyroxine. Guggulipid is an ancient herb that comes from the gummy resin of the mukul myrrh tree. It is a thorny tree that grows in northern India. Supplementing with the amino acid tyrosine can provide more of this building block of thyroxine.  Using a thyroid glandular can be very helpful in providing the nutritional components necessary for the health of the thyroid. 

       At Milk ‘N Honey, we carry a product called "Tri-Iodine" from the company EuroPharma which provide 12.5 milligrams (12,500 micrograms) of iodine in one daily capsule. This product features three different forms of Iodine to provide maximum benefits.  We also carry the product "Thyroid Care" from the same company which contains 15,000 micrograms of the tri-iodine complex plus 200 milligrams of the amino acid tyrosine per capsule. Tyrosine is essential for the body to produce thyroxine.

PARATHYROID GLANDS:

       The parathyroid glands are small endocrine (hormone producing) glands in the neck that produce parathyroid hormone (PTH). These glands are usually located behind the thyroid gland and in rare cases are located within the thyroid gland. Most people have four parathyroid glands, but some people have six or even eight.

       The sole function of the parathyroid glands is to maintain the body's blood calcium level within a very narrow range, so that the nervous and muscular systems can function properly.  When blood calcium levels drop below a certain point, calcium-sensing receptors in the parathyroid gland are activated to release PTH into the blood.  PTH increases blood calcium levels by stimulating osteoclasts to break down bone and release calcium. Osteoclasts are bone cells that remove minerals from the bone matrix and release them into the blood.  PTH also increases gastrointestinal calcium absorption by activating vitamin D, and promotes calcium uptake by the kidneys.

       Another hormone called calcitonin is produced in the thyroid and parathyroid glands. Some believe it is only produced by the C-cells of the Thyroid. Chemically, calcitonin is a single chain polypeptide water soluble hormone composed of 32 amino acids.  Calcitonin transfers calcium from the blood and stores it in the bones. It inhibits the rate of release of calcium from the bones by inhibiting the action of PTH.  Therefore calcitonin and PTH work together to maintain proper levels of calcium in both the blood and the bones. 

Diseases of the parathyroid:

       Hypoparathyroidism is a disease where the parathyroid glands do not produce enough PTH.  This results in decreased levels of calcium in the blood and is a serious medical condition called hypocalcemia.  Hypocalcemia can also occur as a result of cellular insensitivity to PTH.  Doctors often prescribe vitamin D in high doses for people afflicted with hypoparathyroidism.  The trace mineral boron may help poor parathyroid function as this mineral is concentrated in this gland. 

       Hyperparathyroidism is an ailment involving increased secretion of parathyroid hormone.  Over activity of one or more of the parathyroid glands causes high calcium levels (hypercalcemia) and low phosphorus levels in the blood.  An over active parathyroid can lead to osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) because to much calcium is being drawn out of the bones.  Excessive consumption of the mineral phosphorus may cause secondary hyperparathyroidism where over activity of the parathyroid is related to too much dietary phosphorus.  What happens is that the parathyroid, being responsible as it is to maintain proper levels of calcium in the blood will draw excessive amounts of calcium from the bones in an effort to counter the high amount of phosphorus being absorbed from the diet.  A diet containing a phosphorus to calcium ratio of 2:1 can cause secondary hyperparathyroidism. 

Protecting the parathyroid:

       A diet high in phosphorus has been identified as a major contributor to osteoporosis.  Phosphorus is found in high amounts in animal products, preservatives, soda waters and a variety of processed and refined foods.  Since the western diet is high in these products, it is little wonder that westerners have the highest rates of osteoporosis and other bone density problems in the entire world. The body has to maintain an approximate 2 to 1 calcium to phosphorus ratio in the blood.  PTH will consistently draw calcium from the bones to maintain this ratio.  When there is too much phosphorus in the blood, more calcium is needed to maintain this ratio.

       To protect the parathyroid glands from working overtime and to protect against bone loss it is recommended that you reduce consumption of animal products along with soda waters and processed and refined foods which are high in phosphoric compounds. While dairy products are a good source of calcium, they often have as much phosphorous as calcium and therefore it becomes a trade off.  Increasing the consumption of green foods will increase calcium without having much impact on phosphorous intake.                

ADRENAL GLANDS:

       The adrenal glands are located on top of both kidneys.  An adrenal gland is made of two parts. There is an outer region called the adrenal cortex and an inner region called the adrenal medulla.  The adrenal glands work in harmony with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, both of which are located in the head.  When the body is under physical or mental stress, the hypothalamus gland produces corticotrophin-releasing hormone which stimulates the pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).  This hormone travels via the blood stream to the adrenal cortex and stimulates it to produce glucocorticosteroid hormones which are secreted directly into the blood stream.

