The Endocrine system is one of the most intricately woven and magical amalgamations of communication which takes place in the body. Nearly all of the processes which take place physiologically are thanks to the hormones which are created and released by the glands in the endocrine system, therefore allowing for the coordination of functions such as metabolism, growth, emotions, development, mood, sexual function and sleep.
SO what is the endocrine system exactly?
The Endocrine system is made up of a collection of organs known as glands which are located all around your body - these glands create and secrete specialised chemicals which allow for your body to function in balance, carrying messages through your blood to organs, tissues, skin and muscles. These chemicals are known day to day as hormones.
How it works and what it does
The endocrine system devotedly and continuously monitors and manages the amount of hormones in your blood stream - ensuring that just the right amount of little messengers are locking into your cells in any given moment of the day.
The matriarch that watches over it all is the pituitary gland - she senses and sees when other hormone levels rise and fall, instructing all the other glands what to do in order to support your wellbeing.
When hormones dip beyond a certain point, this grandmother tells them to make more thereby enhancing the experience of homeostasis - balance. When it comes to the body and the ways in which hormones affect our wellbeing we don’t have to look very hard to see all the systems which are touched by these miracle chemicals:
- Growth and development
- Fertility and sexual functioning
- Blood pressure and sugar levels
- Emotions and mood
Imbalances within the hormones can happen for many reasons - the main one being excessive stress and this can relate to a lot of the health concerns which we see today with symptoms such as high blood pressure, weight issues, insomnia, mood disorders, thyroiditis and others.
This gland is a structure which resides deep within in your brain and has an intricate relationship with the nervous system through which it determines to tell other glands (including grandmother pituitary) to produce the necessary hormones.
It is the means through which are are able to find the balanced state known as homeostasis - it does this through chemical messages from the nerve cells of the brain and the body (peripheral nervous system) and reacts to these messages in a way which is supportive and balancing to your individual and unique state of being.
It controls processes such as body temperature, blood pressure, mood, thirst, hunger, the sensation of satiation, sleep cycles and sexual functioning. This balancing source performs its duties through influencing the autonomic nervous system directly or through hormones - it does this through the production of hormones which are stored elsewhere (such as in the pituitary) or it sends signals to grandmother pituitary who then sends her chemical messengers to different glands all around the body.
This little pea-sized gland (also known as hypophysis) is located at the base of the brain below the hypothalamus and sits in its very own little chamber known as the sella turcica.
Not only does it make several of the most essential hormones but it also communicates with other glands within the endocrine system to release the hormones which they make. Divided into two main sections (front and back lobes) it is connected to the hypothalamus through a stalk of blood vessels and nerves called the infundibulum. It is in creatrix of Adrenocorticotropic hormone, Follicle-stimulating hormone, Growth hormone, Luteinizing hormone, Prolactin and Thyroid-stimulating hormone. It also stores Antidiuretic hormone and Oxytocin.
These well known treasures are small triangular shaped glands located at the top of the kidneys and are responsible for producing the hormones (cortisol, aldosterone, DHEA and androgenic steroids, Adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine)) that regulate immune function, blood pressure, stress responses, metabolic rate and the development of sexual characteristics.
Resting in your upper chest just behind your sternum, the thymus is just in front of and above your heart.
Forming an integral part of the lymphatic system the thymus' primary function is to train specialised white blood cells T-lymphocytes (t-cells) which travel from the marrow in the bones to the thymus in order to mature. Once maturation has taken place they enter the blood stream and organs where they protect you from disease and infections. Within the endocrine system it releases hormones such as thymopoetin, thymosin and thymic humoral factor, all involved in supporting the immune systems functioning and the production of T-cells.
This small organ (and gland) is found at the front of the neck, where its butterfly shape wraps around the trachea with two smaller wings and two wide ones which extend around the side of the neck.
This gland has a very important role within the body - it controls hormone production which aids in metabolising food and therefore creating energy. It is in many ways your very own generator. It creates specific hormones such as T4 (thyroxine) and T3(triiodothyronine) - these two power houses communicate with the body's cells telling them how much energy to use. This entire process is supervised and overseen by the pituitary gland providing support with thyroid stimulating hormone (THS) when there are imbalances within the body.
No larger than a grain of rice, the four tiny glands are found in pairs of two next to your thyroid lobes in the neck. This little wonderworker produces a hormone named parathyroid hormone which plays a key role in the regulation of calcium in the blood - thereby affecting the health of your nerves, muscles, heart, kidneys, bones and entire nervous system.
This hormone is responsible for releasing calcium into the bloodstream (through bones), absorbing calcium through food (in intestines), storing calcium (in kidneys) and stimulating kidney cells to transform weaker vitamin D forms into the best means necessary to absorb calcium from the intestines.
Located in the back of the belly, the pancreas is part of the digestive system where it produces and releases substances in the body within both the exocrine (enzymes for digestion) and endocrine (hormone) systems.
The endocrine glands within the pancreas release hormones which aid in controlling blood sugar (glucose) levels. This includes both insulin (high) and glucagon (low) which see to ensuring that the sugar levels in the body are supportive of the kidneys, liver, brain, heart, circulatory system and nervous system.
