The body is composed of a wide variety of systems that, when working properly, support good health and overall wellbeing. There is a near limitless number of factors involved in maintaining one’s health but some of the most widely impactful one’s belong to the endocrine system. Hormones control nearly every aspect of the body and disruption, malfunction, or attack on the system that regulates them can be highly detrimental.
Being introduced to and informed of the leading endocrine disorders can help one acquire better treatment and greater health.
There are numerous conditions that impact the endocrine system, and therefore the rest of the body. The following five conditions or disorders have proven themselves to be some of the most prevalent and impactful.
Type 2 Diabetes
As opposed to Type 1 Diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes tends to develop slightly later in life. This condition is primarily due to nutritional and hormonal imbalances. A major concern for those with diabetes is insulin. This hormone is responsible for converting sugars and starches into usable energy. Those with Type 2 Diabetes experience significant insulin resistance. Lowered receptivity to this hormone results in inhibited cell, tissue, gland, and organ efficacy.
Because of the widespread impact of Type 2 Diabetes, one may experience any or all the following symptoms.
- Increased frequency of urination
- Fluctuations in weight, generally an increase
- Circulation issues causing numbness in the extremities
- Slowed regeneration of injuries and wounds
- Increased thirst
- Increased appetite
- Periods of intense fatigue
The American Diabetes Association estimates that 57 million Americans are pre-diabetic, meaning they are at great risk of developing diabetes. In 2012, 29.1 million people were diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. This is unsettling as serious issues such as heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and various system dysfunction can result from Type 2 Diabetes. Improved treatment of diabetes may help prevent these issues.
Treating diabetes frequently involves making dietary and lifestyle changes. Nutritional practices such as avoiding high glycemic index foods can be greatly beneficial. Furthermore, balancing thyroid hormones and insulin receptivity can help control one’s condition.
There are two primary conditions associated with the thyroid. Hypothyroidism, meaning one’s thyroid is underactive, or hyperthyroidism, where one’s thyroid is dangerously overactive. The thyroid influences nearly every part of the body. If one’s thyroid is malfunctioning, it means that their body experiences a ripple of negative affects including erratic energy levels, mood swings, pain, and more.
An underactive or low-producing thyroid is the identifying trait of hypothyroidism. Those with hypothyroidism frequently experience fatigue and great difficulty losing weight. Other symptoms include:
Alternatively, if one’s thyroid is overactive and excessively productive they are considered hyperthyroid. At the opposite end of the spectrum, those with hyperthyroidism tend to be jittery and anxious. Common symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate and palpitations
- Greater appetite
- Weight loss
- Panic attacks
Hypothyroidism treatments commonly involve rebalancing hormone levels through hormone replacement therapy. This requires that one’s physician is well acquainted with the various hormones involved including TSH, T4, T3, and Reverse T3. Depending on the individual they will need supplementation with either T3, T4, or a combination.
Reducing thyroid hormone levels is usually the goal when treating hyperthyroidism. This can be achieved through antithyroid medications, beta blockers, radioactive iodine (which reduces thyroid function) and surgery or thyroidectomy. Again, depending on the individual, the optimal treatment method will differ.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
PCOS is caused by an imbalance of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. If these substances fall too far out of balance, one experiences a variety of issues. The identifying symptom of PCOS is the development of hormone-containing cysts that form in the ovaries. These undesirable growths can cause irregular menstruation, infertility, cardiac disease, and physical or aesthetic changes.
Depending on the severity of one’s conditions, the following symptoms can present themselves in a range of mild to severe:
- Increased hair growth on the face and body
- Oily Skin
- Increased blood pressure and cholesterol
- Weight gain
- Irregular periods
- Mood changes
As with most hormone-related conditions, treatment of PCOS is best approached through optimizing hormone levels. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy incorporates hormones that are structurally identical to those produced in humans and help improve hormonal balance. Reestablishing the balance between estrogen and progesterone can cease the proliferation and growth of cysts and bring about improvement of other symptoms.
Other medications not intended directly for treatment of PCOS like Type 2 Diabetes and fertility medications can assist in balancing progesterone, estrogen, and other related hormones. However, it is always best to speak with a physician who is well acquainted with these conditions and medications before pursuing treatment.
Men, and in some cases women, suffer greatly from testosterone deficiency. Among men, testosterone helps build muscle, improve endurance, increase one’s sense of well-being, and reduces age-related disease. As the primary male sex hormone, it is not surprising that a deficiency in this area can cause serious problems. Symptoms of deficiency include:
- Brain fog
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- High insulin
- High blood pressure
- Increased cholesterol
- Reduced sex drive
- Muscle loss
- Erectile dysfunction
Studies have shown that men with reduced testosterone levels have an increased risk of all-cause mortality over time. One study found that men with reduced levels had a 33 percent increased risk of death over the next 18 years. Those with reduced testosterone levels also present increased triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, and poor HDL (good cholesterol). These factors are associated with increased risk of heart disease.
Optimizing other hormones such as thyroid and insulin may be greatly beneficial and help reestablish testosterone production and balance. Some ways to do this include improving sleep quality and duration. Reducing stress levels can also help balance hormone function and regulation. In serious cases of deficiency a physician may prescribe temporary testosterone supplementation.
Nearly 18 million Americans suffer from reduced bone density or osteopenia. This is a telltale sign that there is a risk of developing significant bone weakness and loss. This condition, known as osteoporosis, can cause severe disfigurement in more developed cases. It is difficult to diagnose osteoporosis before serious symptoms occur. Unfortunately, that usually means long term damage has been done. Clear signs and symptoms of osteoporosis include:
- Receding gums
- Brittle finger nails
- Muscle cramping and pain
- Reduced fitness level
- Lowered height
Avoiding bone loss can be difficult for those treating other conditions. Multiple studies have found that bone loss was accelerated in patients who were taking serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants including Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa, and Zoloft. Mood stabilizing drugs such as these frequently inhibit hormone function and production which can lead to deficiency.
Effective treatment of bone loss and osteoporosis should include resolution of various deficiencies such as Calcium, Magnesium, and Vitamin D, optimizing hormone levels throughout the body, and engaging in low weight exercises that do not put extra strain on the bones. Optimizing these areas can help slow or cease bone degradation.
Defending Against Disorders
Because of the broad influence of the endocrine system and the associated hormones it is important to keep it healthy and properly regulated. The above conditions are caused primarily by specific dysfunctions and imbalances. However, because each hormone influences the others it is necessary to maintain overall balance. If one is interested in combatting endocrine disorders (and many other health conditions for that matter), they should make regulation and optimization of their hormones a priority. Keep the body healthy by being an active proponent of endocrine health.