The Endocrine System

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Our bodies physiologically mirror our thoughts. The implications of this are quite profound. Our physical abilities and limitations are actually determined by our beliefs. These beliefs, to a large extent, reflect what has been ingrained in us by our culture ever since our conception. The term "premature cognitive commitments" is used to denote these beliefs.

We buy into thinking something is true because we've always been taught that it is true, everyone else thinks it is true, and we naturally come to accept it as true. I call it the Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome, or ENCS, ill honor of the old children's story. Some research has even shown that much of aging occurs because we have a pre-formed fixed concept of how it will occur -- e.g., we progressively lose strength, stamina, reflexes, and associated physical skills and senses. But if people pretend to be young in a supportive environment, biomarkers that scientists use to indicate the aging process revert back towards those of youth! It was found in one primitive tribe where the belief was held that as an individual ages he gets better physically, that athletic performance did improve as a member of the tribe reached middle age and beyond.

What this means to you is that the biblical saying, "As a man thinketh, so is he" is literally true (for women and men). If we think happy, positive thoughts, our white blood cells do become more active, our immune system is heightened and we become physiologically more vibrant. Should we dwell on the negative, the reverse becomes reality and we are at greater risk for infection. injury, and debility.

If we picture an image in our mind's eye, our body responds as if the image were real. Athletes have utilized this for a long time to sharpen their skills. Example: a basketball player relaxing at home with his/her eyes closed and visualizing shooting baskets will improve his/her performance as much as if he/she was actually at practice.

Why is this so? Because the mind, cannot distinguish between a vividly held image and reality. If you are sleeping and experience a nightmare of being chased by a tiger, then suddenly wake up, your body's responses are identical to what they would be if you were in the jungle running from that same predator: muscles tense, heart racing, breathing fast, eyes dilated, palms sweaty, etc. This is the typical fight or flight response mentioned earlier in discussing stress. Imagining yourself shooting baskets causes your muscles to contract a small amount in a similar fashion to the larger movements associated with the actual event. This mental rehearsal is extremely valid and can be helpful whether you are a musician or a magician.

One other story comes to mind. During the Vietnam conflict, an American POW spent several years as an involuntary guest at the "Hanoi Hilton." This prisoner had enjoyed golf quite a bit before the war, so every day he played a full 18 holes of golf in his imagination, picturing new courses, different situations as he visualized his strokes. When he was eventually freed and flown back to the United States, he was invited to play in a celebrity golf tournament. Despite the fact that he had not held a golf club for over seven years, he was able to shoot his handicap thanks to his daily mental rehearsal.

Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is everything." He developed his theory of relativity by seeing himself riding a beam of light through the universe. Other great scientific discoveries and breakthroughs have occurred in similar fashion.

The importance of this lies in the proven fact that you can use your thoughts, feelings, and imagination to cure as well as to prevent disease. Work on developing a positive attitude -- it is the one best thing you can do to promote health and happiness. When sick, take time throughout the day to see yourself healing, picture your body reversing the infection, injury, tumor, or whatever the problem may be. Repeat the appropriate affirmations to yourself over and over. Complete this visual and auditory exercise with whatever other sensory input you can bring to the scene. Feel yourself getting better and conjure up even the smell and taste of good health in the manner in which you associate it. For the mind works on a holographic model and the more vivid the hologram you create, the greater the success of it becoming reality for you.

The paradigm of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) recognizes that our consciousness lies outside the brain, the sum of the 75 trillion or so cells that comprise our body. PNI even affirms that each and every cell has all the knowledge of our total life experience, a sort of genetic memory, and may even possess a memory extending through evolutionary history. This would certainly explain "instincts" and other aspects of behavior that elude the scientific model. It is even thought that every cell is in communication with every other cell and life form throughout the world, thus supporting Carl Jung's theory of the Collective Unconscious.

This theory is explained by what is called morphogenetic fields, a sort of energy matrix that pervades all life, matter, and the universe. This concept was put forth by Rupert Sheldrake, a brilliant English biologist, and popularized by the "hundredth monkey phenomenon." What this refers to is the observation made by researchers that when a totally new behavior or knowledge base is learned by enough members of a set of animals (or humans for that matter!), it will spread instantaneously to the remaining members of that group, even if they are geographically distant from the ones being studied. This idea of a "critical mass" is being used by peace advocates who designate a certain day and time each year for people worldwide to meditate, think of, and reflect on global peace in hopes that it will spread to all persons here and effect a lasting benefit of how we interact as individuals and as nations.