       One such glucocorticosteroid hormone is hydrocortisone, also known as cortisol.  This hormone regulates the body’s use of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.  This same hormone, in harmony with another hormone called corticosterone, suppresses inflammation in the body.  Another adrenal cortex hormone called aldosterone controls the level of calcium excreted into the urine and regulates the amount of sodium and potassium ions in the blood and therefore regulates blood pressure.  The hormones produced by the adrenal cortex are largely made from cholesterol.  

       The adrenal medulla secretes the two water soluble hormones, epinephrine, better known as adrenaline, and norepinephrine, better known as noradrenaline.  These hormones are made from the amino acid tyrosine.  When the body is faced with a “fight or flight” situation, the brain releases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which signals the adrenal medulla to secrete adrenaline.  Adrenaline increases the heart rate and force of heart contractions. It facilitates blood flow to the muscles and brain, causes the bronchial tubes to dilate allowing for more oxygen intake and dilates the pupils of the eye so that more light can be absorbed. It speeds up the conversion of glycogen to glucose in the liver so more energy can be produced by the body. Noradrenaline acts in similar ways to adrenaline but under certain conditions can constrict the blood vessels which can increase blood pressure. Noradrenaline also acts as a neurotransmitter.

Cortisol and adrenal disease:

       Cortisol levels are critically important to the health of the body.  An adrenal malfunction called Addison’s disease, named after British physician Thomas Addison, is a condition where the adrenal cortex does not produce enough cortisol.  Symptoms of this insufficiency include chronic fatigue, nausea, muscle weakness, dizziness or fainting, low blood pressure and even changes in skin pigmentation.  In some cases of Addison’s disease, the adrenals fail to produce a balance of the hormones aldosterone and adrenaline which causes low blood pressure, tremors, fatigue, dehydration and a craving for salty foods. 

Adrenal syndrone:

      Some physicians distinguish between Addison’s disease and what is sometimes referred to as Adrenal Syndrome. In this case, Addison’s disease is characterized as being associated with shrinkage of the adrenals (atrophy) or a lack of signaling hormone produced by the pituitary gland.   This is contrasted with a simple weakening of the adrenals due to unrelieved stress over an extended period of time.  Unrelieved stress over an extended period of time can lead to the adrenals simply wearing out and being unable to cope with the body’s demand for the stress hormones this gland is designed to produce.  Since the same syndrome of symptoms associated with Addison’s disease is present with this condition, it is referred to as adrenal syndrome.  

       The adrenal response to stress takes priority over all other metabolic functions. The release of cortisol is for the purpose of providing the body with the ability to react to and handle stresses as they occur.  This response, however, isn’t meant to continue over long periods of time without abatement.  When cortisol levels are maintained at high levels over extended periods of time, it can lead to the breakdown of muscle and bone tissue, weaken normal cell regeneration, impair digestion, weaken immunity and play havoc with a host of other bodily processes.  Extended periods of high cortisol levels can lead to the adrenals becoming weakened and no longer able to produce adequate cortisol levels.  When this happens, the body’s ability to properly respond to stress is compromised leading to the symptoms already described.

       When the adrenals are chronically overworked and straining to maintain high cortisol levels, they lose the capacity to produce DHEA in sufficient amounts. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is another hormone produced by the adrenal cortex and acts as a precursor hormone to the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.  DHEA acts to facilitate the balance of hormones in the body. Insufficient DHEA contributes to fatigue, bone loss, loss of muscle mass, depression, aching joints, decreased sex drive, and impaired immune function.

Identifying adrenal fatigue:

       Ideally, cortisol should be elevated in the morning, then become lower but steady throughout the day and then fall in the evening in anticipation of sleep.  When cortisol levels are consistently high during the day and continue rising in the evening is when the adrenals can become over stressed and eventually lose their ability to function as designed.  When the adrenals become exhausted due to being overworked, cortisol will never reach normal levels which results in constant fatigue and many other symptoms.  Mainstream medicine tends to only recognize problems with cortisol production when levels become severely depressed as in Addison’s disease or extremely elevated as in Cushing’s disease.  Nutritionally orientated practitioners will test cortisol levels throughout the day in an effort to determine adrenal function.

Who needs to be tested?

