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Hormone Pyramid: A Journey to Hormonal Harmony

In my recent conversation with Bindi Stables, we explored the fascinating concept of the hormone pyramid, a paradigm-shifting framework that illuminates the dance of hormones within our bodies. Today, I invite you to join me on a journey through this pyramid.

At the foundation of the hormone pyramid lie the adrenal hormones and insulin, tirelessly working to manage stress and regulate blood sugar levels. These foundational hormones, the silent guardians of our survival. Without them, our bodies would struggle to cope with the demands of modern life. 

Adrenal Glands 

Cortisol and Androgen Production: The adrenal glands (which sit on top of the kidneys) produce cortisol, a stress hormone, along with small amounts of androgens like DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and androstenedione. While cortisol primarily regulates stress responses and metabolism, DHEA serves as a precursor to testosterone and estrogen, influencing secondary sexual characteristics, mood, energy levels, and immune function. Similarly, androstenedione acts as a precursor to testosterone and estrogen, affecting sexual function, libido, and overall physiological balance. Research 

So, when stress is high, the body prioritizes making cortisol over these other hormones.

Impact on Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Release: Cortisol can reduce the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) from the hypothalamus, which in turn regulates the secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland. LH and FSH play key roles in stimulating the production of sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen, in the ovaries and testes. Study

Signs of high stress can manifest in various ways, including but not limited too:

Physical Symptoms: Headaches, muscle tension, digestive issues (such as stomach pain or diarrhea), chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and changes in appetite, sleep patterns and menstrual cycle.

Emotional Symptoms: Anxiety, irritability, mood swings, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, and low self-esteem.

Behavioral Changes: Increased use of substances like alcohol or tobacco, changes in eating or sleeping habits, social withdrawal, procrastination, and nervous habits like nail-biting or pacing.

Cognitive Symptoms: Racing thoughts, forgetfulness, difficulty making decisions, poor judgment, and negative self-talk.

Interpersonal Issues: Conflict with others, difficulty communicating, withdrawing from social interactions, and feeling isolated or lonely.

Physical Health Issues: Chronic stress can contribute to various health problems, including hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease, weakened immune function, and increased susceptibility to illness.

Pancrease (Insulin)

Usually blood sugar levels stay in a normal range because the body has a built-in system to control them:

1. Insulin Action: When you eat, your body releases insulin, which helps cells absorb sugar from the blood to use as energy.

2. Glucagon's Role: Between meals, if your blood sugar drops, your pancreas releases glucagon, a hormone that signals the liver to release stored sugar into the bloodstream.

3. Feedback System: Your body continuously monitors blood sugar levels and adjusts insulin and glucagon release to keep them stable.

4. Kidney Help: If blood sugar gets too high, the kidneys help by removing excess sugar through urine.

5. Natural Fluctuations: Throughout the day, blood sugar levels naturally rise and fall in response to meals, activity, and other factors. 

Blood sugar spikes occur when we consume sugary or high-carb foods, prompting a surge in blood glucose levels. In response, the body releases insulin to lower blood sugar levels. However, sometimes this insulin response is too strong, leading to a rapid drop in blood sugar, resulting in symptoms like shakiness, weakness, hunger, and changes in mood and energy levels. To counteract low blood sugar, the body releases hormones to raise it again, occasionally causing a rebound effect, where blood sugar levels spike too high (Look into the glycemic index)

Insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells in your body become less responsive to the hormone insulin. When excessive amounts of blood sugar enter the bloodstream, the pancreas increases insulin production to facilitate its uptake into cells, leading to insulin resistance over time as cells become less responsive, prompting the pancreas to produce even more insulin in an attempt to compensate.

Insulin Resistance and Hyperinsulinemia: Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia adversely affect ovarian function through multiple pathways. Firstly, insulin resistance prompts the ovaries to increase androgen production, leading to elevated levels of male hormones such as testosterone, which disrupt normal ovarian function and contribute to conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Secondly, insulin resistance may interfere with follicular development, causing irregular ovulation or the formation of ovarian cysts, thereby impairing fertility. Finally, dysregulated insulin signaling pathways on ovarian cells can disrupt the balance of sex hormone production and follicle development. Study

Thyroid (T3 & T4)

Moving up the pyramid, we encounter the thyroid hormones—T3 and T4—masters of metabolism, growth, and development. While not as critical for immediate survival as adrenal hormones and insulin, the thyroid governs essential bodily functions that profoundly impact our long-term health. Your metabolism isn't just about burning calories; it's about fueling your heart, muscles, brain, and bones, shaping your overall vitality and well-being.

Triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) are vital hormones produced by the thyroid gland, with a pivotal role in regulating metabolism, growth, and development. While T4 serves as the primary hormone secreted by the thyroid, it also acts as the precursor to the more biologically active T3. T3 is formed through T4 conversion in peripheral tissues, such as the liver and kidneys. Together, T3 and T4 influence cellular metabolism, energy production, and protein synthesis by binding to receptors within cells. Disruptions in T3 and T4 levels can lead to thyroid disorders, affecting various bodily functions and overall health.