Morphogenetic fields

Morphogenetic fields, if indeed they do exist, and presumptive evidence is quite strong in this area, could explain PSI or paranormal phenomena including such things as telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, telekinesis, and other ESP abilities. One well-known individual in this area is the Israeli psychic, Uri Geller. I saw him perform once. One of the most startling demonstrations of his mental prowess was when he started up broken watches and clocks that members of the audience had brought to him. He did this by inviting children up to the stage with him and having them visualize the time pieces working and running as they should. Young children don't have the "premature cognitive commitment" that you can't fix something just by thinking about it, so their thoughts and images are sincere positive constructs that taken collectively as a group are apparently magnified or directed by Geller himself to seemingly do the impossible. If you would enjoy reading more about this field, check the reading list at the end of this course.

At this point, before proceeding further, a note of explanation is in order. PNI strictly speaking deals only with the processes within the body's confines. I have taken the liberty of going beyond this since so much of PNI forms the basis and rationale to explain extra-corporeal events. This quite obviously represents a departure from the realm of the endocrine system, but I feel that the information is vital to the understanding of mind-body interaction and is therefore discussed here for want of a better system of the body under which to include it. To those of you who feel this is too "far out" to be appropriate or applicable to self-health, my apologies. To those of you who can use this at whatever level for your own understanding of the universe (and your health as a consequence), you have justified its inclusion.

One last example on the "expanded" significance of the endocrine system is necessary before moving on with the more mundane. Historically, there have been attempts to relate some of the hormonal glands with the seven chakras or spiritual centers of the body. The lower one or two relate to the gonads, while the highest two are tied in to the pineal and pituitary glands. The fifth chakra, often termed the throat chakra, certainly corresponds anatomically with the location of the thyroid. Thus, as we raise our consciousness and become more enlightened, our energy ascends from areas related to sexuality and power, to those associated with detachment, transcendence, and universal love.

More and more evidence is revealing that there is a biochemical/physiologic correlate with altered states. The pineal gland can secrete psychotropic substances that induce responses analogous to LSD trips, experiences on mescaline and peyote, as well as less exciting secretions duplicating the effects of Valium or Prozac. Indeed, any state of mind produced by an external substance, synthetic or botanical, can be brought about by an endogenous neurochemical(s) causing the identical reaction. The secret is how to access its release and effect its binding to the appropriate receptor site for the desired response. For more on this, read the home study course in this series on the nervous system.

Parathyroid glands

The parathyroid glands, usually numbering six to eight, are pea-sized and are actually found within the tissue of the thyroid gland, hence the name parathyroid. The function of these glands is to regulate calcium and phosphorous metabolism of the body. Disorders here are quite rare, but when they occur, are sometimes life-threatening. It is prudent to have things stabilized by an endocrinologist before embarking on the alternative path.

Many parathyroid problems are surgically induced as a result of operations on the thyroid gland during which the parathyroids are inadvertently or unavoidably excised along with the thyroid. This is another good reason to avoid the operating room at your local hospital if at all possible. Certainly, if all the parathyroids have been removed, replacement hormone therapy is the only viable route. If some parathyroid tissue remains, the use of acupuncture and visualization techniques would be foremost on my list of things to try.

The gonads, ovaries in the female and testes in the male, produce hormones and are covered in the reproductive system course.

The pituitary gland

That leaves the pituitary for discussion. This so-called "master gland" is really just the front man for the hypothalamus, which works behind the scenes and gets precious little credit. In actuality, the hypothalamus controls the pituitary by way of both blood vessels and nerves that interconnect these two glands. However, if we proceed one step deeper into the ever-fascinating realm of the inner workings of the brain, we find that in recent years researchers have discovered that the pineal, through its subtle and minute elaborations and secretions, orchestrates the entire show. The hypothalamus and pituitary both are subservient to the pineal gland. Specialists in this area, called pinealogists, are coming up with new findings even as you read this -- exciting stuff!