       If your energy level is generally high without the need to artificially elevate it by using caffeine products or other forms of stimulation, if you sleep soundly most of the time and are generally emotionally stable, your cortisol levels are probably sufficient. On the other hand, if you tend to be constantly tired, don’t sleep well and feel emotionally unstable much of the time, this could indicate depressed cortisol levels and testing for such levels could determine whether this is indeed the case.   I recommend such testing be done by a health care practitioner who is trained in identifying cortisol related health problems.    

Adrenal self-help test:

       You can determine adrenal function in general with a self administered blood pressure test.  Normally systolic blood pressure (the upper reading) is approximately ten points higher when you are standing than when you are lying down.  It the adrenals are not functioning properly, this may not be the case.  You will need a home blood pressure monitor to do this test.  Take your blood pressure reading after lying down for five minutes and then take it again immediately upon standing up.  If your systolic blood pressure is lower after you stand up it can be indicative of reduced adrenal function.  If this is the case, you may want to have cortisol and other adrenal hormones checked to determined adrenal output.    

Nutritional support for the adrenals:

       A strong whole food diet which is heavy on the side of fresh vegetables and fruit is necessary to maintain adrenal health, as well as, the health of all other body tissues. The adrenals need a lot of the B vitamins, especially vitamin B-5 which is pantothenic acid. Vitamin C is also essential to adrenal health along with the amino acid L-Tyrosine.  Do not take supplemental L-Tyrosine if you are on a MAO inhibitor antidepressant drug as the combination of tyrosine and an MAO can elevate blood pressure.  Raw adrenal and adrenal cortex glandulars can provide targeted support to the adrenals by providing the specific nutrients needed by these tissues. 

Stress reduction:

       While easier said than done, stress reduction is critical to taking the pressure off the adrenals to produce cortisol while at the same time maintaining proper secretion of the various other hormones these glands produce to maintain our health.  Exercise is a know stress reducer and provides many other physiological and psychological benefits.  It may be wise to make a list of those things that seem to produce the most stress in your life and than work at finding ways to make changes that will reduce those stressors. 

THE PANCREAS GLAND:  

       The pancreas is a spongy pink organ about 6 inches long that is positioned along the back of the abdomen, butting up against the kidneys and behind the stomach. It is tucked in the area where the stomach meets the small intestine and is connected to the duodenum which is the upper part of the small intestine. 

       The pancreas gland is part of both the endocrine and the exocrine system. Endocrine are those glands that secrete chemicals, called hormones, directly into the blood stream and exocrine are those glands that secret fluids and enzymes through a duct (tube) into another body organ or to the outside of the body such as the saliva glands.

The endocrine pancreas:

       The part of the pancreas that secretes hormones directly into the blood stream is called the islets of Langerhans.  The beta cells of the islets of Langerhans secrete the hormone insulin which is released into the blood stream to move the sugar glucose from the blood into the cells of the body.  In addition to producing insulin, the islets of Langerhans have alpha cells that produce the hormone glucagon which signals the liver to release stored carbohydrate called glycogen which is converted to glucose when the blood sugar get too low.  If the liver does not have enough glycogen, the hormone glucagon can stimulate amino acids to convert to glucose.

Insulin and the pancreas:

       In addition to helping to remove blood sugar (glucose) from the blood into the cells of tissues, this hormone also stimulates the conversion of glucose into triglycerides within the liver for storage as adipose (fat) tissue. When the quantity of glucose is more than can be stored in the liver as glycogen, insulin promotes conversion of excess glucose into fatty acids, which are transported to adipose tissue as very low density lipo proteins (VLDL). Insulin stimulates the synthesis of proteins in the body and therefore has anabolic properties in so much as it facilitates muscle growth:  When there is insulin deficiency, protein break down increases by up to 30%. 

       To much insulin is virtually toxic and is a risk factor for a  host of  health problems. Two much insulin circulating in the blood can lead to over weight, high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, heart disease and come cancers. Many people living on the typical American diet have high insulin levels due to the bodies need to deal with the high amount of refined simple carbohydrates consumed.  Limiting carbohydrate intake to unrefined, complex carbohydrates lower insulin requirements and reduce the risks factors associated with high insulin. 

Measuring insulin levels:

       When the pancreas makes insulin, it first makes a substance called porinsulin which is split into equal parts of insulin and C-peptide.  When your doctor does a test to determine insulin levels, the test usually measures C-peptide levels which give a more accurate reading as to insulin levels.  Elevated levels of C-peptide indicate elevated levels of insulin whereas low C-peptide levels indicate low insulin.  High C-peptide levels can be an indicator of present or potential health problems associated with to much insulin circulating in the body.

