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get to know your hypothalamus

Get to Know Your Hypothalamus Gland

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November 11, 2020 | Published by


Your hypothalamus gland is about the size of an almond, but you wouldn’t know it from the big responsibilities it has. For starters, this small but mighty gland is part of the HPA axis, which controls the body’s stress response system. If you experience stress (in other words, if you’re human), you’ll want to know more about this amazing gland. Let’s get to it!

Location and Role in Endocrine System

Let’s start with where the hypothalamus is and what it does. This gland, along with the adrenal glands, gonads, thyroid, and pituitary, make up the body’s endocrine system. The hypothalamus is located at the core of the brain, just below the thalamus gland. There are three main regions, each containing a different nuclei. The nuclei are clusters of neurons that perform vital functions, such as releasing hormones.1
The first region is called the anterior, or supraoptic, region. The nuclei in this region are largely responsible for the release of various hormones. Most of these hormones interact with the nearby pituitary gland (which we’ll be discussing next week) to product additional hormones. Here are some of the most important hormones produced by the anterior region:1
  • Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) – If you’ve read Dr. Wilson’s book you’re likely familiar with CRH, which is involved in your body’s stress response. CRH signals to the pituitary to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH signals the production of cortisol, the body’s chief stress hormone and anti-inflammatory agent.1
  • Thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) – TRH works with the pituitary to produce thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). In addition to the thyroid gland, TSH is vital in the function of many different parts of the body, including the heart, muscles, and gastrointestinal tract.1
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) – Also working with the pituitary, GnRH helps produce critical reproductive hormones, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which helps control the menstrual cycle, and luteinizing hormone (LH), which assists in sexual deveopment.1
  • Oxytocin – Casually referred to as the “love hormone,” oxytocin controls many vital behaviors and emotions, such as trust, recognition, sexual arousal, and maternal behavior. Oxytocin also plays a part in some reproductive functions, such as lactation and childbirth.1
  • Vasopressin – Also known as antidiuretic hormone (ADH), vasopressin is responsible for regulating water levels in the body. The release of this hormone relays to the kidneys to absorb water.1
  • Somatostatin – This hormone helps to control traffic, so to speak. It works to stop the pituitary from releasing certain hormones, such as growth hormones and thyroid-stimulating hormones.1
In addition to producing these and other hormones, the anterior region also helps regulate body temperature by signaling the body to produce sweat. This region also helps maintain circadian rhythms, which regulates the body’s sleep/wake cycle on a daily basis.1

The second part is called the middle, or tuberal, region. This region helps control appetite by signaling to the body when to eat and when to stop eating. This region also releases growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), which aids the pituitary gland in producing growth hormones responsible for body growth and development.1

The final part is called the posterior, or mammillary, region. Like the anterior region, the posterior region helps to regulate body temperature. However, the posterior region does this by causing shivering and blocking sweat production.1

Functions of the Hypothalamus

As you can see, the hypothalamus is quite the busy gland. It’s involved in bodily processes ranging from temperature regulation to assisting with childbirth. Here’s a summary of just some of the bodily functions aided by the hypothalamus:1

  • body temperature
  • thirst
  • appetite and weight control
  • emotions
  • sleep cycles
  • sex drive
  • childbirth
  • blood pressure and heart rate
  • production of digestive juices
  • balancing bodily fluids

Think of the hypothalamus as your body’s balancer. When different parts of the body send signals to the brain, the hypothalamus is alerted to any unbalanced situations that need to be fixed. The hypothalamus reacts by releasing the corresponding hormones to help restore balance. Pretty impressive for something the size of an almond, wouldn’t you say?

Tips to Support the Hypothalamus

It may be a surprise, but your diet plays a part in helping to keep your hypothalamus performing optimally. Considering all the important jobs it has, it’s a good idea to keep this gland as healthy as possible. Studies have shown that a high intake of saturated fats might increase inflammation in the body. These types of foods include lard, meats (especially red meat), lard, and dairy products. Other studies have shown that consuming high levels of saturated fats can have a negative impact on how the hypothalamus regulates hunger and energy release.2

These changes can cause the immune system to be overactive, increasing the chances of it targeting healthy body cells, increasing inflammation in the gut, and altering the natural working of the body.2

On the contrary, higher intakes of polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, can help to counter inflammation. Foods with high omega-3 content include fish, walnuts, flax seeds, and leafy vegetables. Other foods and nutrients that can help support the hypothalamus include:2

  • vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables
  • vitamin C
  • B-vitamins

References:

  1. Seladi-Schulman, J, PhD. Hypothalamus Overview. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/hypothalamus
  2. Johnson, J. What does the hypothalamus do? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312628

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