Thyroid and You

Thyroid Gland

Thyroid Gland Image
Location of Thyroid Gland

Thyroid is a small gland (about 2 inches long) which has the shape like a butterfly that lies in the front of your neck. It has two sides called lobes, located either side of your windpipe. Further, these two lobes of the gland are connected by a small tissue called the isthmus.

Thyroid is a vital hormone gland which plays a major role in metabolism, growth, development, temperature, weight and heart rate of the human body by constantly releasing a steady amount of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) into the bloodstream. Also, during infancy and childhood, adequate thyroid hormone is crucial for brain development.

How the Thyroid Gland Works

Thyroid gland produces two type of hormones T3 and T4 by absorbing iodine from the food you eat. These hormones controls the body’s metabolism and are necessary for all the cells in your body to work normally. In other words, thyroid hormones regulates the speed with which your body cells work.

If too much of the hormones are released by the thyroid gland, then your body cells work faster than normal, and you have hyperthyroidism. On the other hand, if too little of the thyroid hormones are produced, then cells and organs of your body slow down, and you have hypothyroidism. Therefore, it is important that T3 and T4 levels are neither too high nor too low in your body. 

The two thyroid hormones are:

  • T3 – Triiodothyronine: This hormone contains three atoms of iodine and is often called T3.
  • T4 – Thyroxine: This hormone contains four atoms of iodine and is often called T4.

How Thyroid Gland produce hormones as needed?

To produce the right amount of hormones, the thyroid gland needs the help of pituitary gland. The pituitary gland produces a hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) which tells the thyroid gland how much hormones (T3 and T4) to produce.

Moreover, the pituitary gland monitors and controls the amount of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream:

  • When T3 and T4 levels are low in your body then pituitary gland makes more TSH to tell the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones.
  • When T3 and T4 levels are high pituitary gland makes less TSH.

Please note, TSH levels that are too high or too low can indicate your thyroid is not working properly.

Thyroid disease

  • Hypothyroidism: It is a condition in which thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones. It is also called under active thyroid or low thyroid, which can slow down the metabolism rate of your body and can decrease the cardiac activity. (read more)
  • Hyperthyroidism: It is a condition in which thyroid gland produces too much hormones. It is also called overactive thyroid. Hyperthyroidism can accelerate the metabolism rate of your body. As a result, it can cause weight loss and irregular heart activity. (read more)
  • Goiter: A Goiter is an abnormal enlargement of thyroid gland. It indicates a condition, in which thyroid grows abnormally. Goiter commonly develops as a result of iodine deficiency or due to thyroid problem. (read more)
  • Graves’ Disease: It is an autoimmune disorder that cause an over active thyroid gland and results in an over production of thyroid hormones (Hyperthyroidism). In this disease, your immune system creates antibodies known as thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSI). These antibodies then attach to healthy thyroid cells and can cause your thyroid to create too much thyroid hormone. (read more)
  • Hashimoto’s Disease: Hashimoto’s Disease in an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. This can lead to hypothyroidism, a condition in which thyroid does not make enough hormones for body’s need. (read more)
  • Thyroid Nodules: The term thyroid nodule refers to an abnormal growth of thyroid cells that forms a lump within the thyroid gland. It can be solid or filled with fluid. Most thyroid nodules aren’t serious and don’t cause symptoms. Only a small percentage of thyroid nodules are cancerous. (read more)
  • Thyroid Cancer: It is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the thyroid gland. The malignant cells begin multiplying in your thyroid and, once there are enough of them, they form a tumor. If it’s caught early, then thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. (read more)

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Thyroid Tests

Doctors use thyroid tests to check how well your thyroid gland is working. Thyroid tests also help your doctor to diagnose and find the cause of thyroid diseases such as:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Goiter
  • Graves’ Disease
  • Thyroiditis
  • Hashimoto’s Disease
  • Thyroid Nodules
  • Thyroid Cancer

Tests for Thyroid include:

  1. Physical Examination
  2. Blood tests
  3. Imaging tests

Physical Examination: Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history and perform a physical examination. Your doctor will check your neck to see whether the thyroid gland is enlarged or has thyroid nodules. Depending on the results of the physical examination, your doctor may also do other tests, such as Blood Tests and Imaging Tests.

Blood Tests: To know how well your thyroid gland is functioning, your doctor usually measure the levels of thyroid hormones in your blood. Your doctor may order one or more blood tests to check the levels of thyroid hormones in your blood.