The exocrine pancreas:

       The exocrine part of the pancreas makes up 99 percent of this organ.  The cells that constitute this part of the pancreas secrete what are commonly referred to as pancreatic juices which are rich in digestive enzymes and also contains sodium bicarbonate.  The sodium bicarbonate creates the proper pH for the enzymes to work in the small intestine.  Since the pancreas has no mucus membranes lining it interior, it secretes its enzymes in an inactive state so that the pancreas doesn’t digest itself.  These enzymes are converted to their active state once in the small intestine. The pancreas secretes approximately 1.2 to 1.5 quarts of pancreatic juices per day.  This secretion is regulated by nerve impulses and hormone secretions in response to the presence of food in the digestive tract.

       Pancreatic juices pass into the pancreatic duct which is joined by the bile duct just before it enters the upper part of the small intestine called the duodenum.  There is also a accessory duct located about an inch above this juncture which empties digestive juices directly into the duodenum. The gall bladder holds bile secreted by the liver and by this organ extracting water from the bile, it makes it much more potent.  Bile helps digest fats from the diet in conjunction with the digestive enzymes from the pancreas called lipases. Enzymes from the pancreas called proteases digest protein and enzymes called amylases digest carbohydrate.    

Health problems associated with the pancreas:

       Diabetes:

       Diabetes Mellitus is an ailment that occurs when the pancreas is unable to secrete enough insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar (glucose) level or insulin is not being properly received by the cells. A person is regarded as having diabetes mellitus if their blood sugar concentration is greater than 140 mg per deciliter of blood after an overnight fast. Some health professional feel that any reading over 100 after a fast is indicative of diabetes.  There are two types of diabetes.

       Diabetes mellitus Type 1 is a form that is classified as an autoimmune disease where the immune system has attacked and destroyed the beta cells of the inlets of Langerhans. This generally occurs during childhood and is sometimes referred to as Juvenile on-set diabetes.  This disease requires the injection of insulin to maintain proper blood sugar levels.  Diabetes mellitus Type 2, also known as adult on-set diabetes, is a form where the pancreas is often producing enough insulin but the insulin receptor cells located throughout the body are resisting this insulin resulting in a lack of glucose removal from the blood into the cells.  This condition causes the pancreas to over produce insulin.  After a while the pancreas begins to wear out and insulin production decreases resulting in the need for an outside source of insulin.  Insufficient insulin can lead to rapid muscle wasting leading to rapid weight loss as the body will use protein as an energy source in the absence of sufficient carbohydrate and fat metabolism.

       Insulin resistance is often caused by the cells being exposed to excess insulin over a period of years which causes the cells to become insensitive to insulin's capacity to do its job.  This insensitivity often results from excessive consumption of carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates) resulting in the manufacture of excessive glucose which the body has to metabolize through the action of insulin.

       While type 1 diabetes must be treated with an outside source of insulin, type 2 diabetes, provided it has not progressed two far, can often be treated by changes in diet, a good exercise program and proper nutritional supplementation. Since diabetes increases the risk for heart disease, vision problems, cancer, fatigue, nerve damage and a host of other problems, it is vital that diabetes be identified at an early stage and treated accordingly. 

      Pancreatitis:

      Pancreatitis is an ailment that is characterized by inflammation of the pancreas.  It occurs as a result of enzymes produced by the pancreas digesting the pancreas.  Excessive consumption of alcohol (ethanol) may cause pancreatitis.  Alcohol causes the intracellular accumulation of digestive enzymes and their premature activation and release. Alcohol increases the permeability of the duct of the pancreas thus allowing enzyme damage to this area.  Alcohol increases the protein content of the pancreatic juices and decreases bicarbonate levels.  This leads to the formation of “protein plugs” that block outflow from the pancreas, leading to obstruction.  Approximately 80% of cases of pancreatitis are caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.

       Pancreatitis can also be caused by gallstones that lodge at the juncture where the bile duct from the gall bladder intersects with the duct from the pancreas causing a blockage and backup of digestive juices. Severe Pain in the upper abdomen and back is a symptom of pancreatitis.

Digestive problems and the pancreas:

       Often digestive problems can be traced to insufficient production of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Flatulence, bloating, indigestion, heartburn and intestinal discomfort in general are often signs of incomplete digestion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.  Taking a good quality digestive enzyme supplement with meals can improve digestion and relieve symptoms associated with digestive problems. See archives 5 and 6 on this website for articles dealing with treating digestive problems from a nutritional perspective.

