Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: The Endocrine System

After evaluating general metabolism through the Krebs’s Citric Acid Cycle, it is time to look at hormone production in the body. I find evaluation and treatment of the endocrine system to be second only to dysbiosis in terms of challenges and rewards.

We start by testing the limbic system. That is the portion of the brain that gives you your sense of balance. It is also where the brain and endocrine system interact. An impairment of the limbic system generally indicates some endocrine dysfunction. The adrenals, pineal/pituitary gland, thyroid and reproductive system are all evaluated.

Frequently more than one endocrine organ is indicated as dysfunctional. Endocrine cross check is then performed. We find a weak muscle for each endocrine organ. (For example, a weak supraspinatous is commonly associated with the pineal/pituitary gland.) Then we cross check to see which organ appears to be the major involvement and treat it appropriately.

Chaste tree is often of great value in treating endocrine imbalances, especially if there is more than one organ involved. History usually includes poor sleeping habits, either onset insomnia or maintenance insomnia. Taken first thing in the morning, chaste tree stimulates production of melatonin by the pineal gland. Melatonin not only helps people have a better night’s sleep, it modulates all the other sex hormones. If your estrogen is a little high and your testosterone is a little low, or vice versa, chaste tree will often balance these levels as needed.

Adrenal imbalance, either as the major issue, or a minor involvement is almost universal. It is commonly said that all patients have adrenal imbalance, but only the women have an underactive thyroid. Although not always the case, there is some truth to that statement.

Adrenal adaptogens like Ashwaganda, Korean ginseng, Tribulus, Schisandra and Rehmannia are all great support for the adrenals. Licorice can also be used temporarily as a tonic. Although it provides great relief of symptoms, it does not help rebuild exhausted adrenal glands like the adaptogens do. Maca is also thought to be an adaptogen, but we don’t yet have enough research to confirm its’ ability to restore the adrenal glands.

Testing salivary cortisol (four samples over 24 hours) and DHEA can help confirm adrenal status.

The most common thyroid problem is a lack of iodine in the diet. This is especially true for people raised in the mid-west. Michigan is considered the goiter capital of the US as the soil iw so iodine deficient. A simple “iodine patch test” performed by applying a bit of mercurochrome to the skin on the under side of the forearm is an accurate test for iodine deficiency. The patch should last a minimum of eight hours. The sooner it disappears, the greater the iodine deficiency.

Thyroid blood tests can be very helpful, but can also miss some thyroid problems. The TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) is actually a pituitary hormone telling the thyroid what to do. Although the medical norms are 0.4 to 4.4 uIL/ml, the healthy range is actually between 1 and 2. Anything above 2 is an indicator of subclinical hypothyroidism.

Even if the T3 and T4 (active and stable forms of thyroid hormone, respectively) are well within the medical norms, a large portion of the T3 may be “reverse T3” rendering it non-functional.

In Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the immune system is attacking the thyroid (and possibly other tissue sites as well). The tests for this disease are the TPO (thyroid peroxidase) and thyroid auto-antibodies. These tests are seldom run and can be transient as well, running high, then returning to normal, only to run high again. It is estimated that at least one third of the diagnosed cases of hypothyroidism in this country are actually Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis undiagnosed. I think the real number is closer to one half.

Modulating the immune system is the key to treating Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Currently, conventional medicine just supplements thyroid hormone to keep the TSH within medical norms.

My favorite herb for reproductive imbalances is the adaptogen Tribulus. It binds to any open hormonal sites in the brain. Those sites are open only when that particular hormone is low. Tribulus stimulates the brain to request more hormone production of the deficient hormone(s). So it is self regulating.

Hormone imbalances are quite common. If you suffer from poor sleep and/or poor sex drive, have your hormone levels evaluated. Consider nutritional therapy in lieu of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).