Further, blood tests are done by taking blood from a vein in your arm. Blood Tests may include:

  • Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test: TSH is a hormone produced and released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland (a pea-sized structure) which is located at the base of your brain. TSH tells your thyroid gland how much T4 and T3 to make.

    Doctors usually check the amount of TSH in your blood first. Because, a high TSH level means you have hypothyroidism. This means that your thyroid gland is not making enough thyroid hormone. However, a low TSH level means you have hyperthyroidism. This means that your thyroid is making too much thyroid hormone.

    Therefore, the level of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) in your blood is the best indicator of your thyroid function.

  • Triiodothyronine (T3) test: T3 test help doctors to diagnose hyperthyroidism or to show the severity of hyperthyroidism.

  • Free Triiodothyronine (FT3) test

  • Thyroxine (T4) test: T4 is one of the main thyroid hormones. A high level T4 in your blood usually means you have hyperthyroidism. However, a low level of T4 in your blood may mean you have hypothyroidism.

  • Free thyroxine (FT4) test

Additional Blood Test: In addition to above mentioned blood tests, your doctor may also order Thyroid Antibody Tests.

  • Thyroid Antibody Test: This test measures the level of thyroid antibodies in your blood. Thyroid antibodies are made when your immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells of your thyroid gland. This is known as an autoimmune disorder. Moreover, the presence of thyroid antibodies in your blood suggests that the cause of thyroid disease is an autoimmune disorder, such as Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease. There are three major types of thyroid antibodies:
    • Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO): These antibodies can be a sign of Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease.
    • Thyroglobulin antibodies (Tg): These antibodies can also be an indication of Hashimoto disease. Most people with Hashimoto disease have raised levels of both Tg and TPO antibodies.
    • Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) receptor: These antibodies can be a sign of Grave’s disease.
    • Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO): These antibodies can be a sign of Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease.
    • Thyroglobulin antibodies (Tg): These antibodies can also be an indication of Hashimoto disease. Most people with Hashimoto disease have raised levels of both Tg and TPO antibodies.
    • Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) receptor: These antibodies can be a sign of Grave’s disease.
    • Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO): These antibodies can be a sign of Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease.
    • Thyroglobulin antibodies (Tg): These antibodies can also be an indication of Hashimoto disease. Most people with Hashimoto disease have raised levels of both Tg and TPO antibodies.
    • Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) receptor: These antibodies can be a sign of Grave’s disease.
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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Introduction

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that women can get during their childbearing years (ages 15 to 44).  Women with PCOS  produce an excess amount of male hormone (androgen), that are usually present in women in small amounts.

The extra male hormones disrupt the menstrual cycle of a women, hence, women with PCOS get fewer periods than usual. This hormone imbalance can affect your ability to have a child.

What is PCOS?

PCOS affects a woman’s ovaries and ovulation. Ovulation occurs when a mature egg is released from an ovary. This happens so it can be fertilized by a male sperm.

But in PCOS, many small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) can develop inside the ovaries. These sacs are actually follicles, each one containing an immature egg. The eggs never mature enough to trigger ovulation. Due to lack of ovulation, the androgen (male hormone) levels are higher than normal in women with PCOS.

Furthermore, the excess male hormone levels can cause more problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle and makes it harder for them to get pregnant.

Please note, the word “polycystic” means “many cysts.”


The 3 main features of Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are:

  • Irregular Periods: which means your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulation).
  • Excess male hormone (Androgen): Excess levels of male hormones may result in physical signs, such as excess facial and body hair (hirsutism), and occasionally severe acne.
  • Polycystic ovaries: Your ovaries contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs. As a result, your ovaries might fail to function regularly.

Please note, if you have at least 2 of these features, you may be diagnosed with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).


Furthermore, PCOS also cause hair growth on the face and body and it can contribute to long-term health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

Who gets Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

Most women find out they have Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in their 20s and 30s, when they have problems getting pregnant and see their doctor. But PCOS can happen at any age after puberty.

You may be more likely to have PCOS if you have obesity or if you have a mother or sister with PCOS.

What Causes PCOS?

The exact cause of Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is not clear. Most experts think that several factors play a role include:

  1. Insulin resistance: Insulin is the hormone produced in the pancreas that allows cells to use sugar from foods for energy. But many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, meaning that their body’s cells can’t use insulin properly.