Nutritional support for pancreatic secretions:

       The trace mineral zinc is essential for the production, storage, secretion and utilization of insulin and may facilitate the binding of insulin to insulin receptors. The trace mineral chromium is absolutely necessary for insulin to do its job of removing glucose from the blood into the cells. The compound resveratrol has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity. Resveratrol is available as a supplement.  Pancreatic enzymes are made from amino acids which come from proteins. Eating a nutrient dense diet and avoiding processed and refined foods is the pathway to insuring your pancreas will receive proper nutrition in order to function at optimum efficiency in producing the secretions it is designed to deliver.

OVARIES:

       The ovaries are two ductless female reproductive glands that are located to the right and left of the uterus and connected by fallopian tubes. Each ovary is about the size of an almond. The ovaries produce the female reproductive cells called ova.  About 500,000 immature eggs are present in the cortex of each ovary at birth.  Beginning with puberty, these eggs mature and one passes through the ovarian wall about every 28 days in a process called ovulation. This process continues until menopause. After its release from the ovary, the ovum passes into the oviduct (uterine or fallopian tube) and into the uterus. If the ovum is fertilized by sperm (male reproductive cells), pregnancy takes place.

Ovarian hormones:

       Androstenedione and testosterone:

       Androstenedione is manufactured by the ovaries in very small quantities.  This hormone is a precursor to testosterone which is also produced in small amounts in the ovaries and which contributes to a woman's sex drive.  After menopause, the ovaries no longer produce testosterone but it continues to be produced by the adrenal glands.

       Estrogen:

       The body makes three estrogens: estradiol, estrone and estriol.  The major estrogen secreted by the ovaries is estradiol which is also the most powerful of the three. This estrogen is converted to estrone in the blood. Estriol is the principal estrogen formed by the placenta during pregnancy. These three compounds account for most of the estrogenic activity in humans.  These estrogens cause the thickening of the lining of the uterus and vagina in the early phase of the menstrual cycle.  These estrogens are also responsible for female secondary sex characteristics such as, pubic hair and breasts, and they affect other tissues including the genital organs, skin, hair, blood vessels, bone, and pelvic muscles.

       After menopause, the ovaries stop making estrogen, but estrogen continues to be produced by fat cells and the adrenal glands.  When estrogen reaches the breasts, it attaches to estrogen receptors on breast cells. Such receptors are found throughout the body, but are at higher concentrations in the breasts and uterus.  When estrogen binds to a cell receptor, it causes that cell to divide.  The type of estrogen that binds to breast cells will determine the rate at which these cells divide.   Estradiol will cause much greater cell division than estriol. Greater cell division creates greater opportunity for cell mutation to occur due to DNA damage.

       By causing cells to divide, estrogen prepares the body for possible pregnancy.  Once this is accomplished, estrogen leaves receptors and travels to the liver where it is processed out the body as a waste product or metabolized into two different pathways.  The 2-hydroxy pathway results in good estrogen metabolites (metabolic bi-products) which are returned to the blood stream and play a role in building strong bones, preventing heart disease and removing cancerous cells in the body. The 16-hydroxy pathway produces bad metabolites that lead to osteoporosis, breast, ovarian and uterine cancer and a variety of other health problems.

      Estrogen And Health Problems:

       As mentioned above, the term estrogen actually refers to three different hormones: Estrone, Estradiol and Estriol. All three undergo various conversions in the liver.  Estrone can convert into two forms.  One form becomes a very biologically active form which is associated with cancer development.  Its other form can actually inhibit the growth of malignant tumors.  A plant nutrient called diindolylmenthane (DIM), derived from cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, has been found to increase the form of Estrone that helps to prevent cancerous growth.  Research has shown that women that have a higher level of this protective type of Estrone have reduced breast cancer risk.  Eating more cruciferous vegetables will increase DIM levels in the body and contribute to greater protection from cancer. For those wishing not to eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables, there is a product from Enzymatic Therapy Company called EstroBalance which will provide the body with an amply supply of DIM.  Another product from Enzymatic called PMS Symptom Free also contains DIM.   

       The three estrogens; Estriol, Estrone, and Estradiol occur at the approximate level of 90, 3 and 7 percent in the female body. The pharmaceutical Premarin (horse {equine} estrogens), which are derived from the urine of pregnant mares, consists of 75-80% Estrone, 6-15% Equilin and 5-19% Estradiol plus two additional equine estrogens.  Because of such a significant difference in the makeup of human estrogens and horse estrogens, many unwanted side effects have occurred using standard hormone replacement therapy.

