The Endocrine System and Mental Health

The Endocrine System Explained

The endocrine system is comprised of a complex set of glands that produce and regulate hormone production throughout the body. The seven key structures that make up the endocrine system include the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, both adrenal glands (also known as the suprarenal glands because they sit atop the kidneys), gonads (ovaries in women and testes in men), thyroid, parathyroid, and pancreas. If these glands do not release or inhibit the hormones they contain or control, at the right times and for the right reasons, a breakdown in both physical and mental health can occur, often resulting in dangerous consequences for the affected individual.

Each of the seven glands within the endocrine system are tasked with producing specific sets of hormones. While the hypothalamus, located in the center of the cerebral cortex, acts as the endocrine system’s control center, if you will, it interacts intimately with the autonomic nervous system while also regulating the body’s temperature. The pituitary gland, a tiny structure located just below the hypothalamus and at the base of the brain, releases hormones primarily related to growth and physical development with very precise focus. What differentiates the pituitary gland from others in the endocrine system is its influence over specific organs. This is where its notable focus (versus the more generalized effects the other glands have within the body) comes into play.

The adrenal glands sit just above the kidneys and produce cortisol, the hormone directly involved in the ways in which the body responds to stress. Cortisol levels that are too high, and therefore leave impulse control and anger management unchecked, can lead to anxiety, rage, memory loss, heart attack, and even stroke. Additionally, cortisol helps control our responses to fear and what we perceive as scary, motivation and the lack thereof, and our overall mood state.

A little further down in the body lay the gonads, or reproductive organs. The ovaries (for women) and testes (in men) produce estrogen and testosterone, respectively. Despite the plethora of jokes about what each of these substances does and how they affect the genders, there is truth to both hormones’ impact on our mood state.

The last three glands within the endocrine system include the thyroid and parathyroid, as well as the pancreas. The former two share similar names and locations, but are not particularly connected, as relates to their functionality. While the thyroid controls metabolism, the chemical reactions that keep each of us alive, the neighboring parathyroid regulates the amount of calcium within our bones and how its processed throughout the body. And finally the pancreas, which sits behind the stomach and towards the back of the abdomen, produces glucagon and insulin. These hormones control blood sugar levels that can in turn both alter and impact one’s overall temperament and disposition.

Diseases of the Endocrine System that Affect Mental Health

Disorders of the endocrine system most definitely affect one’s physical health and ability to function in any number of corporeal ways. However, there are significant mental, emotional, and psychological consequences that each of these diseases brings about, too. In addition to compromised physical functioning, diseases of the endocrine system can affect our perceived locus of control, and the ways in which we cope with feeling imbalanced, being in pain, suffering from disease, and our oh-so-fragile mortality. These concerns and worries can greatly impact how we perform in any number of ways, destabilize what we feel our role is within the world, and whether or not and to what extent, we will continue to take care of ourselves.

When it comes to hyperthyroidism for example, a condition in which the thyroid produces too much thyroxine, patients may experience anxiety, irritability, fatigue, mood swings, irregular heartbeat, and undesired weight loss. Any number of these symptoms, either alone or in combination, can induce depression, malaise, and in extreme cases, suicidal ideation.

In Addison’s Disease, a condition in which the adrenal glands produce too little cortisol, physical symptoms may include abdominal pain, hyperpigmentation, and hypotension. Addison’s can affect your emotional state, self-image, self-steem, and ability to coexist calmly and appropriately with others. Without proper treatment, Addison’s can promote depression, irritability, and a decrease in libido.

Diabetes, despite the fact that it is so often discussed in popular culture as well as other settings, carries with it the highest level of comorbid depression than any other diagnosis. Despite the statistics that bear out this fact, the connection between depression and types 1 and 2 of diabetes, has not been sufficiently addressed. Diabetes is a condition that requires a good deal of hands on, self care, often involving injections. For those with a pathological fear of needles, diabetes can be far more than a malfunctioning pancreas. It can bring about anxieties of the highest order that can in turn, bring about non compliant insulin management.

Differential Diagnoses and When to Get Help

Whether faced an endocrine diseases, psychiatric condition, or a combination thereof, a true sense of balance between mind, body, and spirit, is vital. It is critical to the management of public health and global welfare, that patients who fear they may be suffering from depression, anxiety, or mood swings get a blood test to determine if there are physical conditions manifesting themselves in behavioral ways. Without such testing, patients may try to self medicate with illicit drugs or alcohol, or engage in unsafe conduct in the hopes of dulling their systemic pain. Other risks of not getting tested for physical ailments or endocrine problems can lead to dangerous activities that lead to suicidal ideation and impulsive behaviors that can lead ultimately, to conviction and incarceration.

Running tests, establishing disease states, and determining the right course of physical, as well as emotional and psychiatric treatment, is part of Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC’s pledge to his patients. Contact Dr. Kurestian at Body Systems Wellness in Glendale, California to discover the ways in which you can feel as healthy and balanced as possible.

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