    When cells can’t use insulin properly, the body demand for insulin increases. As a result, your insulin levels become higher than normal. Further, excess insulin might increase androgen (male hormone) production, causing difficulty with ovulation.

    Kindly note, Overweight or Obesity are major causes of insulin resistance in a woman. Over time, both obesity and insulin resistance can increase your risk to type 2 diabetes.

  2. Excess androgens: Women with PCOS have high level of androgens (male hormone) than normal. Higher androgen levels in women can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation) during each menstrual cycle and can cause extra hair growth and acne.

  3. Inflammation: Research has shown that women with PCOS often have an increased levels inflammation in their body, that stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens (male hormone).

  4. Family History: PCOS may also run in families. You might be more likely to have PCOS if your sister or mother also has it.

Symptoms of PCOS

Symptoms of PCOS often develop around the time of the first period. But some women discover they have PCOS, when they have gained a lot of weight or when they have trouble in getting pregnant.

The symptoms of PCOS may include:

  • Irregular periods: The most common PCOS symptoms are missed, irregular, infrequent or very light periods. Some women with PCOS get fewer than eight periods a year.
  • Infertility: Difficulty getting pregnant as a result of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate.
  • Too much hair: More than 70 percent of women with PCOS grow hair on their face and parts of their body. Excess hair growth is called hirsutism.
  • Acne or oily skin.
  • Weight gain, especially around the belly.
  • Darkening of the skin: Dark or thick patches of skin can form on the back of the neck, in the groin and under the breasts.
  • Male pattern baldness: Thinning hair or hair loss on the scalp.

Effects of PCOS

Women with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to develop certain serious health problems. These include:

  • Infertility: To get pregnant, you have to ovulate. Women who don’t ovulate regularly don’t release as many eggs to be fertilized. Therefore, PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility in women.
  • Pregnancy complications: PCOS can also cause problems during pregnancy for you and for your baby. Women with PCOS have higher chance of miscarriage and premature birth.
  • Metabolic syndrome: It is a group of health issues including high blood pressure, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol level. Together, these factors are called metabolic syndrome and they increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
  • Sleep apnea: Women with PCOS, particularly when they are overweight, can be at an increased risk of developing sleep apnea. In this condition your upper airway is obstructed during sleep. This leads to repeated pauses in breathing during the night, which interrupt sleep.
  • Endometrial cancer: Regular periods help to prevent excess thickening of the lining of the uterus. Not having regular periods can lead to abnormal cells building up inside the womb.

    Women who have had absent or very irregular periods (fewer than 4 periods a year) have a higher risk of developing cancer of the womb lining (endometrial cancer).
  • Gestational diabetes: It is a type of diabetes that happens only during pregnancy. Women with PCOS are at greater risk for developing gestational diabetes. This risk increases if you are overweight.

    Usually gestational diabetes goes away after your baby is born. However, you still remain at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes after pregnancy, so monitoring and prevention are very important.
  • Depression and Anxiety: The symptoms of PCOS like unwanted hair growth can negatively affect your emotions and confidence. Many women with PCOS end up experiencing depression and anxiety.

How is PCOS diagnosed?

There is no single test to diagnose PCOS. Your doctor will start by asking about your medical history and symptoms. You may be diagnosed with PCOS if you have at least two of the following symptoms:

  1. Irregular periods: Including periods that come too often, not often enough, or not at all.
  2. High androgen levels: Higher than normal levels of androgens in blood.
  3. Cysts in the ovaries: Multiple cysts on one or both ovaries.

In addition, your doctor may also ask whether you have symptoms like:

  • Extra hair growth on your face, chin, and body.
  • Acne.
  • Weight gain.

Apart from your symptoms, your doctor might recommend following mentioned different tests:

  • A pelvic exam: Your doctor visually and manually inspects your reproductive organs for signs of extra male hormones (for example, an enlarged clitoris) and check to see if your ovaries are enlarged or swollen.
Pelvic Exam
Pelvic Exam
  • Ultrasound: This test is used to look at the size of the ovaries and see if they have cysts. The test can also look at the thickness of the lining of the uterus.
    For this, a device (transducer) is placed in your vagina. This device uses sound waves and computer screen to examine your ovaries for cysts.
Transvaginal Ultrasound
Transvaginal Ultrasound
  • Blood Tests:  Your blood may be analyzed to measure the levels of Androgens Hormone (Male Hormones). Your doctor may also check your blood glucose levels and cholesterol levels.