        Because the loss of normal estrogen activity in a women’s body can lead to bone loss, heart disease, hot flashes and a variety of other health problems and since standard hormone replacement pharmaceuticals are problematic, the Solaray Company is marketing a product called Estro-3.  This product provides naturally occurring Estriol, Estrone and Estradiol identical in molecular structure to those same hormones produced in the human body.  Estro-3 is a proprietary blend of licorice root extract, pomegranate seed and hops that provides 1mg of Phytoestriol, 40mcg of Phytoestrone, and 20mcg of Phytoestradiol.  Phyto means plant derived.  These plant derived hormones are totally compatible with human physiology and won’t produce the negative side effects experienced with a product like Premarin.

       Progesterone:

       Progesterone is a hormone produced by the ovaries that induces changes in the lining of the uterus essential for successful implantation of a fertilized egg.  Progesterone is secreted chiefly by the corpus luteum, a group of cells formed in the ovary after the follicle ruptures during the release of the egg cell. If fertilization does not take place, the secretion of progesterone decreases and menstruation occurs. If fertilization does occur, progesterone is secreted during pregnancy by the placenta and acts to prevent spontaneous abortion.  This hormone also prepares the mammary glands for milk production. Progesterone is also synthesized from cholesterol in the cortex of the adrenal glands where it acts as a precursor for the synthesis of other steroid hormones including testosterone.

       Progesterone is important to the manufacture of new bone in the body. After menopause, the ovaries no longer produce progesterone. Natural progesterone can be added to your hormone replacement program by using extracts from Wild Mexican Yam.  There are a number of topical creams available and when used on a regular basis will provide the body with natural progesterone which is absorbed through the skin and picked up by receptor sites in the body.  There are several companies marketing these creams.  One very effective progesterone cream is Renewed Balance from AIM International.

   Nutritional Support For The Ovaries:

       The carotenoids beta-carotene and zeaxanthin concentrate in the ovaries. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants.   Vitamin C is found in abundance in the ovaries. The ovaries require calcium for the production of estrogen's.  As is true with all organ system of the body, a diet high in nutrient dense unrefined foods will go along way in maintaining the health of such systems.

TESTES:

       The testes are the male sex glands located behind the penis and suspended in a pouch of skin called the scrotum. There are two testes (testicles).  There function is to produce and store sperm cells which contain the entire genetic history of the male.  These glands are also the male body's main source of hormones, such as testosterone. This hormone controls the development of the reproductive organs and other male characteristics, such as body and facial hair, low voice, and wide shoulders.

       As is true with the manufacture of eggs in the female gonads called the ovaries, the manufacture of sperm in the testes begins with a gland called the hypothalamus located in the head.  This gland produces a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) that causes the pituitary gland, also located in the head, to produce follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).  In males, FSH and LH target the testes in what biologists call the “brain-testicular axis.”   This process leads to the development of all male sexual characteristics including the ability to manufacture sperm. The testes produce a protein called inhibin and the hormone testosterone which together restrict the flow of GnRH and thus control male sexual development. 

 Testosterone:

        Testosterone is the principal androgen or male sex hormone.  It is one of a group of compounds called anabolic steroids.  Anabolic means to “build up” and steroids are fatty substances containing four carbon rings. Testosterone is also an androgen. Androgens are substances that facilitate and maintain masculine characteristics.   Testosterone increases protein synthesis in the cells and is therefore involved in muscle development. Testosterone is primarily secreted by the testes but is also synthesized in small quantities in the female ovaries, the adrenal glands and the placenta.  It is made from cholesterol. 

        Before puberty, the testosterone level in boys is normally low. Testosterone production increases rapidly at the onset of puberty.  This causes boys to develop a deeper voice, get bigger muscles, make sperm, and get facial and body hair. The level of testosterone is the highest around age 40 and then gradually decreases after that. It begins to more rapidly decrease after age 50.  By age 80 it is at 20 to 50% of its peak level. Normally testosterone is 30% higher in the morning than the evening. This may explain why men are more interested in sex in the morning and is part of the reason for spontaneous morning erections. In fact, the loss of morning erections is a sure sign that testosterone is declining.  Normally, the testes produce 4 to 7 milligrams (mg) of testosterone daily.  Studies have shown that men who are obese and who suffer from diabetes and hypertension are twice as likely to have low testosterone. 

