Nestled within our bodies is an intricate network of glands that house our hormones and play a crucial role in maintaining harmony and balance. This network of hormone secreting glands is known as the Endocrine, or hormone system, and its influence on our overall wellbeing is held in a delicate balance of feedback loops, cascades and body system inputs.
Introduction to the Endocrine System
Endocrine system function may not be on your radar. This system, as important as it is, doesn’t get as much attention as immunity, digestion, and respiration. This is because imbalances within this system aren't as easily recognizable, and they tend to creep up on us, unless of course you happen to be raising a teenager. Besides puberty, menopause and PMS it isn't often that we can feel our hormones “raging.”
The endocrine system is a network of glands throughout the body that secrete hormones into the bloodstream. This chemical messaging system orchestrates crucial functions such as metabolism, growth, and reproduction. There are many factors that can throw the endocrine system and our hormones out of balance. Increased cortisol (a stress hormone) is a major contributor, as well as diet, environmental toxins, medications, sleep quality, life stages, and genetics.
Imbalance in steroid hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone can lead to irregular periods, mood swings, low energy, or reduced sex drive. Thyroid imbalances can cause fatigue, weight & mood fluctuations and difficulty sleeping. Pancreatic imbalances show up as fluctuations in glucose levels, and insulin sensitivity.
We know how common hormone imbalances can be, and we want to give you the tools you need to better understand how this system works, and how best to support it with herbs.
Endocrine System Anatomy
The Endocrine Glands
Endocrine System Physiology
The HPA Axis & The Stress Response
The HPA axis is When the brain perceives a threat or acute stressor, the hypothalamus releases a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which signals the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH then travels through the bloodstream to the adrenal glands, prompting them to release cortisol, a stress hormone. This hormone cascade is known as the sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight” response. Once stress levels decrease, the HPA axis feedback loop signals the system to reduce cortisol production and return to a state of balance and calm.
“Rest and digest” is the alternative to fight or flight. Both responses are divisions of the autonomic nervous system known as the parasympathetic (rest & digest) and sympathetic (fight or flight) divisions. Ideally, we spend the majority of our day in our parasympathetic rest and digest response just hanging out, unphased by life.
It is perfectly normal to trigger the fight or flight response, it is a defense mechanism that is designed to keep us safe; diving is a common trigger, as is being surprised or startled. The fight or flight response causes vasoconstriction, which means blood vessels constrict to prioritize blood flow to essential organs like the heart and muscles. The eyes dilate, the pulse and breath quicken, and sweat increases. Because blood flow prioritizes the muscles and heart, critical body systems like the immune, urinary and digestive systems are all suppressed when in fight or flight.
Chronic or prolonged exposure to experiences that trigger the fight or flight response means a constant suppression of immune, digestive and kidney function, leading to many of the common discomforts associated with these body systems. Also, look for signs of adrenal fatigue, characterized by low energy, difficulty coping with stress, sleep disturbances, cravings for salty or sugary foods, dizziness or lightheadedness, weight fluctuations, and mood changes.
We will discuss the use of adaptogens for modulating the HPA axis and supporting a healthy response to occasional stress in the following section titled Endocrine System Herbal Therapeutics. We will also be hosting a LIVE WEBINAR discussing the best Doctor Morse formulas for adrenal fatigue in our upcoming webinar Doctor Morse's Protocols & Pairings for Hormone Health taking place on Wednesday, August 30th from 1-1:30 PST.
The hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis orchestrates the production and regulation of sex hormones. In response to signals from the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland releases luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulate the gonads (testes in males, ovaries in females) to produce sex hormones—primarily testosterone in males and estrogen and progesterone in females.
The stress response can significantly impact sex hormone balance. In times of chronic stress, the body may prioritize the production of stress-related hormone like cortisol over sex hormones. Elevated cortisol levels due to the overactive stress response can suppress the production of LH and FSH, which in turn affects the secretion of sex hormones. This disruption can lead to imbalances such as low testosterone in males and disrupted menstrual cycles and irregular ovulation in females.
Thyroid hormone governs metabolism, energy regulation, and overall growth and development. The thyroid gland produces two primary hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis orchestrates the release and conversion of these hormones.
The stress response can profoundly impact thyroid function. During times of prolonged stress, the body's increased production of cortisol can inhibit the enzyme responsible for the conversion of T4 to T3, leading to a scenario where T4 is not efficiently converted into its active form, T3. This disruption can result in a condition known as "low T3 syndrome," characterized by decreased levels of active thyroid hormone and potential symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, and cognitive impairment.
The Endocrine System’s Role in Detoxification
The endocrine system plays a crucial role in the intricate process of detoxification within the human body. While often associated with hormone regulation, this system also significantly influences the body's ability to eliminate toxins and maintain overall health. The liver, a key player in detoxification, is heavily influenced by the endocrine system. Hormones released by various endocrine glands help orchestrate the liver's detoxification pathways, enabling the breakdown and elimination of harmful substances.
