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Hormones are chemical messengers, produced by the adrenal, pituitary, thyroid, ovaries, testes and other glands, that have far-reaching effects throughout the body. Hormones regulate everything from growth and tissue repair to metabolism, reproduction, blood pressure and the body’s response to stress. Hormones also regulate complex bodily functions, from digestion to sexual development.
The word hormone comes from the Greek word horman meaning “to set in motion”. All multi-cellular organisms produce hormones, including plants. The system of glands that release hormones is referred to as the endocrine system. The branch of medicine that studies the hormone system is known as endocrinology. The endocrine system is one of the body’s main systems for communicating, controlling and coordinating the body’s work.
The concept of internal secretion was developed in the 19th Century by Claude Bernard who described it in 1855, but did not specifically address the possibility of secretions of one organ acting as messengers to others. Still, various endocrine conditions were recognised and even treated effectively. The major breakthrough was the identification of secretin, the hormone secreted by the duodenum that stimulates pancreatic secretions, by Ernest Starling and William Bayliss, in 1902. Previously, it was thought that the process was regulated by the nervous system. Starling and Bayliss demonstrated that injecting duodenal extract into dogs rapidly increased pancreatic secretions, raising the possibility of a chemical messenger.
During the remainder of the 20th Century, all the major hormones were discovered as well as the cloning of the relevant genes and the identification of the many interlocking feedback mechanisms that characterise the endocrine system.
Hormones are commonly given as medications. oestrogens and progestagens are often prescribed as contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. Thyroxine is prescribed to individuals with an underactive thyroid. Individuals with autoimmune disorders and those undergoing gender reassignment procedures often take steroids. Diabetics take insulin to regulate the amount of sugar in their blood.
Disturbances in hormone production and binding can occur in both functional disorders and pathological disease states leading to altered function and health. Certain nutrients have been shown to be capable of modifying endocrine deviations and may represent a safe and gentle way of returning the endocrine system to a state of balance & improved function. In females the two most significant hormone-related natural events are menstruation and menopause, but many other endocrine systems and other body tissues can be affected.
The Menstrual Cycle & Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
During the normal reproductive years, females experience monthly changes in the secretion of hormones. This cyclic pattern is called the menstrual cycle. This cycle averages 28 days; however, it may be as short as 20 days or as long as 45 days. These variations are considered normal. Within each cycle there is an increase and then decrease of both follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH). These gonadotropic hormones are secreted by the anterior pituitary gland. In response to these hormones, the ovaries release oestrogen and progesterone hormones. These hormones are released at drastically differing rates during different parts of the cycle.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of physical and emotional disturbances that occur after a woman ovulates and ends with menstruation. The most common symptoms include occasional irritability, emotional tension, anxiety, mood changes, breast tenderness, and water retention. PMS is estimated to affect between 20 – 50 percent of menstruating women. In most cases, symptoms are mild to moderate. However, it is estimated that 10 percent of women with PMS have more severe symptoms. Nutrients and nutritional therapy can offer support for female hormone imbalances.
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- Randomised comparison of oestrogen versus oestrogen plus progestogen hormone replacement therapy in women with hysterectomy. Medical Research Council’s General Practice Research Framework. BMJ 2-24-1996;312(7029):473-478. View Abstract
- Recombinant human luteinizing hormone (LH) to support recombinant human follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)-induced follicular development in LH- and FSH-deficient anovulatory women: a dose-finding study. The European Recombinant Human LH Study Group. J Clin Endocrinol.Metab 1998;83(5):1507-1514. View Abstract
- Aloia, J. F., Vaswani, A., Yeh, J. K., Ross, P. L., Flaster, E., and Dilmanian, F. A. Calcium supplementation with and without hormone replacement therapy to prevent postmenopausal bone loss. Ann.Intern.Med 1-15-1994;120(2):97-103. View Abstract
- Introduction to Endocrinology. In: Guyton AC, Hall JE. eds. Textbook of Medical Physiology 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: W.B. Saunders Co; 1996:925.
- Zeligs MA, Connelly AS. All About DIM. New York, NY: Avery; 2000:36-37.
Endocrinology and Reproduction. In: Guyton AC, Hall JE. Menopause. In: Textbook of Medical Physiology, 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders Company; 1996: 1017-1018.
- Premenstrual tension syndrome. In: Thomas CL, ed. Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. 17th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: F.A. Davis; 1993:1587.
- Ward MW, Holimon TD. Calcium treatment for premenstrual syndrome. Ann Pharmacother. 1999;33:1356-1358. View Abstract
- Milewicz A. Vitex agnus castus extract in the treatment of luteal phase defects due to latent hyperpropactinaemia – Results of a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study. Arzneimittel-Forschung. 1993;43:752-756. View Abstract
- Bradlow HL, Sepkovic DW, Telang NT, Osborne MP. Indole 3 carbinol. A novel approach to breast cancer prevention. Ann NY Acad Sci. 1995; 768:180 2000. View Abstract
- Huntley AL, Ernst E. A systematic review of herbal medicinal products for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. Menopause. 2003 Sep-Oct;10(5):465-76. View Abstract
- Carroll DG. Nonhormonal therapies for hot flashes in menopause. Am Fam Physician. 2006 Feb 1;73(3):457-64. Comment in: Am Fam Physician. 2006 Feb 1;73(3):396, 398. View Abstract.
- Abraham GE & Lubran MM. Serum and red cell magnesium levels in patients with premenstrual tension. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 34, 2364-2366. View Abstract