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 Naturopathic Medicine: Get To Know Your Endocrine System  
 
Lauri Aesoph M. ND ©

The adrenal cortex produces and secretes three kinds of steroid hormones. The first type, called mineralocorticoids, includes aldosterone which maintains normal blood pressure by balancing sodium, potassium and fluid levels. Secondly, the adrenal cortex makes small amounts of sex hormones, namely testosterone and estrogen.

The glucocorticoids, cortisol and corticosterone, regulate blood pressure, support normal muscle function, promote protein breakdown, distribute body fat and increase blood sugar as needed. This hormone class is most noted for its anti-inflammatory properties, hence the popularity of artificial cortisone as a medication.

You may also have heard about DHEA, short for dehydroepiandrosterone. This steroid hormone, also from the adrenals, has been familiar to scientists for years but its purpose was hazy. Researchers used to think DHEA acted as a reservoir for your body to produce other hormones, like estrogen and testosterone. It's becoming apparent that DHEA has it own role. Its functions are still blurry, but according to Alan Gaby, MD, DHEA appears to affect your heart, body weight, nervous system, immunity, bones and other systems (Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima Publishing) by Alan Gaby, MD,).

The adrenal medulla acts more like a member of the nervous system. In fact it's derived from the same primitive tissue as the ganglion cells of the sympathetic nervous system. The medulla's hormones, epinephrine (also called adrenalin) and norepinephrine, are also controlled by the sympathetic nervous system during fear or stress. Your body reacts to these hormones with a "flight or fight" response: pounding heart, dilated pupils and high blood pressure.

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While your adrenals save you during crises, continual demands on this glands tire you out. Age, stress and even coffee compromises your adrenal glands. Several years ago, Sanford Bolton, PhD from St. John's University in Jamaica, New York found that habitual coffee drinkers had diminished adrenal function (The Journal of Orthomolecular Psychiatry, vol 13, number 1).

Nutrients required for adrenal hormone function include vitamins C and B6, zinc and magnesium. Some symptoms of adrenal "exhaustion", like fatigue, headache and sleep disturbances, resolve with pantothenic acid, found in whole grains, salmon and legumes. Korean ginseng, Panax ginseng, also reduces physical and mental fatigue.

While doctors are still pondering all its possible therapeutic effects, DHEA seems to help osteoporosis, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Patrick Donovan, ND, a private practitioner in Seattle gives his Crohn's patients DHEA when laboratory tests indicate their DHEA levels are low. After six weeks, Donovan's patients are more energetic and their bowel inflammation, the key symptom of Crohn's disease, diminishes. DHEA is a prescription drug and must be obtained from your doctor.


Pancreas

Function
Hiding behind the stomach is the long slender pancreas. Its acini, rosette-looking cells, make and pour 2 1/2 pints of digestive enzyme-containing juice each day--amylase for starch, lipase for fat and protease for protein--into the small intestine.

The Islets of Langerhans rule the pancreas's better known hormones, insulin and glucagon. These opposing hormones work together keeping your blood sugar in check. Glucagon works together with epinephrine, growth hormone and glucocorticoids to stop your blood glucose from dipping too low by promoting glycogen breakdown. Insulin controls high blood sugar by enhancing the uptake and utilization of glucose by your muscles and body fat.

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