The Female Endocrine System
by Rashmi Gulati, MD
As we go through life, we women undergo many biological changes. A delicate balance of hormone regulation, production and metabolism exists in our bodies throughout these various stages. This complex choreography of our bodies' indigenous endocrine system supports and shapes a woman's health on every level. When an imbalance develops, problems may arise that range in scale from mild discomfort to troublesome symptoms and even to disease, if left unaddressed.
While most women understand that classic functions like menstruation, fertility, thyroid, and insulin regulation are governed by their endocrine system, an endocrine imbalance may not be the first place they'd look to explain symptoms less obviously connected to their hormones. Insomnia, weight gain, headaches, depression, anxiety, brain fog, profound fatigue, digestive distress, aches and pains, and a litany of additional problems can indeed have their origins in endocrine disturbances.
How can the endocrine system be responsible for such far-reaching effects in the body? Let's take a brief survey of the female endocrine system, and explore how an integrative approach can help women recover and reap the benefits of a dynamic, pliant, and well-balanced endocrine system.
A Framework of Grace and Beauty
A woman's endocrine system is a miraculous, ever-evolving framework for body-wide communication at the molecular level. This hormonal messaging system regulates many of our functions, including reproduction, metabolism, growth and development, and mood, to name just a few. When this system is harmoniously functioning, we refer to this state as dynamic homeostasis. What this means is that while change in the system is continual, a balance and equilibrium are maintained.
Naturally, within such a complex, highly evolved web of influences, many things can and do go awry—on both a powerful and a subtle scale. As a microcosm of the entire body, however, the default state of this system is one of balance and health. The whole body, including its endocrine system, will always seek to achieve the state of dynamic homeostasis—optimal health as we proceed through life's changing seasons. When we sense an imbalance in this elegant system, there are steps we can take to regain balance and the healthy equilibrium our bodies were designed for. This is where the clinical staff at Patients Medical can help.
Female Hormones—Some Basic Elements
Here's a glance at just some of the many different molecules and organs functioning in this elegant, highly evolved system. Note that this provides an overview, not a complete listing, of some major and minor female endocrine glands and hormones. We are in the process each day of discovering new hormones, and learning about their functions and interrelationships.
|Major Female Endocrine Glands and Their Hormones
- thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH)
- corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH)
- release inhibiting hormones
- luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH)
- thyrotropin/thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
- adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
- luteinizing hormone (LH)
- follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
- growth hormone (GH)
- melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH)
- vasopressin/antidiuretic hormone (ADH)
- dimethyltryptamine (DMT)
- thyroxine/tetraiodothyronine (T4)
- triiodothyronine (T3)
- calcitonin (CT)
- parathyroid hormone (PTH)
- dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
|Pancreas(Islets of Langerhans)
- pancreatic polypeptide
- estrone (E1)
- estradiol (E2)
- estriol (E3)
- progesterone (P)
- testosterone (T)
- estrogens (mainly estriol)
- human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)
- human placental lactogen
|The Diffuse Endocrine System (other organs and tissues that secrete hormones)
| Adipose tissue
- estrogens (mostly estrone)
- plasminogen activating inhibitor-1 (PAI-1)
- calcidiol (25-hydroxyvitamin D3)
| Stomach &
- neuropeptide Y
- angiotensinogen and angiotensin
- insulin-like growth factor (IGF, or somatomedin)
- calcitriol (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3)
- erythropoietin (EPO)
- atrial natriuretic hormone
- brain natriuretic peptide
The main role of the endocrine system is to relay chemical messages, and because of this "bodytalk," we know that each aspect of the endocrine system is interconnected with all the other systems in the body. A lifetime of chronic stress, for example, ramps up cortisol output. Over time, this tips thyroid regulation and sex hormone production off-balance, with the long-term result of adrenal fatigue, midriff weight gain, insomnia, brain fog, and dampened libido. In many women, depression will also often ensue. This is just one pathway we frequently see, and though we do not always understand exactly how it occurs, it is clear that imbalance, once established, can provoke an entire cascade of events that may generate symptoms of discomfort, become amplified and, ultimately, accelerate the body toward disease and premature aging.
When Hormonal Balance Gets Tipped
Given its breadth and magnitude, it stands to reason that many influences can pose a challenge to our natural state of hormonal balance. Our genetic blueprint, the hectic pace of our lives, a less than ideal diet, and the toxic environment in which we live can all prevail upon our internal hormonal balance and derail its smooth functioning.
But regardless of your starting point, the toll which hormonal imbalance exacts on your comfort, quality of life, and longevity can be minimized using a natural approach. Our team of experts in the field of female endocrinology is especially well-versed in attending to these imbalances, including the use of both time-honored methods such as medicinal herbs and acupuncture, as well as techniques that are in the vanguard of evidence-based medicine, such as targeted amino acid support and custom-compounded bioidentical hormone therapy, to restore balance and harmony to your life.
We have the pleasure of working with women from all walks of life and all corners of the globe, to help them feel more the way they want to and know they should—to awaken refreshed each morning, feel vibrant and energetic throughout the day, maintain healthy weight, cultivate their talents, experience rewarding relationships, fulfill their dreams, and feel at peace with themselves and the universe.
The more we learn, the more our fascination with the female endocrine system grows—constantly pulsing out hormones of myriad kinds to allow us to function, to generate heat and energy, to metabolize and reproduce, to feed ourselves and our offspring, to think, feel, and give meaning to our lives—some of which we have only just discovered. A bright future lies ahead, with much for us to learn and discover about new hormones and their functions.
At Patients Medical we have not just a fascination with the female endocrine system but the background and expertise to treat it. Women undergo many biological changes as they go through life. Fortunately, we can assist in the correction of endocrine imbalances with a set of integrative protocols developed to treat the individual woman using meticulous evaluation of hypothalamic, pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, ovarian hormones, appropriate adjustment of insufficiencies or over-dominance using bioidentical hormones, improvements in diet, and calming strategies for stress reduction.
Today's woman is smart and resourceful—as intuitive as the wise women who walked the earth before her—and she knows that when something is off-balance in her life, she must take measures to correct it. A conventional approach through a primary physician may have told her that her thyroid hormones, adrenal function, or sex hormone levels were "within normal limits"—in stark contrast to what her symptoms were saying. Alternatively, she may sense that the conventional hormones or treatments she has received to date—like an ill-fitting costume—are just not quite right for her. An alternative, more natural approach may be more appropriate to restoring health and equilibrium to her endocrine system and to her overall well-being.
The team of integrative medical practitioners at Patients Medical has its roots deep in ancient medical traditions like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, but with equally extensive training in Western allopathic medicine. This allows us to view a woman's whole health, a more complete portrait—including how your endocrine function influences and shapes you as a total woman. As integrative practitioners with a foot in both "camps," our approach is necessarily more holistic—we understand that for a woman to be truly healthy requires her to cultivate wellness in mind, body and spirit—and that includes sex hormones and the full complement of hormones that comprise her endocrine system.
The symptoms and hormone concerns that bring patients to our clinic vary widely. It may be severe hot flashes and night sweats for one woman, problems with memory and attention for another, or an overactive or underperforming thyroid for a third. Many women are experiencing symptoms of cortisol dominance, with nighttime insomnia and daytime fatigue, together with central weight gain. Depression and anxiety are also very prevalent problems in women today. We have good success in treating these and many others.