Metabolism and Hormonal Regulation: Thyroid hormones profoundly impact metabolism, influencing the energy expenditure of cells throughout the body. This metabolic regulation extends to sex hormone production and metabolism. Research has demonstrated that thyroid hormones influence the synthesis and metabolism of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), a protein that binds to sex hormones in the bloodstream, affecting their availability and activity. Changes in thyroid function can alter SHBG levels, impacting the balance of sex hormones in the body. Study

Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation: Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in regulating the menstrual cycle and ovulation in women by influencing the production and activity of sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. When thyroid function is impaired, as seen in hypothyroidism with low thyroid hormone levels, menstrual irregularities like infrequent periods (oligomenorrhea) and lack of ovulation (anovulation) can occur. These disruptions in the menstrual cycle can lead to imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels, affecting overall sex hormone balance. Study

Fertility and Reproductive Health: Thyroid disorders, particularly hypothyroidism, can significantly impact fertility and reproductive health in both men and women. Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in folliculogenesis (the development of ovarian follicles) and spermatogenesis (sperm production), which are essential processes for fertility. Evidence from studies indicates that hypothyroidism in women can lead to menstrual disturbances, anovulation, and infertility. Similarly, thyroid dysfunction in men has been associated with impaired sperm parameters, including decreased sperm count, motility, and morphology. Study

Libido and Sexual Function: Thyroid dysfunction, particularly hypothyroidism, can affect libido and sexual function in both men and women. Symptoms such as fatigue, depression, and decreased libido are common in individuals with hypothyroidism, potentially impacting sexual desire and satisfaction. Study

Signs of Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid):

1. Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)

2. Weight loss, despite increased appetite

3. Heat intolerance and excessive sweating

4. Tremors or shaky hands

5. Nervousness, anxiety, or irritability

6. Fatigue or muscle weakness

7. Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)

8. Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea

9. Excessive thirst or increased urination

10. Lighter or irregular menstrual periods in women

11. Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)

12. Bulging eyes (exophthalmos), in Graves' disease

Signs of Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid):

1. Fatigue, weakness, or sluggishness

2. Weight gain or difficulty losing weight

3. Cold intolerance and feeling excessively cold

4. Constipation

5. Dry skin and brittle hair

6. Hair loss or thinning hair

7. Muscle aches, stiffness, or weakness

8. Depression or mood swings

9. Memory problems or difficulty concentrating

10. Irregular menstrual periods or heavy menstrual bleeding in women

11. Hoarseness or voice changes

12. Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter), in Hashimoto's thyroiditis

How can insulin affect the thyroid?

Insulin and thyroid function are closely linked, with insulin playing a role in regulating thyroid hormone production, transport, and activity in the body. Insulin resistance, a condition where cells become less responsive to insulin, can lead to alterations in thyroid hormone levels and may contribute to the development of thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Conversely, thyroid disorders may also affect insulin sensitivity, suggesting a reciprocal relationship between insulin and thyroid function. Maintaining balanced insulin levels through healthy lifestyle habits is essential for supporting optimal thyroid function and overall metabolic health. Study

Sex Hormones 

And finally, at the pinnacle of the hormone pyramid, we reach the realm of sex hormones—estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. While not essential for individual survival, these hormones are indispensable for the continuation of the human species. Beyond their reproductive role, sex hormones influence on our mood, mental function, and the efficiency of our senses. 

Imbalances in sex hormones can tip the scales toward chronic disease, autoimmunity, emotional turbulence, and fertility challenges.

To simplify, think of the hormone pyramid as a hierarchy where each level depends on the stability of the levels below it. At the base are the adrenal hormones and insulin, crucial for managing stress and blood sugar levels. Moving up, we have the thyroid hormones, responsible for metabolism and growth. Finally, at the top are the sex hormones, vital for reproduction and overall well-being.

Now, if your goal is to balance your sex hormones, it's essential to address any imbalances in the lower levels first. Why? Because issues like insulin dysregulation, adrenal dysfunction, and thyroid imbalances can directly impact your sex hormones. For example, if your blood sugar isn't regulated properly, it can affect your adrenal, thyroid, and sex hormone balance. Similarly, if your adrenals are overworked, it can strain your thyroid and sex hormones.

So, by focusing on optimizing the health of the hormones at the lower levels, you're indirectly supporting the balance of your sex hormones. However, it's important to remember that these hormonal systems are interconnected. Problems at the upper levels can also trickle down and affect the lower levels over time.

For instance, imbalances in sex hormones can lead to thyroid issues, which, in turn, can strain the adrenals. And if the adrenals are struggling, it can impact insulin and blood sugar regulation. In essence, it's about creating a harmonious balance throughout the entire hormone pyramid.

In the coming months, I'm excited to delve deeper into other areas of hormonal health, providing you with even more insights and tools. But for now, I hope this discussion on the hormone pyramid has sparked your curiosity and given you something valuable to ponder and explore.

To complement the latest episode release, I've included a special offering, a yoga nidra recording. Yoga Nidra is a guided journey to a deeply rested state, where you can replenish and nourish your body and mind. It's a powerful practice that can help you unwind, release tension, and restore balance to your hormonal system.

You can access this yoga nidra recording in the membership courses section under "Nourished Mother." Take some time for yourself, sink into the practice, and let yourself be nurtured from the inside out. Your body and hormones will thank you for it.

Stay tuned for more exciting content and resources on hormonal health in the coming months.



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