The pituitary is divided into two parts, the anterior and the posterior. The anterior pituitary produces the following hormones: FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), LH (luteinizing hormone) -- both of which act on the gonads in men and women; TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone); ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which regulates the adrenal glands; growth hormone; and prolactin (stimulates production of breast milk). The posterior pituitary is responsible for two hormones: ADH (anti-diuretic hormone) which controls water loss through the kidneys; and oxytocin (acts on certain smooth muscles of the body). Thus, you can see how important the pituitary is and how it obtained its "master" status. Fortunately, disorders involving these hormones are relatively rare. Again, if a tumor or other abnormality does develop, a comprehensive multi-disciplinary approach affords the best chance for success.

Several diseases of the endocrine system are considered auto-immune in nature: diabetes and Hashimoto's thyroiditis. It is important to understand a bit about autoimmunity for this reason, as well as the abundance of other diseases that are emerging through medicine's veiled doorways and being shown to fall into this same category. In a perhaps overly simplistic explanation, autoimmunity arises when the body develops antibodies to a certain part of itself -- antibodies against the thyroid gland in Hashimoto's, antibodies against the pancreas in diabetes. Modern medicine is at a loss to explain why this occurs. Whether an undiscovered virus may be the causitive culprit remains to be seen, although some evidence is pointing in that direction. What is evident is that auto-immunity represents the body's attempt to reject part of itself. This is done by "recognizing" that part or tissue as "foreign" and attacking it in a manner not too dissimilar to the way a true invader from outside the body (be it microbe or other foreign agent) is treated.

For these conditions, science by way of your local doctor can offer several high-powered approaches involving hormones. There is cortisone (often administered as prednisone) which acts to suppress the immune response, thereby blocking tile dysfunctional inflammation associated with the rejection phenomenon. The downside is twofold: the additional cortisone can cause Cushing's syndrome, complete with altered carbohydrate and protein metabolism, susceptibility to infection, poor wound healing, and osteoporosis, to name a few. It will also suppress the adrenals' own production of cortisone. If this occurs over a long enough period, the production may not be able to recover to normal levels once the prednisone is discontinued. In essence, this can result in an Addison's-like condition with severe consequences, good reason to avoid this hormone!

Hormone replacement is another favorite treatment. It is usually a lifetime usage of the relevant medicine for Hashimoto's (thyroxine) and diabetes (insulin). Conventional physicians make no attempt to address the underlying dynamics of why the body turned against itself. To truly reverse the autoimmune response, it is necessary to look at a deeper level than just the physical and biochemical. It requires a psycho-social spiritual perspective.

Louise Hay is well noted for her work in this area and has come up with metaphysical implications for different disease states. She has videos, tapes, and books that go into much more detail than could be covered here. I highly recommend her for anyone with an auto-immune disorder. There are many adept counselors who are familiar with her type of "inner work" that helps correct underlying belief systems and unresolved issues that have led to poor health. It would behoove someone to seek out a therapist immediately after such a diagnosis has been made.

For additional information and a more thorough discussion of much of the preceding, please refer to the resource/reading list.

Measurements & Data Corporation, By Willard Dean

Another common glandular problem that also involves under-functioning is adrenal insufficiency. A distinct pathological entity, Addison's Disease, is the extreme form of this problem and leads to death if not corrected. This is due, in large part, to the tremendously wide ranging effects that cortisol has in our body and the necessity of having proper levels of it.

Fortunately, the majority of low adrenal function patients do not fit into the Addison's diagnosis. Rather, their adrenals have been somewhat but not totally exhausted as a result of chronic or prolonged stress. When we are in a stressful situation, the old fight or flight response is triggered. The response involves the release of adrenaline among other chemicals, which results in faster heart rate and respiration, muscle tension, blood vessel constriction, pupil dilation (in order to see better), heightened awareness and sweat glands activation. This response is not very helpful today unless you play competitive sports or are a victim of crime. If the situation causing us the fight or flight reaction is short-lived, such as a near miss auto accident on the highway, no harm results. But when we are constantly under stress, whether it be from a job, relationships, finances, etc., then the adrenals are always working overtime. The result is we're in the alert mode, feeling tense (and indeed, our muscles are tight, often with fist or jaws clenched, shoulder and upper back musculature contracted) and on edge, with elevated blood pressure among other undesirable effects. This makes for a very maladaptive response. Worse yet, the adrenals eventually are unable to keep up this increased hormone production and give out. This condition of adrenal exhaustion is marked by fatigue and diminished energy, low blood pressure, mental sluggishness, lowered immune response and a host of lesser effects and symptoms. This may even be a factor in chronic fatigue syndrome.

