The Hypothalamus: The Bridge
The endocrine, or hormonal, system is the most powerful control system in the human body. The breadth and depth of its action is only rivaled by the microbiome – our bacterial reality that establishes our physical unity with all life on earth.
The endocrine system is made up of ductless glands that produce hormones. These hormones are messengers, signals or “cellular directors” that affect cells throughout the body. Hormones affect or regulate every tissue, organ and system in the bodymind. They must be balanced to activate the body’s powerful systems of repair and self-healing.
Most people live in a state of glandular depression and hormonal disruption. Hormones can go wrong because of poor nutrition or sleep, dis-stress, environmental toxins, heavy metals, vaccines and other pharmaceutical drugs, manmade radiation and more. This reduces our ability to adapt to life’s stresses. Clinically, in natural functional medicine, to restore and maintain the strength and balance of the endocrine system, which increases vitality and resilience, we use two primary principles:
- To clear and unburden, through detoxification and autoantibody reduction, and
- To feed and build through nutrition (diet and food-based supplementation) and herbal medicine.
The endocrine system is an interconnected web of glands that affect each other as well as body cells. The director of the endocrine system, akin to the conductor of an orchestra, is the pituitary gland, often referred to as the “master gland”. It has the largest influence on the action of the other “downstream” glands in the body.
As an aside, most of the endocrine glands have two parts. The pituitary has a front (anterior) and back (posterior) part; the thyroid has a left and right isthmus, each with two parathyroid glands; the pancreas has a head and tail; there are left and right adrenal glands and ovaries; there are two testes. The pineal gland, spiritually related to the crown chakra and our connection to Cosmic Being, is one, undivided.
As directive as the pituitary is, it itself has its own master – the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus sits “above” the endocrine system, and is the master of the master gland (pituitary). It is the bridge between the nervous system and the endocrine system. There is much we have not yet discovered about the hypothalamus, much still unknown. And what we do know is both fascinating and mysterious.
Neurosurgeon Russel Blaylock, MD, one of the courageous physicians who has exposed the irrefutable truth that vaccines do far more harm than good, writes in “Aspartame, MSG, Excitotoxins & the Hypothalamus”: “The hypothalamus is a small area of the brain, no larger than the fingernail, that despite its small size, is responsible for controlling some of the most vital neural systems in the body. The wiring of the hypothalamus is some of the most complex in the nervous system, with connections not only to the pituitary, but also to the limbic system (emotional control system), hippocampus, striatum and brain stem. Through these connections it regulates emotions, autonomic control (parasympathetic and sympathetic), hunger and satiety, immunity, memory input, and anger control. Disruptions in this vital piece of brain can result in anything from minor behavioral problems or endocrine malfunctions to major disruptions in sexual functions, obesity, immune suppression and endocrine gland failure.”
Physically, the hypothalamus, literally “below the thalamus,” sits about one inch above and behind the pituitary gland, which it regulates. It is in front of the thalamus and brain stem, the deepest structures of the brain. The hypothalamus is made of three nuclei, which are clusters of neurons (nerve cells). It secretes eight hormones which have broad effects on the pituitary glands, autonomic (automatic) nervous system function, sleep, temperature, blood pressure, and more.
A wholistic perspective on the endocrine system includes the principle that its central pole is the HPA axis, more accurately described as the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Thyroid-Pancreas-Adrenal-Gonadal axis. The hypothalamus is the bridge between the mind and the body, between the nervous system and the endocrine system. It is triggered by thought, and manifests that thought in the body through the hormones. So, the hypothalamus embodies thought. It translates thought into a bodymind experience, through the endocrine system.
Our circumstances – the situations we are in moment to moment – are filtered through our Choice Point: the triune lens of our chosen
- Sense of who we are (identity),
- How we see things (perception), and
- What we focus on (attention).
Our choice of identity, perception and attention creates our life experience. In the reactive (Stephen Covey’s model), or victim, state, our circumstances create our experience of life. “If people behave and things go the way I want, I’m happy, and if they don’t, I’m upset.” In the proactive (Covey), or conscious, state, we create our experience through our attitude and expression. “I choose to have a meaningful and creative experience through my conscious choices in the moment.” So, it’s not what happens to us, but whether we choose to consciously respond or habitually react.
For example, one day I was stuck in heavy traffic on my way to teach a class in Chinese medicine at the college where I was trained. It was a warm, beautiful Spring day in the lush greenery of Long Island, NY. I was happy – going to contribute in a way I love (teaching), and enjoying the Springtime air, birdsong and sunshine. Coming up to my left, in the same stop-and-go traffic, was a quite irate fellow driver – shouting, beeping his horn, futilely trying to get where he was going faster. Maybe it was an emergency – I don’t know – but we were in the same situation, having quite a different experience.
Looking back, I understand what was going on in our bodies – the neurotransmitters and hormones, with all their effects on heart rate, blood pressure, brain wave activity and countless other variables – was quite different, as I chose a relaxation response and he chose a stress response. Long-term, making daily choices of stress or relaxation response – has dramatic effects on our health and longevity.
