3 Tiny (But Mighty) Brain Glands That Control Your Hormones
Today, we focus on your brain and the three master glands inside of it that control your hormones and, therefore, your entire experience of life.
If you have ever struggled with anxiety, depression, thyroid, adrenal, or other hormone trouble, then you don’t want to miss today’s show. It will be 8 minutes well spent replete with an action guide of foods and supplements to support these precious 3 glands.
This is healing from the ROOT cause because you are working with an issue where it begins vs. downstream, which is what we do when we specifically treat the thyroid or sex hormones.
Introducing: Your Hypothalamus, Pituitary Gland And Pineal Gland
These three small, but mighty glands are only the size of an almond, a pea and a grain of rice, respectively.
Today, we explain (in plain English):
- What these three glands are responsible for
- What can go wrong when they are out of whack
- And what foods, supplements, and lifestyle adjustments you can make to skyrocket your brain power and overall sense of emotional balance and well-being
These three major glands all work synergistically – and while they are very small in size, they control so many crucial functions within the body.
We can look at the hypothalamus as the director or conductor and the pituitary gland as the messenger. The hypothalamus works as an interface between the endocrine system (hormonal system) and the central nervous system with the help of the pituitary gland. The pineal gland’s most important responsibility is to regulate our sleep-wake cycle.
The hypothalamus is the size of a single almond. The most important function of the hypothalamus is to connect the nervous system to the endocrine system through the pituitary gland (which controls your thyroid). By inhibiting or stimulating the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus synthesizes and secretes hormones.
The hypothalamus, through its action on the pituitary gland, controls:
- Blood glucose levels
- Body temperature
- Mental acuity
- Sleep-wake cycle
In specific disorders or imbalances, the hypothalamus can malfunction. Anorexia and bulimia, trauma (like a concussion), infection, tumors, and genetic disorders are a few things which can disrupt the hypothalamus and lead to dysfunction.
If there is an imbalance within the hypothalamus, this can cause a myriad of symptoms, such as:
- Weight gain/weight loss
- Poor appetite
- And a low body temperature
Additionally, it can even trigger multiple different autoimmune diseases, such as Addison's disease.
Inflammation or high amounts of oxidative stress within the hypothalamus can lead to brain fog and unclear thinking.
The pituitary gland is the size of a pea and is often referred to as the middleman, as it senses the body’s needs and sends signals (through hormones) to different organs throughout the body. It has so much power for being the size of just one single pea. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are very connected, as the hypothalamus tells the pituitary what to do. Think of it as you would a parent-child relationship—the hypothalamus looks out for the safety and well being of the pituitary gland.
Within the pituitary, there are two parts (which have different jobs):
- Posterior (the back)
- Anterior (the front)
Some of the anterior pituitary hormones include:
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH, which controls the pace of our digestive functions and our metabolism)
- Human growth hormone (HGH – our repair and anti-aging hormone, and the hormone that controls building muscle)
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH – our adrenal hormone center, which dictates energy levels and vitality)
- And Prolactin (PL) – the hormone responsible for allowing women to produce milk
While the anterior pituitary hormones deal with the regulation of metabolism, stress hormones, and production of milk…
The posterior pituitary gland secretes just two hormones:
Oxytocin is that feel good hormone, which is necessary for childbirth and emotional socialization. It makes us feel love, loved and connects us to others.
Vasopressin is an antidiuretic hormone, which means that it’s a hormone that is in charge of maintaining a healthy concentration of fluid in our cells. It supports memory, muscle tone and kidney health.
Due to the pituitary being in command of so many different hormones, if there is something wrong with the pituitary this can lead to many different hormone imbalances. This includes thyroid hormone production, as well as our sex hormones, such as testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen.
Hypopituitarism is when the pituitary is under-producing hormones, and this can result in hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, and central nervous system problems like:
- Low or high blood pressure
- And/or changes in appetite
The third eye, otherwise known as the pineal gland, is the size of a grain of rice. It is located near the center of the brain (in between your eyebrows, hence the nickname third eye), is reddish-gray and about 1/3 of an inch long. The gland is small but mighty, as it plays an essential role in sexual development, circadian rhythm and our sleep-wake cycle. It has also been thought that dysfunction in this gland is a factor in seasonal affective disorder and depression (especially when calcified by too much fluoride so make sure you’re not drinking fluoridated water or using fluoride in your toothpaste).
Melatonin is the only hormone the pineal gland secrets, but boy is it one important hormone!
The function of melatonin is to regulate circadian or biological rhythm and to regulate certain reproductive hormones. Melatonin is one of the most powerful antioxidants produced in the body. And it is not common knowledge, but melatonin is both water and fat soluble – making it able to reach every cell in the body (however, it cannot be stored in the body).
The trigger for the production and release of melatonin is total darkness – so knock off technology an hour before bed, bring on the blackout curtains and/or wear an eye mask to sleep to self-generate enough of this super hormone.
Balancing And Protecting These Vital Glands
It’s quite amazing how it all works…
All hormones secreted by the hypothalamus are part of a negative feedback loop, similar to the temperature dropping below a thermostat’s set point and the heat automatically kicking on until the desired temperature is reached again.
In the body, when hormones reach optimal levels to maintain normal homeostasis, the hypothalamus is signaled to inhibit production. This negative feedback or balanced feedback signaling prevents overproduction of hormones, such as TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) or cortisol/adrenaline (stress hormones).