Regrettably, Western medicine does not acknowledge that this condition exists. For these minds, you either have Addison's disease, Cushing's syndrome (a pathological excess of adrenal hormones that is different from prolonged stress mentioned above) or else your adrenals are O.K. (Ever wonder why medicine uses proper names for different conditions rather than give them descriptive labels that would be much more meaningful from the standpoint of understanding their nature?)

The proper tests

If the symptoms of adrenal depletion can mimic those of hypothyroidism, how do holistic physicians tell the difference? A laboratory test to evaluate adrenal function is the simple answer. For people who don't relish the idea of needles, take heart; the latest way of hormonal assay is with saliva. Several national labs now provide doctors with test kits and instructions for saliva collection. The results are thought to be even better than those obtained via blood due to the hormonal levels in saliva being less variable and more consistent.

Another test alternative doctors use is to check for postural hypotension. Normally, our blood pressure is higher when we're standing than when we're lying down. The reason for this is that the higher pressure is necessary in order to maintain adequate blood flow to that most vital of all tissues, the human brain. The adrenals are responsible for regulating the postural blood pressure. With low-functioning adrenals, the pressure will not immediately increase when we stand up after lying down. In fact, it will actually drop! This is easily enough determined in the doctor's office (or, for that matter, at home if you have your own blood pressure measuring device). Rest supine for a while, take your blood pressure and then, leaving the cuff on your arm, stand up and immediately take the pressure again. Often, someone with postural hypotension will report feeling light-headed, faint, or woozy when they stand up after sitting or lying down for any length of time.

Natural remedies

If either test proves positive, there are some easy solutions. First, get at the underlying cause. Reduce your stress! Reduce it as much as is realistically possible because life today is almost synonymous with stress. Learn better stress coping skills, the details of which will be covered under a future home study course, The Nervous System. By learning how to deal with stress, you gain an ability that will serve you well for the rest of your life. Second, and certainly as important as stopping the stress reaction, is to rebuild adrenals to normal function. Remember, correcting the cause of the problem does not mean that the adrenals instantaneously bounce back to vibrant vitality. Approaches to help rebuild them include raw adrenal extract, vitamin C and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), homeopathic adrenal remedy, reflex points for the adrenals on the hands and feet, acupuncture, and herbs, of which the main one is licorice. I also recommend ginseng for stress. Ginseng contains natural substances called adaptogens which help the body handle stress (as well as other things like problems with blood pressure and sugar metabolism) better.

In some high-powered alternative clinics, injections of adrenal cortical extract (ACE) are given to help with adrenal function. Also, the use of low dosage cortisol/cortisone for people with low adrenal function is on the rise. This technique is akin to the use of thyroid hormone but requires more expertise due to the nature of cortisol and the impact of taking too high a dose. Realize again that it is just a temporary measure to help you feel better and does not correct the underlying problem.

Monitoring improvement of adrenal function can be done via blood pressure as outlined or by repeat salivary assay. In either event, allow yourself sufficient time, several months at least, to see some results. A longer trial period may be necessary if you're not diligent in using the alternatives.

When recommending herbs, I refrain, in many instances, from mentioning specific quantities. Potency or strength of botanicals is not standardized and differs considerably dependent on when and under what circumstances the plant is harvested, how it is processed and its final form. A good rule of thumb is to take the upper limit of what is recommended on the label and then adjust upward or downward accordingly, based on your response or lack thereof. Some common sense also applies. For example: a 250-pound 20-year-old athlete will need more of an herb to achieve results than a 92-pound senior citizen. Someone with a history of sensitivity to prescription drugs, over-the-counter agents and the like should start at a low dose and increase gradually. If in doubt call for the services of your local herbalist, nutritionist, naturopath, or acupuncturist. The essence of holistic medicine is to treat individualistically, so across-the-board recommendations are shunned, for the most part.

