The Glandular System Overview
Not only is the glandular system one of the most important systems of the body, but it is also among the most complicated. Scientists have just begun to discover its many mysteries. The following is an easy-to-understand overview.
The term "gland" comes from Latin glans, meaning "acorn." Gland tissue can be either an organ or general tissue that secretes chemicals.
There are two types of glands: exocrine and endocrine. Those glands which secrete chemicals through tubules or ducts, are called exocrine, meaning "outside of." They include sweat, tear and salivary glands.
Ductless glands are part of the endocrine system, meaning " within." They secrete special chemicals directly into the blood. These compounds are called hormones and they usually target tissues somewhere else in the body, causing changes to occur. But some of them affect all cells in general. Hormone messengers are independent of the nervous system, and take longer to cause an effect.
What are Hormones?
In Greek, hormone means " to set in motion." Hormones are made by endocrine glands to control another part of the body. They require protein and fatty acids; cholesterol is used to manufacture some of them. These hormones are secreted directly into the bloodstream.
Many different hormones must be balanced one with another. This is done in at least two ways: (1) by the brain's information center, which monitors the state of the body, and (2) self-regulation as each gland detects chemical levels in the blood, giving "feedback" on the needs of the body. Glands may react by secreting one hormone to shut down the production or effects of another. Glands have the power to produce several different kinds of hormones at any time. The liver also has the power to control an overabundance of some hormones in the blood.
Endocrine glands include the gonads, pineal, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus and adrenals.
Beginning from the top down, here is a brief description of this fascinating set of internal controls which help the body perform at peak efficiency while adapting to change, whether internal or external.
We begin at the center of the brain with the pineal gland, a pea-sized organ that is highly sensitive to light. Until recently, almost nothing was known about this gland. Darkness signals the pineal gland to release melatonin. This important hormone has been found to play a role in sexual function and energy levels in general. It is also a powerful antioxidant protecting the body from age-causing free radicals. In animals the gland also controls seasonal changes of the body.
Tucked deep inside the brain, this gland regulates both the exocrine and endocrine glands. The hypothalamus is important for your longevity, and coordinates the entire endocrine system, especially in connection with its teammate, the pituitary. The hypothalamus is located immediately below the thalamus at the center of the brain, and controls many automatic functions of the body. This means it has the power to govern the autonomic (automatic or subconscious) nervous system.
The hypothalamus also controls pituitary output by secreting specific chemicals to the pituitary's front lobe.
Nicknamed the "master gland," this half-inch organ hangs down from the lower center of the brain on a stalk attached to another gland, the hypothalamus. It regulates many body activities, and is partitioned into front and back lobes. The front lobe is stimulated by the hypothalamus, and produces any one of six different hormones that in turn stimulate the thyroid, adrenal and reproductive glands, and also breast milk production.
Balance is crucial, because an unhealthy pituitary could cause repercussions to cascade down into all parts of the body. Growth hormone is manufactured here. Too much produces giantism; too little, premature aging and wasting of tissue.
Good nutrition for the pituitary includes alfalfa, kelp, dandelion, bee pollen and spirulina. Magnesium and potassium are important minerals.
The thyroid is anchored around the front of the throat near the voice box. It helps govern the rate of the body's metabolism (its total life processes). To a high degree, metabolism is regulated by the hormone thyroxine, which can be made by the thyroid if enough organic iodine is available.
Thyroxine tells all cells to increase activity, and without it cells revert to about half-speed. Too much thyroxine can double activity, with a possible fourfold increase. This kind of stimulation causes an increased use of body fat to meet energy demands. Conversely, too little thyroxine may allow excessive fat to accumulate.
The effects of thyroxine don't stop with weight control. It also increases gastric juices and appetite. Heart output increases, and sometimes the hands will tremble a little as the hormone affects the nervous system.
The hypothalamus controls thyroid output indirectly. It does this by influencing pituitary hormones which reach the thyroid.
Embedded near the thyroid are four parathyroid glands, with two attached to each thyroid lobe, on opposites sides of the throat. Hormones from the parathyroid glands help control calcium and phosphorous levels in the body. These glands oversee the breaking down of bone cells to release more of these minerals into the blood. On the other hand, a hormone from the thyroid has the opposite effect, and builds up the bones.
Control of this system depends on blood levels of calcium ions. Low levels "turn on" hormone production to break down bone tissue, so blood levels remain stable. It is important to absorb enough dietary calcium to avoid this breakdown of bone tissue.
Sitting on top of each kidney are the adrenal glands. Each one is made up of an outer cortex and an inner medulla. Of the 50 or so hormones the adrenals make, only cortisone and adrenaline are recognized by most people.
Some of these hormones must be produced to preserve life, while others help resist stress. Other hormones from the adrenals control normal energy output (along with the thyroid) and govern the breakdown of stored energy into quick energy sources.