Disruptions in hormonal equilibrium, often caused by factors like prolonged stress, can hinder the body's detoxification processes. Specifically, the stress hormone cortisol can interfere with the liver's detoxification functions, altering the normal breakdown and clearance of toxins. The impact of an imbalanced endocrine system on overall detoxification exemplifies Doctor Morse’s message: revitalize all body systems, including the endocrine system, to ensure the proper removal of toxins and harmful acidosis from the body.
Endocrine System Herbal Therapeutics
What are Adaptogens?
Let’s face it, adaptogens are all the rage these days. In our modern, fast-paced world, who wouldn’t want an herb to help the body adapt to occasional stress? These supportive herbs have been traditionally used in TCM and Ayurveda for centuries, praised as sacred plants and called “elixirs of life.”
The term adaptogen was coined in the late 1940s by Soviet Scientist Nikolai V Lazarev. It was the dawn of the Cold War, and the former USSR “assigned the Soviet Academy of Science to develop a product that increased the performance of their athletes, military personnel, political officers, and chess players while adhering to strict health guidelines (Winston & Maimes, 2007).”
In the years that followed, the Russian Academy of Sciences produced over 1500 pharmacological studies and clinical trials on adaptogenic herbs, investigating “four thousand plants and identifying twelve herbs as adaptogens. The majority of the research was done on eleuthero, rhodiola, rhaponticum, and schisandra (Winston & Maimes, 2007).”
In 1968, Lazarev’s colleague Israel Brekhman defined an adaptogen as follows:
- Adaptogens are safe and nontoxic.
- Adaptogens boost the body's ability to cope with different types of stress, including physical, chemical, or biological stressors.
- Adaptogens help bring balance to the body's functions, normalizing physiology even when affected by stress (Winston & Maimes, 2007).
Many of our classic adaptogens like rhodiola, ginseng, schisandra and eleuthero have some interesting similarities. For one, these adaptogens are all native to the southeastern tip of Russia known as the Primorsky Krai. This region of the world is believed to have survived multiple ice ages, and its elevated, rocky and wind whipped landscape protects these plants from anthropogenic (human) impact (Masé, 2020). Their ability to survive such intense environmental stressors is one indication of their usefulness to support a healthy stress response.
Second, these herbs all contain unique phytochemistry that has been shown to support a healthy and balanced response to occasional stress. The mechanism of action is different for each herb. Some act on the HPA axis through potentially inhibiting the release of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), thereby reducing the initial trigger of the stress response. Others seem to interact with neurotransmitter receptors in the brain to promote a sense of calm.*
Adaptogens are nourishing, tonic herbs that are best incorporated into your daily routine. Many of them come in powdered form and can be added to smoothies, hot beverages, and – when not fasting - batter and granola recipes. They often have a mild flavor that is pleasant and enjoyable. Try out this adaptogen energy ball recipe for an easy mid-day boost. You can also find adaptogens in our endocrine formulas: Endocrine Daily, Adrenal Support, Pituitary Support, and Thyroid Support.*
Eleuthero, once misclassified as Siberian ginseng based on the region where it grows and its similar action to ginseng (they are also both in the Araliaceae plant family), was heavily researched by Soviet scientists during the Space Race era. In fact, by 1976, it was estimated that over 3 million people in Russia were using eleuthero regularly, including Olympic athletes and astronauts. Eleuthero promotes a natural energy boost without being overly stimulating. It is a great adaptogen for the young and old and everyone in between (Winston & Maimes, 2007). Find eleuthero in Endocrine Daily, Adrenal Support, Pituitary Support, Thyroid Support, Superfood Explosion, Muscles by Nature, Happy caps and Male Reproductive Tonic.*
Ho Shou Wu, also known as Fo-ti, is a traditional Chinese herb that is believed to be one of the most powerful extractors of earthbound Qi. Pronounced “chee,” qi is the TCM word for life force or vital energy. Once the ho shou wu root is harvested it is boiled with black beans to release its mechanism of action and make it more digestible. Ho shou wu is said to conserve Jing, which is often referred to as the "vital essence" or the "primordial energy" that we inherit from our parents at the time of conception. It is believed to be the foundation for growth, development, and reproduction and plays a vital role in our overall health and longevity. According to TCM theory, when Jing is depleted due to factors like stress, aging, or excessive lifestyles, it can lead to various health issues, such as fatigue, weak bones, and premature aging. Therefore, herbs like Fo-ti are considered valuable for their potential to support and conserve Jing. Ho shou wu is included in Endocrine Daily, Adrenal Support, Pituitary Support, Thyroid Support, Happy Caps, Muscles by Nature and Male Reproductive Tonic.*
Schisandra was covered in our Nervous System blog for supporting general balance in nervous system health. One of the key phytochemicals in Schisandra is schisandrin, which belongs to the group of lignans. Schisandrin is believed to have adaptogenic properties, helping the body adapt to various stressors and maintain balance. Schisandrin is thought to interact with neurotransmitter systems in the brain, including the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, supporting a calmer state of mind and improved stress management. Schisandra is rich in organic acids, including citric acid and malic acid, which may play a role in promoting energy production and enhancing physical endurance. Schisandra berry is included in Endocrine Daily, Pituitary Support, Thyroid Support, Male Reproductive Tonic, Happy Caps and High Energy by Nature.*
