You may have heard about the endocrine system, but do you really know what it does or what it is? Its actually a really cool system as the various glands in this system create some very important hormones. Imbalance in the endocrine system can present itself in several ways – hypothyroidism, sexual hormone dysregulation, and auto-immune conditions just to name a few. Put simply, this system of glands is a master regulator of your hormonal regulation.
Why are hormones so important anyway? Well, we rely on hormones to communicate to our cells for some critical functions. These include contractions of smooth and cardiac muscle fibers, immune activities, metabolism and energy balance, your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle), and reproductive function. There are many glands included in the endocrine system which are most easily shown in the diagram below (side note: the hypothalamus is actually an organ, not a gland).
Today I’d like to discuss functional ways we can support the endocrine glands and hence support the balance of hormones throughout the body. In particular, I want to discuss blood sugar regulation. Over the next few posts Ill be discussing how blood sugar regulation is oh-so important for supporting a number of downstream functions. It’s actually very underrated!
A number of blog posts ago, I did a detailed blog on blood sugar. If you haven’t read it, please go back and read “Why is Blood Sugar Regulation So Important to My Health?” to fill you in on the foundations.
You may have heard people refer to the HPA Axis – Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal. As seen above, these are all part of the endocrine system and get a lot of attention because they are involved in the body’s stress response. However, some other endocrine glands are also involved in the production of the majority of our hormones. The graphic below is used to introduce them as well as their main functions.
So does it seem strange that blood sugar regulation can support these glands? Looking back at the post about blood sugar, I discussed how the adrenals are responsible for cortisol production. And when your blood sugar spikes or dips too severely, your body triggers your fight or flight response and releases cortisol. Then, as blood sugar comes back into equilibrium, signals are sent back to the hypothalamus and pituitary to regulate and back off the release of cortisol (as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine). Chronic cortisol spikes will tax the adrenal glands over time and cause fatigue and general “burn out”.
For women of menopausal age, it becomes even more important to support your adrenals (and your entire endocrine system). This is because the ovaries stop producing estrogen and instead, the adrenal glands start taking over this function! Crazy stuff, huh?! This is why it’s important to stop constantly taxing your adrenal system so your adrenals will be healthy and ready to take on this new job.
I think it is important to note that blood sugar regulation is not just foundationally supported by eating macronutrient balanced meals but can also be affected by mental stress as well. If you are constantly stressed about work or family matters or are generally just not very good at managing stress (cause, we all have it, right?!), your blood sugar can be difficult to manage. This is because you are still spiking your cortisol and your body is reacting in much the same way as if you had eaten a donut! Of course, if you are doing both…eating the donut and stressed out, you are getting a double whammy, so by all means, start with the dietary changes and then slowly work on some stress management tools as well!
To sum up…by supporting your blood sugar regulation you will support your endocrine system and avoid that stressed and tired feeling. In fact, stable blood sugar will leave you with solid energy throughout the day, for workouts, playing with your kiddos, or just general life!