The medulla produces epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are specifically designed to help the body deal with stressful situations.
The adrenals control the potassium / sodium balance, which is vital for energy production. They also produce sex hormones in minute amounts, which is important for later years when the gonads drop or cease their production.
The adrenals need lots of vitamin A, C, and B complex. Licorice Root is a specific herb that has been used for centuries to support these glands.
Tucked behind the sternum between the lungs, this soft, pinkish-gray gland shrinks as we come to puberty and may even atrophy later on.
This neglected gland is finally getting some scientific attention. It is now known that the thymus helps the immune system adapt to various threats. For example, "T" cells are white blood cells that have been activated by the thymus; hence the letter "T." The thymus also produces a number of different compounds that help strengthen the immune system.
The thymus appears to need plenty of balanced protein, antioxidants like carotenes, vitamin C, E, B6, zinc and selenium.
Opposite the liver, the pancreas has two main functions- to manufacture various enzymes for digestion, and to release hormones to help control the body's use of carbohydrates. It releases insulin to help each cell absorb glucose to burn as energy. In this way, insulin controls the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood.
Note the importance of pancreatic function - too much, too little, or no insulin production can be life-threatening. Too little sugar (glucose) in the blood may cause weakness or even unconsciousness (hypoglycemia). Too much sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia or diabetes) can clog capillaries, cutting off blood to sensitive areas like the eyes.
Some of the chemicals released by the pancreas are not hormones, but stimulate other glands to make hormones. Once again, balance is necessary.
Nutritional requirements for the pancreas are many. Research indicates thatchromium vitamins C, E, B complex, calcium, magnesium and potassium are especially important.
Female ovaries and male testes both produce the same hormones, just in different amounts. These include estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These hormones amplify sexual characteristics that are dormant before puberty. Both male and female reproductive glands are also called gonads.
The danger of the wrong proportions of hormones from these glands is that their function, rather than helping to bring about new life, may encourage improper cellular changes that may become life-threatening.
Ovaries are about the size of an almond. They lie on either side of the lower abdomen beside the uterus. They usually produce one egg each month. Whether the egg is fertilized or not, the reproductive process follows a monthly cycle, with constant changes in various hormone levels, preparing another opportunity for conception. The lining of the uterus is sluffed off when not needed, a process called menstruation. Sometime after middle-age, egg production ceases and hormone levels drop significantly, a stage of life called menopause.
In order to survive to maturation, sperm need to be about 3 degrees cooler than eggs. That's why they are nurtured outside the male body in the testes. Most men continue to produce some sperm throughout life, but may also experience a type of menopause.
Nutritional needs for the gonads vary somewhat, but all require plenty of essential fatty acids, vitamins C, E and B-complex, the minerals calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron and zinc. Some herbs have been used for both men and women's needs, while others are more gender specific.
Hormones are also made by other organs or tissues we have not mentioned. For example, one form of estrogen is made by fat cells. Too much fat may cause the body to suffer from estrogen overload if the liver cannot handle it all. And the liver itself can manufacture hormones, as well as the kidneys, again adding to the wondrous complexity and adaptability of the glandular system.
Diet, exercise, thoughts and emotions-all can affect hormone output. Great care must be taken when attempting to rebalance the system, whether through conventional or alternative methods. Of course, dietary supplements should be from natural, highest-quality sources.
Most Popular Products for the Glandular System
Chromium GTF - helpful with blood sugar problems, helps with carbohydrate and fat cravings, aids digestion
FC w/ Dong Quai - menstrual problems, cramps, uterine complaints
Thyroid Activator (previously called KC-X) - thyroid booster, helps metabolism, used for weight loss programs, rich in trace minerals also
Master Gland ® - A formula that provides nutritional supplementation for all the glands of the body. Hormones produced by these glands influence the health of the entire body and must be strengthened to provide balance and harmony. This formula includes Vitamins A, C, E, Pantothenic acid, Zinc, Manganese, Potassium, Lecithin, Licorice root, Alfalfa herb, Asparagus powder, Black Walnut hulls, Kelp plant, Parsley herb, Parthenium root, Thyme herb, Dandelion root, Dong Quai root, Lemon Bioflavonoids, Schizandra fruit, Eleuthero, Marshmallow root and Uva Ursi leaves.
Melatonin - helps maintain the body's natural sleep rhythm helping those with insomnia, but allowing normal alertness after a full night of rest - no drowsiness, also protects against free radical damage
Pro-Pancreas - unique formula with goldenseal, cedar berries and 12 other herbs used to strengthen the pancreas, used for diabetes, often used with Target P-14 below for a more potent program
Target TS II - aimed at supporting both the hypothalamus and the thyroid glands, which help to manage automatic functions, general energy, and the fat-storage set-point of the whole body
X-A - sex rejuvenator for married males or females, used for infertility problems also