You want amazing? Check out the endocrine system.
Not only does the list of activities go on and on, the level of cooperation between endocrine glands goes to the death. If one gland starts to falter, the others try to help. If one gland dies, the others throw themselves on the funeral pyre in an attempt to make things better.
Don’t ever decide you can have a problem with only one endocrine gland. One gland may outdo the others in creating a mess, but they’re all in there, bailing like crazy.
Plus, all the endocrine glands work in all parts of the body. Receptors for thyroid hormone, for instance, are in the gut, and estrogen receptors are in the brain. Well, who knew?
Endocrine problems are system wide
Endocrine problems are system wide, and everything affects everything. To use an expression from my old IBM days, a flow chart of what goes on would look like an explosion in a spaghetti factory.
That said, for comprehension’s sake, I’m going to discuss the system one piece at time. Just keep a thought in the back of your mind that everything affects everything and don’t skip a gland or two because you don’t think they apply.
I’ll provide an overview today and next time, then details of the more significantly trouble-prone endocrine glands after that.
Let’s start with something that kind of is and kind of isn’t an endocrine gland, the hypothalamus.
About the size of an almond and the shape of a little, lumpy pancake, the hypothalamus tucks up under the base of the brain, part of the brain, but unprotected by the blood/brain barrier.
The hypothalamus controls the nervous system
The hypothalamus controls both the nervous system directly and the endocrine system via the pituitary gland, the top dog there.
In other words, it’s the tiny king of a vast realm.
I think you should stand and salute every time you read the word hypothalamus. That would slow things way down, but perhaps you’d end up filled with an appropriate amount of awe.
Because the hypothalamus is under attack, and it’s likely you’re participating in your own destruction, mostly by what you eat and drink.
Want a for-instance? While full details are still being excavated, t’would appear the hypothalamus plays a big role in auto-immune diseases.
The pituitary controls the endocrine system
Then there’s the king of the endocrine hill, the pituitary gland. A tiny teardrop sort of arrangement, the pituitary hangs from the base of the brain, not too far behind the bridge of the nose. That’s some vulnerable location.
Studies link concussions to pituitary damage. One typical study said 68% of people suffering even a mild concussion had a damaged pituitary. It can lead to Parkinson’s Disease or Alzheimer’s, but you won’t find a fix in the doctor’s office.
Add to that, The Pituitary Networking Association’s studies say about 20% of us have pituitary tumors. While these tumors are almost always benign, they significantly affect function. And it usually takes years to get diagnosed.
Everybody needs to know more about the pituitary.
The thyroid controls metabolism
Our most well-known endocrine gland is the thyroid. It controls metabolism and affects everything else.
Most of you know about the hair loss, brain fog, extreme fatigue, etc. that accompany an underperforming thyroid gland. Some of you have experienced the living on the edge sensation of an overactive thyroid.
Doctors usually remove (or zap) overactive thyroid glands so patients can become hypothyroid and receive treatment that leaves them yearning for the edge they used to live on. Sigh.
You can find your thyroid in your neck, near the Adam’s apple.
The paraythyroids control calcium balance
Close by the thyroid lies four similarly named, but unrelated, endocrine glands, the parathyroids. These tiny glands control our calcium balance. If the parathyroids misbehave, the current treatment is surgery, and results can be iffy.
Should your parathyroids decide to go astray, whatever you do, don’t send a boy to do a man’s job. These little glands–each about the size of a grain of rice–die in the hands of an inept surgeon, and you end up with a virulent form of osteoporosis that has no treatment. Search far and wide for expertise. Fortunately, we’re learning better ways to get the parathyroids back on course.
So that’s your hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid and parathyroids. A quick look at the other endocrine glands next time.
A drunk driver damaged Bette Dowdell's pituitary gland shortly before her first birthday. Although doctors insisted for years that she was fine, her health drifted to a crash-and-burn event, and she realized her health was up to her.
Now she's happy to report she has energy all day, every day. She sleeps well. Colds, flu and headaches are all in the past. Optimism moved back in. Life is good.
Now Bette's sharing what she knows with others to help them take control of their health, too. People who become their own health advocate enjoy far better health than those that don't.
Bette grew up in The Salvation Army, where her parents were officers. Like the military, this Army life involved a lot of moving, and she attended ten schools, in nine cities, in three states before graduating from high school.
After college, Bette worked as an IBM Systems engineer, a small-company consultant and software company owner. She wrote the books How to be a Christian Without Being Annoying, On We March: A memoir of growing up in The Salvation Army and the e-book Pep For The Pooped: Discovering the Vitamins and Minerals Your Body Is Starving For.
She lives in the Phoenix area.