Physiologically, the hypothalamus responds to thought impulses to trigger the pituitary gland, resulting in this basic flowchart:
Circumstances → Central Nervous System (CNS) / Choice Point → Hypothalamus → Pituitary → Other Endocrine Glands, e.g. thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, gonads (testes and ovaries).
Now this flow is not in just one direction. There are many feedback loops which tell the CNS and hypothalamus what the resulting hormone levels are, and whether more stimulation is needed or if there’s enough. The hypothalamus also responds to light, smells, blood sugar and infections.
The hypothalamus, even with our current and incomplete knowledge, is critical to regulating nearly all aspects of body function. And so, anything we do to positively affect it has broad benefit to the bodymind. There are three main ways to improve hypothalamic balance and function:
- Inner shift: change the Choice Point: opening to a larger sense of who we are (identity); choosing compassion in how we see situations (perception); giving most of our attention to what is right with ourselves and others; maintaining an attitude of thankfulness, gratitude and appreciation; expressing kindness and integrity in our relationships.
- Nutrition: a nutrient-dense, low-glycemic, whole-foods diet, high in healthy fats, protein, vegetables and fruits, and low in sugar, wheat, pasteurized dairy and genetically-modified foods. And the correct nutritional supplementation specific to hypothalamic function. Finally, diet and correct supplementation is the best way to optimize the health of the gut microbiome, which also strongly regulates the HPA axis.
Over 27 years in practice, I have treated many patients who have been harmed by synthetic isolate supplements and pharmaceutical drugs to manipulate neurotransmitters, and helped far more using food- and plant-based supplements to naturally encourage optimal hypothalamic function. Over-the-counter drugs / synthetic hormone replacement like DHEA and melatonin should be avoided, or used briefly and with great caution under professional supervision. In most countries, DHEA is properly regulated as a drug, and not as a supplement, as it is in the US. It activates the feedback loop which regulates its production, and will often lead to atrophy of the adrenal glands.
I have found that Standard Process food-based supplements, with 80% of their ingredients coming from their own beyond-organic farm, to provide the best results, in the least time, with the fewest side effects. Natural foods and supplements provide the building blocks and raw materials, like the lumber needed to build a house. Examples of formulas I have had success with, which are appropriate in specific situations with individual patients, based on a clinical assessment, include Hypothalmex and Hypothalamus PMG.
- Botanical medicine: the phytochemicals in medicinal herbs remove the roadblocks that can impede optimal function and vitality.
Plants predated animals by many millions of years. For example, the ginkgo tree, with its powerfully therapeutic leaves, existed in its current form 265 million years ago, 100 million years before the dinosaurs, at a time when the earth did not have a protective ozone layer.
Plants have adapted to their environment over enormous amounts of time. Eating certain plants, and a wide range of them, helps you and I adapt to the modern world. Without a range of protective plant / phytochemicals coming into our bodies regularly, our bodymind doesn’t function properly, and we lose our ability to thrive in our present-day environment. So, we need to dip into the herbal world daily to stay well. As the brilliant Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, said, “For every human illness, somewhere in the world there exists the plant which is the cure.” I would expand that to add that we can consume certain plants, in our diet and herbal supplements, to help prevent most human illness.
Specifically, certain phytochemicals activate specific cellular defenses (e.g. resveratrol and Sirt1, alkylamides and heat shock proteins, bitters, nrf2) in human and animal bodies. One specific example is Rhodiola rosea root, which balances and optimizes the hypothalamus and its control of the pituitary. Not all herbs are created equal, and the right herb at the wrong dose or with low quality will not work. When I select Rhodiola for a patient, I will deliver that in the form of MediHerb’s Rhodiola and Ginseng Complex or Rhodiola and Schizandra tablets, so I know that the herbal quality of the formula will meet or exceed that of the herbs used in the clinical trials that show benefit for that herb (this is called phytoequivalence).
Dr Stuart White, a colleague and highly successful US nutritionist, shares that with appropriate hypothalamic support, his natural medicine protocols often deliver results in two to three weeks, instead of two to three months without such support.
Strengthening the Bridge, the hypothalamus, is one of most powerful ways to increase our vitality and resilience, and help us bring the largeness of who we are, and our unique positive contribution, into our world.
If you are a natural health professional, and would like to learn the relevant anatomy & physiology, etiology, pathology, pathophysiology, lab testing, nutritional exam, diet & lifestyle, Standard Process supplementation, MediHerb phytotherapy, support protocols & strategies, patient communication, practice implementation, follow-on resources, and practitioner self-care in this critical area of endocrine health, I invite you to take my recently revised and well-reviewed self-study course, entitled Endocrine Mastery. Use coupon code BRIDGE17 to receive the special discounted offer of $97 until 8/21. This program focuses on thyroid, adrenal and blood sugar balance.
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