        In women, the ovaries account for half of the testosterone in the body. Women have a much smaller amount of testosterone in their bodies compared to men. But testosterone plays an important role throughout the body in both men and women. It affects the brain, bone and muscle mass, fat distribution, the vascular system, energy levels, genital tissues, and sexual functioning. Most of the testosterone in the blood is bound to a protein called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG).

 Low Testosterone:

        As already discussed, testosterone levels are regulated by the pituitary gland, which releases luteinizing hormone (LH). When the level of testosterone is low, LH normally increases its production. Low testosterone, which is medically called hypogonadism, can lead to decreased sex drive, erectile difficulties, low sperm count, depression, concentration problems, fatigue and reduced muscle and bone mass. Low testosterone levels are easily measured through simple blood work.

Treatment of low testosterone:

        . Topical testosterone infused gels and creams are available primarily by prescription. They are applied and absorbed into the skin, steadily increasing the testosterone level in the body until the next application, usually 24 hours later. The gel itself is a mix of the hormone, water and alcohol. Other hormone replacement therapies are the transdermal testosterone patch, injections of the testosterone-producing LH, or injections of the testosterone hormone itself.   All these treatments must be obtained through a health care professional and should only be done after blood tests have determined a low testosterone level in the body. It must be noted that pharmaceutical testosterone may often be synthetic.  Synthetic testosterone is of a different chemical structure than natural testosterone and can have negative effects upon the body, especially the liver.  

        There are some nutritional supplements available that appear to help increase testosterone levels. A formula called ZMA, available in health stores, consists of zinc monomethionine aspartate, magnesium aspartate and vitamin B6.   Zinc and magnesium are often depleted during athletic training, and are vital to testosterone production. Taking these supplements may increase the body’s natural production of the hormone.

        Some research shows that supplementing with the hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), at 50 mg per day, may increase testosterone levels. DHEA is the immediate metabolic precursor for the hormone androstenedione which in turn is the immediate precursor for testosterone. DHEA is an androgen steroid hormone manufactured primarily in the adrenal cortex of the adrenal glands and can also be manufactured synthetically.  DHEA is the most abundant steroid hormone in the human bloodstream.  Even though it is considered an androgen (male sex hormone), it is synthesized in both males and females.  Research indicates that DHEA at 50 mg per day may increase serum levels of testosterone in men to levels equal to those of younger men.  DHEA is available in health food stores as a supplement. 

       A variety of foods and herbs have been associated with increasing testosterone levels. These include velvet deer antler, Fenugreek seeds, ginger, horny goat weed, Korean ginseng, bee pollen, passion flower, tribulus terrestris, oats and garlic.  Fenugreek seeds may increase testosterone levels because of there content of steroid saponins which stimulate the release of luteinizing hormone which in turn stimulates the production of  testosterone.  Tribulus terrestris may enhance the conversion of androstenedione to testosterone.  As already mentioned, androstenedione is the immediate precursor of testosterone, apparently under the influence of luteinizing hormone.  Some studies have claimed that daily intake of 750 mg of Tribulus terrestris results in an increase in free testosterone levels of 30% (only in males) within five days.  Oats are claimed to stimulate the release of testosterone from being bound to (SHBG)) resulting in it being free in the blood stream. 

 Exercise and testosterone levels:

        Both the lack of physical activity and excessive physical activity (over training) will result in decreased levels of testosterone. Exercise effects testosterone directly by stimulating the pituitary gland and the testes.   Exercise is one of the best ways to increase testosterone levels. On the other hand, excessive exercise can lower testosterone levels.  Studies conducted on endurance athletes who exercise for long stretches of time were shown to have testosterone levels up to 85% lower than people who do not perform endurance exercises.  Long distance running can lower testosterone levels. Short duration exercise such as sprinting and weight training will boast both human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone. It has been observed that construction workers who lift moderate loads all day are frequently listless and tired as well as not as strong and muscular as their co-workers who perform less frequent but more intense activity.

        As a side note, studies of Bulgarian Olympic athletes, whose work-outs are considerably more than one hour, showed that testosterone levels increased by as much as 40% in those athletes using the herb tribulus terrestris which is discussed above.

Diet and testosterone levels:

       As is true in all areas of bodily function, quality of diet is critical.  Excess intakes of simple carbohydrates that raise blood sugar rapidly create chronically elevated levels of the hormone insulin and cortisol. These two hormones oppose the action of testosterone and diminish its production.  On the other hand it is important to get enough fats in the diet. As already mentioned, testosterone is made from cholesterol and when fats are deficient in the diet, this process will be inhibited.  Studies clearly indicate that low fat diets results in lower testosterone levels while those higher in protein, lower in carbohydrate and moderate in fat cause the greatest sustained levels of testosterone and human growth hormone.        