DHEA and Melatonin

Two endocrine-related substances that have been in the news a lot recently are DHEA and melatonin. Both are naturally occurring chemicals in our bodies. DHEA is sometimes referred to as a mother hormone because it gives rise to differ- both testosterone and estrogen, the gender hormones for men and women, respectively. Because it can be used by the body selectively, i.e. to increase the levels of whichever of these hormones is deficient, it appears to be a relatively safe and effective means to balance this aspect of the endocrine system. Although it was somewhat difficult to obtain when it first became available, it is now widely available at health food stores or via mail-order vitamin supplier. Generally a prudent daily dosage of DHEA is 5-15 mg. for women and 10-20 mg. for men. There are some natural health advocates who endorse considerably higher amounts, but if you arc at risk for either prostate cancer or breast cancer, you should consult with your physician since, theoretically, it could increase the probability of these two conditions.

Unfortunately, DHEA does not directly affect or support adrenal function as some of the "hype" on it has led people to believe. However, there is another precursor hormone called pregnenolone which does. Made in our bodies from cholesterol (cholesterol is not all bad), pregnenolone is used to produce progesterone, cortisone & cortisol, aldosterone (an adrenal hormone that regulates water and salt), and even DHEA! If you get the impression that this is great stuff, you may be fight since many natural health researchers believe that it may be a key to helping the body on many different levels, including anti-aging. Appropriate amounts range from 30 to 60 mg. a day for most folks, unless testing indicates a need for a higher level.

Melatonin is a true hormone, secreted by the pineal gland -- the mystical "third eye" as denoted throughout history in the realm of metaphysics. It is so termed in part due to it being located in the middle of the brain, halfway between our two eyes. In some animals/lifeforms, it indeed appears anatomically like a vestigial eye, lending even more credence to its occult association.

Pineal glands

The pineal has been known for some time to be involved in the light-dark cycle of the body and our circadian or natural bio-rhythm. This is due to melatonin. Consequently, melatonin has been quite popular with travelers to help prevent or overcome jet lag. It's interesting to note that jet lag is primarily a phenomenon of traveling east to west or west to east as opposed to north-south/south-north. The difference of crossing time zones and the shift in sleeping and waking hours is obvious but it is thought that crossing through the electro-magnetic grid lines of the earth is also a factor. Remember that the earth, our global home, is one big magnet with the north and south poles aptly named. The electro-magnetic field runs between these poles and traveling across them affects our body's chemistry more than traveling parallel to them. We are bio-electric beings, we have an electric field ourselves which is thought by researchers to be part of our "aura." Jet lag may be viewed as a temporary shortcircuiting or electrical interference which, if true, would make sense that it would most affect that organ which has the greatest degree of electrical activity. No, not the heart (good guess though), but the brain with its vast array of electrical pathways that are active even as we sleep.

Exactly how melatonin regulates our bio-rhythm is still largely unknown. Ignorance regarding its mechanism of action is not of great concern since all indications are that it is quite safe as a supplement if taken as needed. In reality, we don't know how some prescription drugs work, either. Melatonin is widely available although there has been talk in medical circles of making it a prescription item. If the FDA can ban as innocuous a nutrient as tryptophan, it would be small potatoes for them to eliminate melatonin's over-the-counter availability.

Besides jet lag, melatonin is effective for plain old insomnia. More than half of my patients who have trouble falling asleep report good results with it. Usually, just 3 mg. taken 20-30 minutes before bedtime will do the trick. And at $5-$6 for 60 capsules, it sure beats the not-so-cheap pharmaceuticals marketed for the same purpose. Plus, little or no hangover effect the morning after -- now, that's a good supplement!

While on the topic of the pineal gland, it's important to discuss psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). This subject deals with how our thoughts, feelings, moods, and emotions affect our immune system by way of our endocrine and nervous systems. PNI is the hot topic for researchers and even the prestigious National Institutes of Mental Health has done a lot of work on it. It is appropriately thought of as the medicine of the future, the mechanism to explain the mind-body intel-face. And the pineal gland, strangely enough, has been found to be the key player. It seems that the pineal secretes far more than mere melatonin. In fact, it is a veritable chemical factory. Its secretions are in minute amounts but they have profound effects over much, if not all, of the body. What we choose to think and how we feel translates to the release in the brain of biochemical messengers that cause changes in our white blood cells, antibody production, and a host of other far-reaching consequences involving not just the immune system but literally every system, tissue, and possibly every cell of the body!

Measurements & Data Corporation.

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By Willard Dean

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