If there is a dysfunction within the hypothalamus, pituitary or pineal gland, this feedback loop can be thrown off and problems can occur downstream; this includes:
- Thyroid imbalances (even autoimmune Hashimotos)
- Adrenal fatigue
- Leptin sensitivity
- And sleep issues, such as insomnia
Supporting these three brain glands through a root cause approach can be the answer to healing our hormones downstream. This includes our sex hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.
7 Tips To Support & Protect Our Brain Glands
The only way to balance things out from the get-go is to start at the beginning with these seven tips that help nourish, support, and protect your three precious brain glands that do SO much for you.
1) Support the Wake-Sleep Cycle through total darkness at night or a sleeping mask. Supplementation of the hormone melatonin should be used short-term or during times of jet lag/time change. Sleep allows our glands and hormones to replenish. A lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can reduce prolactin and growth hormone production. Prolactin is necessary for a healthy immune system (not just milk production!), while growth hormone is essential to muscle development, growth and tissue repair. Artificial light, such as screen time before bed, signals the pineal gland that it is still daytime, disrupting the natural cycle of melatonin production. Natural sunlight first thing in the morning is also a great way to promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle. For more tips on how to support your wake-sleep cycle and get a good night’s rest, check out our blog post 5 Natural Sleep Tips That Work.
2) Include Healthy Fats, such as extra virgin olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, ghee, and coconut oil, which serve as building blocks to the production and balancing of our hormones. Including the right amount of healthy fats (check out our blog on Understanding Fat Digestion & Absorption to be sure you’re not overdoing them and to make sure you’re absorbing them properly) such as monounsaturated fats, (limited) polyunsaturated fats (from nuts and seeds), essential fatty acids and the right types of saturated fat are important for healthy and happy hormones.
3) Reduce Stress, which is a key component in protecting all three of these glands. When stress or fear is present, the hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which then stimulates our adrenal glands to produce cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol, the well-known stress hormone can interfere with this hormonal feedback loop known as the HPA axis or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which signals our body to prepare for fight-flight-freeze. And did you know that your body can create up to 60 different kinds of adrenaline based upon the stressor you’re experiencing? Too much release of stress causes trauma to the central nervous system that gets locked in well after the stressful experience has passed.
Taking deep breaths during the day, downloading the app “Breathe+”, meditating, listening to a favorite tune or taking your dog on a walk (without your phone!), getting a massage or reiki (energy work session) are all great methods for reducing stress levels. If you suspect you have Adrenal Fatigue from chronic stress, watch our show A Day in the Life of Healing Adrenal Fatigue, and start eating according to our suggestions there. When our nervous system is stuck in a sympathetic state, our adrenals are in a constant state of activation, secreting the stress hormone cortisol. When we take an upstream approach to healing, we can reach homeostasis between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system; allowing the body to heal.
4) Support the Thyroid. Our thyroid receives messages via the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis. If there is inflammation or oxidative stress upstream (in the hypothalamus), our thyroid cannot receive the proper messages—it’s like scrambling the invisible wires on a cell tower. We could be taking all the thyroid supporting supplements or medications in the world, but if the pituitary gland is not balanced, the correct amounts of thyroid hormone will not be produced, leaving us with unexplained symptoms, even if our labs come back as “normal” or within range. If this is fascinating to you and you want to troubleshoot healing your own thyroid, I wrote a detailed blog on the thyroid explaining all parts of it called The Thyroid Uncovered.
5) Include Chromium Picolinate, a mineral which has been shown in studies to rejuvenate hypothalamic function. The pineal gland is insulin dependent and chromium supports it in improving insulin sensitivity. Broccoli, apples, and garlic are all great sources of chromium. But if you want to get this sorted out fast, consider supplementing with 200 mcgs of chromium with each meal for 4-6 weeks to refill your stores.
6) Add Antioxidants and Neurotransmitter Support, as these are often low due to high amounts of oxidative stress or inflammation. We have an entire blog dedicated to antioxidants and the best ways to get them into your diet—watch our show Using Antioxidants to Reduce Inflammation. Receiving adequate minerals and amino acids are both important, as they produce precursors to many hormones within the endocrine system. The precursor to melatonin is the neurotransmitter serotonin (which is made from the amino acid tryptophan), which can likely be low if we are not sleeping throughout the night.
7) Nix the Fluoride, as this can cause the pineal gland to calcify—fluoride disrupts the natural mineral balance. Fluoride is found in our water, toothpaste and often mouthwash. Reaching for alternatives such as OraWellness products or natural versions is the best way to avoid an overconsumption of fluoride. Your pineal gland and thyroid gland will thank you. My current favorite, fluoride-free toothpaste is PerioPaste and Tooth & Gums Paste.
Ready To Dive Even Deeper?
Now, it’s your turn to tell us which of these seven things sound doable enough to implement in your daily life? Let us know in the comments below what you’re already doing and what you plan to do, as a result of watching/reading about these three precious brain glands.
And if you’d like to go deeper on the topic of balancing your stress hormones and healing your nervous system in a brand new way, next week I’ll be letting you in on my best kept secret: The Adrenal ReCode – our new, groundbreaking program designed to help YOU free yourself from fear, anxiety, insomnia, overwhelm and exhaustion, by teaching you how to ReCode your adrenals and heal your nervous system.
I'm creating a free video series for you, so you'll understand how this theory works and give you some practical ways to try it out and see if this ground-breaking approach is for you. Watch for it next week!