PITUITARY GLAND:

        The pituitary gland is an endocrine gland situated at the base of the brain.  It is about the size of a pea and weighs 0.5 grams.  An endocrine gland is a gland that secretes hormones directly into the blood stream. 

       The pituitary gland is primarily divided into anterior and posterior lobes which are responsible for the secretion of eight different hormones.  There is also an intermediate lobe which secretes one hormone.  The anterior lobe grows upward from the pharyngeal tissue at the roof of the mouth.  The posterior lobe grows downward from neural tissue. It is structurally continuous with the hypothalamus gland.  The hypothalamus controls almost all secretions of the pituitary. The posterior lobe of the pituitary is controlled by nerve fibers that originate in hypothalamic neurons and the anterior lobe by substances that are transported from the hypothalamus by tiny blood vessels.               

Pituitary hormones:

        The anterior lobe consists of a number of cells that secrete six different hormones. Human growth hormone stimulates all the tissues in the body to grow by effecting protein formation.   Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) controls the secretion of steroid hormones by the adrenal cortex, which affects glucose, protein, and fat metabolism. Thyrotropin, also known as thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), controls the rate of thyroxine synthesis by the thyroid gland, which is the principal regulator of body metabolic rate.  Prolactin regulates the formation of milk after the birth of an infant.

        The two other hormones produced by the anterior lobe of the pituitary are called the gonadotropic hormones and consist of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) hormone.   These hormones control the growth and reproductive activity of the male and female gonads.

        The release of each of the hormones from the anterior lobe is controlled by specific substances called releasing factors which are secreted by nerve cells in the hypothalamus gland.  These releasing factors move through blood vessels to the anterior lobe, where each releasing factor facilitates the release of a specific pituitary hormone.

        The posterior lobe of the pituitary produces two hormones that are synthesized by nerve cells in the hypothalamus. One of these hormones, called antidiuretic hormone (ADH), alters the permeability of the kidney tubules, permitting more water to be retained by the body.  The other hormone is called oxytocin which aids in the release of milk from mammary glands and causes uterine contractions. The intermediate lobe secretes the one hormone melanocyte-stimulating hormone, which appears to control skin pigmentation.

Disorders of the pituitary gland:

        Over secretion of human growth hormone, before the growth of the body’s long bones is complete, can cause a condition known as Gigantism where the body grows to an abnormal size.  In such cases the metabolic rate increases up to 20% above normal.  In mature adults where the bones have grown to normal size, this disorder can lead to an excessive thickening of the bones and a condition called acromegaly.  Under secretion of human growth hormone can lead to dwarfism if experienced during childhood, and decreased endocrine function accompanied by lethargy and loss of sexual capacity in an adult.

 HYPOTHALAMUS GLAND:

        The hypothalamus is located below a part of the brain called the thalamus just above the brain stem. It is about the size of an almond and weighs about four grams. It is sometimes called the master gland of the body because all the other endocrine glands depend on its secretions for stimulation.

        The hypothalamus links the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus is responsible for certain metabolic processes and other activities of the autonomic nervous system.  The autonomic nervous system is part of the central nervous system and functions largely below the level of consciousness, controlling the function of the body’s internal organs. As indicated in our discussion of the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus releases hormones that stimulate or inhibit the secretion of pituitary hormones.  The hypothalamus controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue and our circadian cycles (day and night body rhythms). The Hypothalamus is widely regarded as the overall center of management for the Immune System.

       The Hypothalamus is the primary regulating organ for the process of homeostasis.   Homeostasis is a term that describes the process of attaining overall hormonal and chemical equilibrium of the body. The hypothalamus accomplishes this process by a process called negative feedback.  Negative feedback is a term used to describe the mechanism by which the excessive endogenous (in the body) production of a substance causes a shutdown of the process by which that substance is produced by inhibiting the production or release of its precursor chemicals.  Negative feedback is an important means by which the body maintains homeostasis. 

 Nutritional support for the hypothalamus:

         As is true of all body parts, endocrine glands such as the pituitary and hypothalamus require a wide range of nutrients in order to function properly and do the jobs these glands are designed to do.  In order to produce hormones, the endocrine system must have the raw materials necessary for such production.  This includes vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids and numerous other components.  Eating a high quality, nutrition dense diet is the pathway to the health of the endocrine system as it is to all body systems. 

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