What are Hormones?
Hormones affect every cell of the body. They regulate metabolism, weight, sleep, immune function, growth, energy and reproduction.
Each hormone sends very specific messages to target cells.
Primarily responsible for turning "on" our mitochondria. Thyroid sets our metabolic rate and base body temperature. The pivotal issue when evaluating thyroid function is whether or not active thyroid hormone (T3) actually gets to the cells and mitochondria. When cells do not get enough thyroid hormone, they run slow and hypothyroid symptoms occur. Body temperature drops, there is a sense of deep fatigue. Non-restful sleep, brain fog, depression and constipation are also common. Cells do not reproduce as quickly, causing dry skin, dry brittle nails, and hair loss. Women may appear to have estrogen excess and have extra heavy menses.
There are lots of tests for thyroid health. Most doctors only run basic "screening tests". This would be fine if those screening tests looked at the critical interface: T3 connecting with receptors on the cell and mitochondria. The bad news is that screening tests do NOT look at that. This is why, so often, people are struggling with all of the symptoms of hypothyroid, but their "labs are normal". When symptoms of hypothyroid are present, complete thyroid panels (not just screening tests) should be done. A deeper look is often all it takes to find the issue.
If the thyroid gland is truly not making enough hormone, then hormone replacement is the best route.
However there are many other scenarios:
Thyroid hormone is present, but due to nutrient deficiency, it is not being converted into its active form.
Antibodies are interfering with production or transport of thyroid hormone.
During a time of stress, the body produced a mirror version of active thyroid hormone (called "reverse T3") that is blocking receptors and the active hormone can not get through.
Each of these scenarios requires a different approach to healing. If you don't look, you won't find it since the symptoms are the same regardless of the cause. This is one case where correct testing is pivotal to determining the best approach for regaining balance.
Adrenals set our circadian rhythm (along with other hormones from the pituitary and pineal glands), help maintain blood pressure, help us be alert and active and respond to stress. They also act as "backup" for our gonadal system and produce small amounts of sex hormones.
Chronic stress, illness, irregular sleep schedule, and environmental toxins can all wear our adrenals down.
Cushing's disease and Addison's disease are far end states of adrenal dysfunction, causing multi system illness. When holistic practitioners refer to "adrenal fatigue" or "adrenal stress" we are referring to much smaller changes within the "normal" range of function. Adrenal function is so important that even if adrenals are moderately out of balance, it can produce real symptoms. It is important to note that functional adrenal fatigue does not necessarily progress on to the more serious pathologies mentioned above.
During the early stages of acute stress the adrenals can produce too much cortisol. This affects blood sugar management, encourages insulin resistance, insomnia and abdominal weight gain. This type of imbalance is in the same direction as Cushing's disease but it is not severe enough to be considered pathology. People in this phase of adrenal fatigue are often "wired but tired".
During middle stages, people may develop a "reverse" cortisol curve (high at night when they are supposed to be asleep and low in the morning when they should be awake). Insomnia, evening anxiety and morning fatigue are common in this phase.
In the late stage of adrenal stress, the adrenals have become fatigued and do not produce enough cortisol or adrenaline for optimal function. This imbalance is in the same direction as Addison's but not severe enough to be considered pathology.
These scenarios are all still within the range of "normal" function, but are far from ideal. Supporting the adrenal gland with herbs, nutrients, gentle exercise, stress management and sleep can make a big difference.
Aka the "steroids". Estrogen, progesterone, pregnenolone, testosterone, DHEA (and the adrenal hormone Cortisol) are all made from cholesterol. Depending on input from other hormones, stress and diet, they can also be converted into one another. Most steroids are made in the ovaries or testes (and the adrenals). They primarily regulate reproductive rhythms and production of egg and sperm, but are also major players in energy, mood, muscle and bone strength, and even brain function.
In women of reproductive age, hormone levels change dramatically from day to day. When out of balance it can cause issues such as PMS, PCOS, irregular or painful menses, and even infertility. When testing hormones in a cycling woman, timing is very important, and hormone imbalances are often missed due to lack of attention to timing.
In general, sex hormone imbalance responds very well to a combination of diet, nutrients, acupuncture and herbs, and can be further enhanced with focused exercise programs.
The pancreas has two very different functions (though both are related to food). The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes and also secretes the hormone insulin. Insulin is responsible for taking sugar from the blood stream into the cells where it can be burned as fuel. When blood sugar is too high, it can be due either to damage to the pancreas (often autoimmune) or it can be due to the cells not responding to insulin (insulin resistance). These are very different scenarios (leading to two different types of diabetes if left unchecked), and require different types of support. Testing insulin and not just glucose can help discern which scenario is in effect.