This mystical and mythical little gland is located deep within the middle of the brain, sitting in the groove just above the thalamus. Being both the least understood and the last to be discovered in the endocrine system, the pineal gland (epiphysis cerebri) got its name due to the fact that it is shaped like a small pinecone.
The main scientifically known function of this gland is to receive information about the cycle of the day through the retinas in the eyes and then release the hormone melatonin accordingly - therefore supporting the circadian cycle of sleep and wakefulness.
Located on either side of the uterus in a female body, these oval shaped glands produce and store the eggs (ovum) and allow for the sacred cycling of menstruation and pregnancy to take place.
During ovulation one of the ovaries releases an egg - this takes place in each menstrual cycle until one reaches menopause and steps into the crone space. At the time of birth all the eggs which a woman will ever have in her life are stored within these sacred little pouches from which one cycles or becomes pregnant (around 300,000 from puberty). Each ovary has thousands of ovarian follicles which are small sacks within the ovaries which hold immature eggs - during each cycle between menstruation and ovulation follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is released and allows for one of the eggs in the ovaries to mature. From there a sudden surge of Lutenizing hormone (LH) is released and causes the ovary to release an egg and allow for ovulation to take place. Along with FSH and LH the ovaries also create and secrete oestrogen and progesterone.
Testicles are two glands/ organs located in a pouch of skin called the scrotum in a males body - they are connected to the inside of the body through a cord called the spermatic chord - each containing nerves, blood vessels and about 700 vas deferent (tubes which move sperm to the penis).
Testicles are about two degrees Celsius lower in temperature to the rest of the body - allowing for optimum production of sperm (this process is called spermatogenesis). From creation to maturation a sperm cell takes around 74 days where they get all the blood and nutrients which are required from the tubules - they are then pushed along the epididymis which connects to the vas deferent and allows the sperm to leave the body through the penis. Contrary to popular belief testosterone isn’t the only hormone created in the Leydig cells within the testes - testosterone (which allows for deeper voice, body hair and lean muscle mass) is made along with hormones such as Inhibit B (serum protein related to testicular volume and sperm count in adults), Anti-Mullerian hormone (development of reproductive organs), Insulin like factor 3 (testicular desention) and Estradiol (making sperm).
Practices to support the endocrine system
Much like the rest of the body the best ways in which to support your endocrine system is through practicing holistic health and wellbeing - this looks like moving the body, eating a whole-foods balanced diet, managing stress levels with healthy mechanisms, and providing general support as best you can to your body in times of need.
Hustle culture is one of the most detrimental practices of our time - burnout and stress culture centres around the idea that work never stops. We have stepped into a space where long hours and self-negating and sacrificing mentalities are required in order to succeed. But what does this mean? Simply states - it manifests as chronic stress.
In this state there is no room in which for the self to find balance and wellbeing, therefore the nervous system is in a state of fight-flight-freeze, the hypothalamus releases cortisol and communicates to the pituitary that simply “we are not safe” which translates to a diminishing and withholding of hormonal production in order to simply get by.
This lack seeps into more than just the hormonal sphere, it can affect our mental health, our physical health in further ways and additionally have serious repercussions on psychological perceptions of our lives - “I don’t have enough”.
To remedy this one of the best practices one can embody is feeding your intuition and prioritising time spent away from the stressors of life.
To have a full cup from which you can readily give, one needs to honour and nourish the self through primary foods (what you eat) and secondary foods (everything else you consume) as well as nurture your needs for intuitive movement, rest, creativity and activity.
The idea here it to plain and simply notice what the mind, body and spirit are communicating to you to allow for a supportive environment in which you can thrive and build a resilience to the stressors which will inevitably come your way.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you avoid or negate the responsibilities of life - we all have situations in life which are unavoidable and need to be met, but the avenue at which we receive them is the choice we have.
The priority becomes building and honouring yourself enough to know your boundaries and healthy mechanisms through which you can handle the challenges which may come your way.
And as always we have our allies - our family, friends, ancestors, the faith systems which you follow and our herbal and mushroom healers who can support us along the way.
here are some of my favourite medicines to support your endocrine system:
(all are adaptogenic in nature)
Ashwagandha - nervine. stress & anxiety. boosts energy. increases fertility. muscle mass & strength.
Cordyceps - increases energy & combats fatigue. drastically improves libido & sexual function
Gokshura - mens health. physical strength. sexual function & libido. aphrodisiac. prostate.
Shatavari - womens health. reproductive health. menopause. hormonal imbalances. libido.
Pine pollen - tonic. boosts testosterone. increases energy & stamina. detoxifies the body. antioxidants.
Maca - oxygen utilization. stress & anxiety. boosts energy. increases fertility.muscle mass & strength.
Vitex - PMS treatment. hormone balancing. irritability, moodiness, breast pain.
Reishi - treats cancer. rectifies heart disease & liver problems. powerful immune booster. relaxes.
Schisandra - tonic. longevity. skin health. anti inflammatory. liver function. digestive health