How is PCOS treated?

There is no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be treated. Treating symptoms of PCOS depends on a number of factors such as your age, how severe your symptoms are, and your overall health. The type of treatment may also depend on whether you want to become pregnant in the future. Therefore, speak to your doctor or health care provider about medications for the treatment.

Furthermore, treatment for PCOS usually starts with lifestyle changes like weight loss, diet plan and exercise.

Healthy eating habits and regular physical activity can help relieve PCOS related symptoms. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help regulate your menstrual cycle and improve your chances of getting pregnant. Moreover, losing weight may also help to improve your cholesterol levels, lower your blood glucose levels and help your hormones reach normal levels.

A few studies have found that 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise at least 4 days a week can help women with PCOS lose weight. Losing weight with exercise also improves ovulation and insulin levels.

Please Note, exercise is even more beneficial when combined with a healthy diet.

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PCOS and Pregnancy

If you have PCOS, you might struggle to get pregnant. Between 70 and 80 percent of women with PCOS have fertility problems.

Moreover, once you become pregnant with PCOS, it can cause problems during pregnancy for you and for your baby. Babies born to mothers with PCOS have a higher chance of being admitted to a newborn intensive care unit or dying before, during, or right after birth. 

Pregnancy complications related to PCOS include:

  • Miscarriage: Pregnant women with PCOS may have a higher risk of miscarriage in the early months of pregnancy as compared to women without PCOS.
  • Gestational diabetes (Diabetes during pregnancy): This is a type of diabetes that starts during pregnancy. If you have gestational diabetes, your body can’t use sugar (glucose) properly. This leads to higher-than-normal levels of sugar in your blood, which can be unhealthy for you and the fetus. In most cases, the condition goes away after the baby is born. 

    Furthermore, if you have gestational diabetes, you are also at increased risk of having a baby larger than expected for their gestational age. Gestational age is length of time that a baby grows and develops inside the mother’s uterus. Therefore, having a large baby can lead to cesarean delivery.

    In addition, women with gestational diabetes as well as their children are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
  • Preeclampsia: Preeclampsia is a dangerous rise in blood pressure during pregnancy. Pregnant women with preeclampsia often have high blood pressure, high levels of protein in their urine and swelling in their legs, feet and hands. Preeclampsia generally happens after 20 weeks of pregnancy. However, in some cases, it occurs earlier or after delivery.

    If you develop preeclampsia during your pregnancy, you will have to be monitored extremely closely by doctor because your high blood pressure prevents the fetus from getting enough oxygen and nutrients due to reduced blood flow. Moreover, preeclampsia can harm the mother’s kidneys, liver and brain. If left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, a serious condition that can have health risks for both the mother and baby. Eclampsia can cause organ damage, seizures, and even death.

    Currently, the only cure for preeclampsia is to deliver the baby, even preterm if necessary. The timing of delivery depends on how severe the preeclampsia is and how many weeks pregnant you are.
  • Preterm birth: Infants are considered preterm if they are delivered before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Research has shown that people with PCOS are at a higher risk of having a premature birth. The most common reason for preterm birth is preeclampsia. Furthermore, preterm infants may suffer from many health problems, both right after birth and later in life, 
  • Cesarean Delivery: The risk of pregnancy complications are high in women with PCOS, which often leads to cesarean delivery. As cesarean delivery is a surgical procedure, recovery can take longer than recovery from vaginal birth. Moreover, birth through Cesarean delivery has its own risks for both the mother and baby.

Please note, if you have PCOS and are pregnant, it is important you talk with your doctor. The risk of these complications can be reduced by monitoring your PCOS symptoms and taking extra care during your pregnancy.

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Thyroid and Hair Loss

Thyroid and Hair Loss

Thyroid is a small gland which has the shape like a butterfly that sits low on the front of the neck. It helps to regulate many body functions by constantly releasing a steady amount of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream.

The important hormones produced by thyroid gland are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3)

Furthermore, thyroid conditions occur when your thyroid gland is not producing enough hormones Or producing too much of hormones. The most common type of thyroid conditions are as following:

Both conditions (Hypothyroidism & Hyperthyroidism) can cause dry, brittle hair or thinning hair on your scalp and body.

Thyroid conditions can cause hair loss if they are severe and left untreated. But, before understanding how these conditions cause hair loss, let us first understand the hair growth process.