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has been used by native peoples in North America for centuries and is believed to be the chief of health supporting herbs. It is considered an adaptogen due to the presence of bioactive compounds known as ginsenosides which interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, regulating stress hormone levels and supporting a balanced stress response. American ginseng is often referred to as a "cooling" ginseng, meaning it has a calming and nourishing effect on the body, and it is believed to have a milder stimulatory effect compared to Korean ginseng. American ginseng is often recommended for individuals who are more sensitive to stimulants or those looking for a more balanced energy boost without feeling overstimulated or anxious. It is also a good option for individuals with adrenal insufficiency, characterized by bark circles under the eyes, fatigue, and elevated cortisol (Winston & Maimes, 2007). Enjoy American ginseng in Muscles by Nature, Male Reproductive Tonic and Ultimate Immune Tonic.*
Rhodiola, commonly referred to as rose root, has a rosey, bitter dryness (tannins) and makes a deep red liquid extract. It is a high-altitude perennial flowering plant with succulent leaves that grows naturally in wild Arctic regions of Europe (including Britain), Asia, and North America. On the northeastern coast of Canada in Nunatsiavut, Labrador indigenous Inuit have traditionally used rhodiola for food and medicine. Salidrosides (rhodiolosides) found in rhodiola are thought to contribute to the root’s adaptogenic action. Research suggests that salidrosides can support the sensitivity of serotonin and dopamine receptors, two crucial neurotransmitters associated with mood regulation and emotional well-being. This therapeutic phytochemical may also help regulate the release of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) as well as increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that plays a crucial role in promoting the growth, maintenance, and connectivity of neurons, making rhodiola an excellent neurotrophic. Rhodiola is included in Adrenal Support and Happy Caps.*
Licorice has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries and has some very interesting phytochemistry that makes it well known among athletes for helping to target exercise-induced inflammation. The glycyrrhizin found in the roots of this plant is about 50 times sweeter than sucrose, making it wonderful at harmonizing the overall taste of a formula without affecting blood sugar levels. Try licorice as a single herb tincture or in High Energy by Nature.*
Ashwagandha is what's known as a Rasayana in Ayurveda, which is described as an “herbal or metallic preparation that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness.” “The smell of the horse” is the English translation of the Hindu word Ashwagandha, as the root has a horse-like odor. The analogy endures as the root, used for centuries in traditional Ayurveda, is said to give one the strength and stamina of a stallion. Called the king of adaptogens, ashwagandha contains withanolides, particularly withaferin A, which have been shown to enhance the activity of GABA receptors, supporting improved sleep and a more balanced and calm response to stress. It is also said to support healthy serotonin levels in the brain. Try ashwagandha in our single herb extract Ashwagandha Tincture.*
Sex Hormone Support
Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus castus) is traditionally used as a female reproductive tonic that’s specific method of action seems to regulate progesterone levels. It is believed to have a regulatory effect on hormone levels, particularly in relation to progesterone. It contains phytochemicals such as iridoids, flavonoids, and essential oils that are thought to interact with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, indirectly supporting the balance of sex hormones. Vitex is believed to promote the production of luteinizing hormone (LH) while suppressing the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This action can lead to an increase in progesterone production during the second half of the menstrual cycle, potentially helping to maintain hormonal balance and support overall reproductive health. Doctor Morse loves this herb, formulating it into Endocrine Daily, Adrenal Support, Thyroid Support, Pituitary Support, Happy Caps, Female Reproductive Tonic, Male Reproductive Tonic, High Energy by Nature, and Bone & Connective Tissue Support.*
Saw Palmetto Berry is endemic to peninsular Florida, the region of the United States where Doctor Morse is based. This palm family member has serrated, saw-like palm fronds and produces a berry with an aromatic, sweet, soapy taste. Its active compounds, including fatty acids, phytosterols, and flavonoids, are believed to support the inhibition of the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase, which is responsible for converting testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). By reducing DHT levels, saw palmetto may help maintain a healthy balance of testosterone, supporting prostate health and addressing conditions related to male hormone imbalances. Find this herb in Adrenal Support, Happy Caps, High Energy by Nature, Superfood Explosion, Endocrine Daily, Pituitary Support, Thyroid Support, and Bone & Connective Tissue Support.*
Kelp (Ascophyllum nodosum) is used in our Thyroid Support formula as it is a North Atlantic brown alga (seaweed) that is a close cousin to Fucus vesiculosus, aka bladderwrack. Kelp contains a variety of beneficial compounds, including iodine, which is essential for proper thyroid function. Iodine is a crucial component in the synthesis of thyroid hormones, namely thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones play a vital role in regulating metabolism, energy production, and overall body homeostasis. Studies show that kelp’s iodine content can support optimal thyroid function by providing the necessary raw material for thyroid hormone production. Besides our Thyroid Support formula, Kelp is also included in Adrenal Support, Endocrine Daily, Happy Caps, Bone & Connective Tissue Support, Superfood Explosion, Muscles by Nature and High Energy by Nature.*
Dr Morse Formulas for Endocrine System Health
*FDA warning: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.