Other Hormonal Disorders

Finally, we turn to the common endocrine glands that occasionally produce a disease. Many people are concerned about the function of the thyroid gland. This endocrine organ, located at the base of the neck just below the “Adam’s apple” (larynx) is an important regulator of the metabolism of the body.

Its overactivity results in characteristic symptoms, such as a rapid pulse, bulging of the eyes, nervousness, tremor, and diarrhea. Tumors of the thyroid gland, as well as the overproduction of the brain hormone stimulating the gland to produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormone may cause these problems.

Blood tests are available to determine the level of thyroxine, the major hormone, as well as others circulating in the system. Although stress may be a precipitating factor in the development of hyperthyroidism, a failure to respond to the recommended change in lifestyle with increased rest and physical exercise, should lead a person to seek medical counsel, as surgery is occasionally indicated.

Many more people are concerned about underactivity of the thyroid gland. This is often blamed for obesity but in reality is seldom the cause. A tendency to fluid retention, sluggishness, drying of the skin, constipation, and fluid retention should lead one to seek the appropriate blood tests and accurate diagnosis.

The typical patient with advanced hypothyroidism, called myxedema, becomes very complacent, with subdued emotional responses and dull mental processes. This so-called “bovine placidity” is much less distressing to its possessor than to the patient’s associates.

Neurologic syndromes are occasionally mimicked by hypothyroidism. They normally clear rapidly with replacement therapy. Many different forms of thyroid medications are available, but should not be used unless a definite deficiency is diagnosed. In such case full hormone replacement becomes necessary, usually for life.

The adrenal glands are organs of great benefit, often blamed for minor symptoms. It is my belief that although the adrenal glands may play a role in hypoglycemia, this syndrome should not be confused with adrenal exhaustion. Addison’s disease is the medical term for lack of the production of cortisol and other steroid hormones.

In this case, weight loss, weakness, low blood pressure, and a disturbance in salt balance occurs. Replacement therapy is necessary to avoid life-threatening complications, and with the appropriate hormone, metabolic balance may be achieved and normal life expectancy realized.

Symptoms of excessive cortisol, called Cushing’s Syndrome, are sometimes seen either from excessive intake of a related drug or from tumor overproduction of the body’s own hormone by an adrenal cortical tumor. In this case, the face becomes moon shaped and a “buffalo hump” appears over the shoulders.

Blood pressure may be elevated and a diabetic glucose tolerance appear. Eventually the bones become demineralized and may develop spontaneous fractures. Hypertension usually appears, as well as an increased tendency to ulcer formation. For these reasons, the disease should be recognized as early as possible and confirmed with appropriate blood tests.

Treatment should be directed toward the cause. It is well accepted that prolonged stress can cause gradual weakening in these endocrine organs. Exposure to prolonged noise, lack of sleep, excessive worry, dietary indiscretion as well as many emotional factors may precipitate either depletion or excessive production of many endocrine hormones.

Numerous cardiac symptoms, menstrual disorders, blood pressure changes, as well as general symptoms of exhaustion, fatigue, and depression stem from hormonal interaction combined with the body’s response to prolonged stress. Simple lifestyle measures may be curative, but therapy must be prolonged.

Often changes in the entire lifestyle are required in order to effect a cure. Nevertheless, I believe that the hormonal-biochemical interaction related to nutrition and the endocrine system constitutes one of the most challenging frontiers for investigation. Understanding it may impart to sufferers a long and useful life with ultimately the reestablishment of perfect health.