  1. Hair starts growing from the roots (bottom of your hair follicles) on your scalp.
  2. Your scalp’s blood vessels provide nutrients to the root and help in hair growth.
  3. Hair pushes up and out through your skin. The hair passes through the oil glands that help maintain the required moisture in the hair.
  4. Hair grows for sometime and then falls off as a new hair growth cycle starts.

Kindly note, the thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) directly affect hair growth and its development. When the hormone production is disturbed, it can lead to hair thinning across your scalp and other areas such as your eyebrows.

Hair loss due to Autoimmune thyroid disease

Most people with Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism have autoimmune thyroid disease. If someone has one type of autoimmune disease, he/she is more likely to develop another autoimmune condition for example: 

Alopecia areata: Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss in people having autoimmune thyroid disease.

It causes circular patches of hair loss in more discrete areas. In most cases this is temporary and does not progress, but unfortunately it can cause significant baldness. 

There are other rare autoimmune conditions that can also cause hair loss :

Hair loss due to Antithyroid Drugs

Some antithyroid drugs such as (carbimazole and propylthiouracil) can, in rare cases, cause hair loss. But, it may be very difficult to tell whether the drug or your thyroid condition is causing hair loss.

Furthermore, it is very rare for anti-thyroid drugs or treatment to cause hair loss. Kindly note, Antithyroid drugs are used to treat an overactive thyroid (Hyperthyroidism).

Slow and gradual thinning of hair is the most common symptom of thyroid related hair loss. You may notice more than usual hair lose while combing.

Furthermore, hair loss may develop slowly with hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. You won’t necessarily see patches or bald spots on your scalp, but, your hair may seem thinner all over.

In most cases, hair loss caused by thyroid conditions is temporary, but regrowth of hairs may take several months.

It is important to note here that, you can still experience hair loss even after starting medicines for your thyroid condition. This is because the hair growth cycle is a months long process. But some people start wrongly blaming the thyroid medicines for hair loss. Unfortunately, if they stop their thyroid medicines, the hair loss problem will become worse.

Kindly note, it is perfectly normal to lose 50–100 hairs from your head each day. However, hair loss beyond this needs medical attention and may be related to thyroid problem.

Dear Reader, always remember that, “Treating thyroid related hair loss requires treating the Thyroid Problem“.

Working with your doctor to keep your thyroid disorder under control with medication may keep your hair thicker and can regenerate hair growth. But try to be patient because, regrowth of hairs can be unpredictable and may take several months.

Treatment for an underactive thyroid – (hypothyroidism):

  • levothyroxine: Your doctor will usually prescribe a synthetic hormone called levothyroxine to treat an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).

    This medicine is given when your thyroid gland does not produce enough of this hormone on its own.

Treatment for an overactive thyroid – (hyperthyroidism):

  • Antithyroid medications: Antithyroid medications, such as (propylthiouracil and methimazole) decrease the thyroid gland’s ability to make the thyroid hormone. It is used to treat overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
  • Radioactive iodine: This treatment kills some cells in the thyroid gland and reduce the amount of hormones that the gland produces. This treatment induces hypothyroidism, which is then managed by using thyroid hormone replacement therapy for the rest the life.
  • Surgery: Your doctor will monitor your thyroid levels while you are on medication. In some cases, surgery may be necessary. It involves the removal of some or all of the thyroid gland, which may lead to hypothyroidism.

Kindly note, with the treatment, hair growth may be noticeable within several months. But be aware that the new hair may differ in color or texture from your original hair.

Along with medication suggested by your doctor, you may try different home remedies to slowdown hair loss or regenerate hair growth. While the home remedies given below do not hold any scientific evidence, but you can give them a try to boost your hair growth.

1. Eating a balanced diet can help in growth and improve the condition of your hair. Foods that can increase the chances of having healthy hair include:

  • Fish: Oily fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that can help prevent a dry scalp.
  • Green vegetables: Vegetables such as spinach have high levels of vitamins A and C. These vitamins can improve the condition of hair.
  • Protein rich foods: Eating foods rich in protein can help prevent weak hair. Dairy products, nuts and lean meats all contain high levels of protein.
  • Calcium rich foods: Calcium is key to hair growth. Dairy products, such as milk and cheese are Good sources of calcium.
  • Iron Rich Foods: Iron deficiency and thyroid related hair loss are related. You can get tested for iron levels in your body and consider supplements for iron rich foods like liver, eggs, lamb, green leafy vegetables and so on.

2. Apply Essential Oils: Essential oils like eucalyptus oil and other plant extracts are known to improve hair growth. But, it’s important to talk with your doctor before using essential oils and use caution while choosing a quality brand.

Furthermore, you should also always do a patch test before using any essential oil for hair growth.

3. Control Iodine Intake: People with autoimmune thyroid disorders should check their iodine consumption. The body uses iodine to make thyroid hormone, so too much of iodine consumption may lead to imbalances.

Therefore, It is very important to understand how much iodine you would require in a day.

4. Yoga Asanas: A healthy lifestyle, which includes balanced diet and regular exercise, can help you live well with thyroid disease. Furthermore, adding yoga to your daily routine may help improve your thyroid function and hair growth.

Yoga for healthy thyroid and hair growth

Dear Reader, please discuss the above mentioned home remedies with your doctor before you start.

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Hypothalamus

Location of Hypothalamus Gland
Location of Hypothalamus Gland

The hypothalamus is a small but an important area of the brain. It’s located at the base of the brain, above the pituitary gland. It plays an important role in hormone production and controls many important processes in the body.

In humans, the hypothalamus is approximately the size of an almond and less than 1% of the brain’s weight.

Functions of the Hypothalamus

One of the major functions of the hypothalamus is to maintain your body’s internal balance, which is known as homeostasis.

Homeostasis means a healthful, stable, balanced body condition.

Therefore, to maintain homeostasis, the hypothalamus controls many of your bodily functions, including:

  • releasing hormones
  • body temperature
  • hunger
  • thirst
  • Heart rate and blood pressure
  • Sleep cycles
  • managing of sexual behavior
  • regulating emotional responses
  • Production of substances that influence the pituitary gland to release hormones.

As different systems and parts of the body send signals to the brain, they alert the hypothalamus about any unbalanced factors that need attention. The hypothalamus then responds by releasing the right hormones into the bloodstream to balance the body.

  • One example of this is the ability of a human being to maintain an internal temperature of 98.6 °Fahrenheit (ºF).

Anatomy of the Hypothalamus

The hypothalamus can be divided into three main regions.

  • Anterior region
  • Middle region
  • Posterior region

Each region contains several nuclei (neuron clusters). These clusters of neurons perform vital functions, such as releasing hormones.

1. Anterior region: This region of the hypothalamus is also known as the supraoptic region. The main nuclei of anterior region include the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei. There are several other smaller nuclei in the anterior region as well.

In addition, the supraoptic nucleus functions as the main source of vasopressin hormone, also known as the antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which plays a key role in the absorption of salts and glucose and maintaining water balance in your body.

Kindly note, the nuclei in the anterior region are largely involved in the secretion of various hormones. Many of these hormones interact with the pituitary gland to produce additional hormones.

2. Middle region: This region of the hypothalamus is known as the tuberal region. The main nuclei of middle region is the ventromedial and arcuate nuclei.

The ventromedial nucleus controls the appetite, while the arcuate nucleus is involved in releasing growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH). GHRH stimulates the pituitary gland to produce growth hormone. This is responsible for the growth and development of the body.

3. Posterior region: This area is also called the mammillary region. The main nuclei of posterior region include the posterior hypothalamic nucleus and mammillary.

The posterior hypothalamic nucleus helps regulate body temperature by causing shivering and blocking sweat production.

Hormones of the Hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is responsible for creating and controlling many hormones in the body. It works with the pituitary gland, which makes and sends other important hormones around the body.

Moreover, the hypothalamus uses bloodstream to communicate with the pituitary gland. These connections of the hypothalamus are called the endocrine connections.

Kindly note, when the hypothalamus receives a signal from the nervous system, it secretes hormones known as neurohormones. Theses neurohormones, further activates the pituitary gland, to start and stop the release of hormones in the body. 

Together, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland control many other glands that produce hormones of the body. For example: Adrenal cortex, Gonads, and Thyroid gland.

Important hormones secreted by the hypothalamus include:

  • Anti-diuretic hormone (ADH): This hormone increases water absorption into the blood by the kidneys.
  • Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)This hormone sends a signal to the pituitary gland, to further stimulate the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids. Corticosteroids helps to regulate metabolism and immune response.
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH): GnRH instructs the pituitary gland to release the reproductive hormones, such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which work together to ensure normal functioning of the ovaries and testes.
  • Growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH): GHRH instructs the pituitary gland to release the growth hormone (GH). In children, GH is essential to maintaining a healthy body composition.
  • Oxytocin: This hormone controls many important sexual and social behavior, such as orgasm, trust, body temperature, sleep cycles and the release of a mother’s breast milk.
  • Prolactin-releasing hormone (PRH): PRH tell the pituitary gland to either start or stop breast milk production in lactating mothers.  
  • Thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH): TRH activates the pituitary gland to produce thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH regulates metabolism, energy, heart rate, growth and development.
  • Somatostatin: Somatostatin works to stop the pituitary gland from releasing certain hormones, including growth hormones and thyroid-stimulating hormones.

Hypothalamus Disorders

If the hypothalamus is not functioning properly, this is known as hypothalamus disorder.

Kindly note, these disorders are very hard to diagnose because the hypothalamus and pituitary gland are so tightly connected that, it’s often difficult for doctors to understand whether the disease is associated with the hypothalamus or pituitary gland.

As it is difficult for doctors to diagnose a specific, incorrectly functioning gland, these disorders are often called hypothalamic-pituitary disorders.

However, there are some hormone tests that make clear the root cause of the disease.

Several conditions that cause hypothalamus disorders, including:

  • Head injuries
  • Surgery involving the brain
  • Brain tumors
  • Tumors in or around the hypothalamus
  • Radiation
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Certain genetic disorders, such as growth hormone deficiency
  • Birth defects involving the brain
  • Autoimmune conditions

Hypothalamus disorders plays a role in many conditions, including:

  • Hypopituitarism: It is a disorder in which your pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. It is usually caused by damage to the pituitary gland, however, hypothalamus disorder can also cause it. Because, many hormones produced by the hypothalamus, directly affect those produced by the pituitary gland.

    Furthermore, the hormone deficiencies can affect number of your body’s routine functions, such as growth, blood pressure or reproduction.
  • Diabetes insipidus: This is an uncommon disorder that causes an imbalance of fluids in the body. When your hypothalamus doesn’t produce and release enough vasopressin hormone, the kidneys can remove too much water. This causes increased urination and thirst.

    There’s no cure for diabetes insipidus. But treatments can relieve your thirst and decrease your urine output.
  • Prader-Willi syndrome: This is a rare genetic disorder. It causes the hypothalamus to not register, when someone is full after eating.

    People with PWS have a constant urge to eat, which leads to obesity. Additional symptoms include a slower metabolism and decreased muscle.

Symptoms of Hypothalamus disorders

Symptoms that indicate hypothalamus disorders include:

  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tiredness 
  • Frequent urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Fluctuations in body temperature
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Constant thirst
  • Delayed puberty
  • Infertility
  • Itchiness

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Tests for Hypothalamus disorders

If your doctor suspects a problem, he or she will perform a physical examination and ask about your symptoms. In addition, your doctor may also order Blood or urine tests to check hormone levels in your body such as:

  • Prolactin
  • Estrogen
  • Pituitary hormones
  • Cortisol
  • Growth hormone
  • Testosterone
  • Thyroid
  • Sodium

Other possible tests include:

  • Hormone injections followed by timed blood samples 
  • MRI or CT scans of the brain

How to make Hypothalamus healthy?

Some hypothalamus conditions are unavoidable, however, there are a few things you can do to keep it healthy.

1.) Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet is important for hypothalamus. Healthy dietary choices to support the hypothalamus include:

  • Fruits and Vegetables: Both fruits and vegetables contain lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that is beneficial for the hypothalamus.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and Vegetables
  • Vitamins B1- A good source of vitamin B1 is actually Sunflower Seeds. You should put approximately a handful of sunflower seeds to your daily meal to boost up your hypothalamus health.
Whole Grains
Whole Grains

Moreover, pork and whole grain are also good source of Vitamin B1.

  • Vitamin C:  It plays an important role in brain functions associated with hypothalamus. Vitamin C is also beneficial to protect your Hypothalamus from toxins.
Citrus Fruits
Citrus Fruits

Foods rich in vitamin C include lemons, oranges, grapefruits, strawberries and red bell peppers.

2.) Sleep Enough: When you get enough sleep, it keep your hypothalamus working properly.

3.) Exercise regularly: Like eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep, a regular exercise also boosts your overall health. Therefore, a regular exercise can also improve your hypothalamus functions.

Kindly note, even a mild amount of regular exercise can improve your hypothalamus function.

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