Definition of Endocrine System-
The Endocrine system of the human body can be defined as the network of glands that produces and releases/secretes hormones directly into the circulatory system controlling the important bodily functions that include the bodys ability to change calories into energy to power the cells and organs. Each gland of the endocrine system releases specific hormones into the blood stream where these hormones travel through blood to other cells that help control or coordinate the body process. The main endocrine glands include the following ones-
1. Adrenal Glands
4. Islet cells in the pancreas
6. Pineal gland
7. Pituitary gland
The endocrine glands in addition to the above-mentioned ones include many other organs that have inbuilt endocrine functionalities or have secondary endocrine functions and these organs include kidney, liver, heart etc. For instance, kidney secretes endocrine hormones such as rennin and erythropoietin. As an important system of body, the endocrine system is prone to endocrine disorders or endocrine diseases. Endocrine disorders are typically categorized or grouped into two categories
(1) Endocrine disease that results when a gland produces too much or too little of endocrine hormones also called hormonal imbalance and (2) The development of endocrine disease may be in the form of lesions or tumors especially in the form of breast cancer
Endocrine-disrupting Compounds Chemicals that Interfere with the Body’s Natural Hormones are chemicals used in everyday products such as plastics, cleaning products, cosmetics and industrial processes such as manufacturing and waste disposal. These have been shown to affect the bodys development by mimicking, blocking or disrupting the bodys natural hormones leading to faulty growth patterns and hormone imbalance.
The effect of endocrine disorders on breast health
Endocrine diseases are characterized by hormonal imbalance in the form of unregulated hormone release, inappropriate response to signaling (hypothyroidism) or structural enlargement in certain organs or sites such as the thyroid and in breasts. The endocrine disorder in women is more prominent in the form of benign breast lesions and those that are associated with the increased risk of breast cancer development. Clinical observations have found that hormones play a vital role in the etiology of both benign and malignant lesions in women.
In men, the most common endocrine disorder of endocrine system may emerge in the form of Gynecomastia in which there occurs non-cancerous increase in the size of the breast tissue. Adolescent males usually have or experience temporary gynecomastia due to the influence of maternal hormones and hormonal changes during puberty. Majority of endocrine hormonal levels are affected by stress. The most common endocrine disorder or disease due to hormonal imbalance in women is breast cancer that is characterized by the growth of malignant cells in the mammary glands. Breast cancer can strike males and females but women are about 1000 times more likely to develop disease than men are.
What is breast cancer?
Cancer starts when cells begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body.
Breast Cancer Symptoms
A lump in the breast is typically associated with breast cancer, but most of the time, a lump in the breast isn’t cancer. From hormonal changes in teens to damaged fat tissue, more than 90 percent of all breast lumps in women in their early 20s to early 50s are noncancerous (benign), according to the Mayo Clinic. Common causes of benign breast lumps include:
- breast infection
- fibrocystic breast disease (lumpy breasts)
- fibro adenoma (noncancerous tumor)
- fat necrosis (damaged tissue)
With fat necrosis, the mass cannot be distinguished from a cancerous lump without a biopsy. Report these changes to your doctor.
- changes in the shape of the nipple
- breast pain doesn’t go away after your next period
- a new lump that doesnt go away after your next period
- nipple discharge from one breast that is clear, red, brown, or yellow
- unexplained redness, swelling, skin irritation, itchiness, or rash on the breast
- swelling or a lump around the collarbone or under the arm
A lump that is hard with irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous Later signs of breast cancer include:
- retraction, or inward turning of the nipple
- enlargement of one breast
- dimpling of the breast surface
- an existing lump that gets bigger
- an “orange peel” texture to the skin
- vaginal pain
- unintentional weight loss
- enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit
- visible veins on the breast
Having one or more of these symptoms doesnt necessarily mean you have breast cancer. Nipple discharge, for example, can also be caused by an infection.
Breast Cancer Causes
The causes of breast cancer aren’t fully understood, making it difficult to say why one woman may develop breast cancer and another may not.However, there are risk factors that are known to affect your likelihood of developing breast cancer.
The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. The condition is most common among women over 50 who have been through the menopause. About 8 out of 10 cases of breast cancer occur in women over 50. All women who are 50-70 years of age should be screened for breast cancer every three years as part of the NHS Breast Screening Programme. Women over the age of 70 are still eligible to be screened and can arrange this through their GP or local screening unit.
If you have close relatives who have had breast cancer or ovarian cancer, you may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. However, Most cases of breast cancer aren’t hereditary (they don’t run in families), but particular genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can increase your risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancer. It’s possible for thesegenes to be passed on from a parent to their child. A third gene (TP53) is also associated with increased risk of breast cancer.
If you have, for example, two or more close relatives from the same side of your family, such as your mother, sister or daughter, who have had breast cancer under the age of 50, you may be eligible for surveillance for breast cancer or for genetic screening to look for the genes that make developing breast cancer more likely.
Previous benign or diagnosis of breast cancer
If you’ve previously had breast cancer or early non-invasive cancer cell changes in breast ducts, you have a higher risk of developing it again, either in your other breast or in the same breast again.
Your breasts are made up of thousands of tiny glands (lobules), which produce milk. This glandular tissue contains a higher concentration of breast cells than other breast tissue, making it denser. Women with dense breast tissue may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer because there are more cells that can become cancerous.
Exposure to estrogen
The female hormone, estrogen, can sometimes stimulate breast cancer cells and cause them to grow. The ovaries, where your eggs are stored, begin to produce estrogen when you start puberty, to regulate your periods.
Being overweight or obese
If you’ve experienced the menopause and are overweight or obese, you may be more at risk of developing breast cancer. This is thought to be linked to the amount of estrogen in your body, because being overweight or obese after the menopause causes more estrogen to be produced.
Certain medical procedures that use radiation, such as X-rays and computerized tomography (CT) scans, may slightly increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is associated with a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer. Both combined HRT and estrogen-only HRT can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, although the risk is slightly higher if you take combined HRT.
Naturopathic/Nutritional treatment approach on endocrine disorders-
Abnormal endocrine function creates hormonal imbalance involving human body secreting too much or too little of a hormone. This endocrine disorders that have severe effects in the form of diabetes, fatigue, fertility problems and menopausal disorders can be healed through healthy nutrition or food. Some of these treatment methods for preventing endocrine disorder include-
1. Consume good healthy food that is rich in omega fats such as fish or seafood.
2. Eat a diet rich in vitamins, proteins and minerals such as green leafy vegetables, broccoli, parsley etc..
3. Take fruits that are rich in Vitamin C such as oranges, mango, or any type of citrus fruits. These fruits also have a cancer-treating element that helps in prevention of breast cancers when consumed in good quantities..
4. Drink green tea that contains epigallocatachin-3 galletes that prevents free radical damage and lowers inflammation..
Botanical Treatment for endocrine disorders-
The botanical treatment approach for treating endocrine disorders especially in case of Hyperprolactinemia in case of women that causes the body to produce higher than normal levels of prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone that stimulates the breast milk production during pregnancy and induces lactation after giving birth. In the absence of pregnancy in women, high levels of prolactin may lead to infertility and decreased libido in both women and men. The botanical treatment options for this type of endocrine disorder are to take Adoptogen Herbs that helps in nourishing the endocrine system. Some of these adoptogen herbs include-
1. Ashwgandha (Withania somnifera),
2. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp),
3. American ginseng,
4. Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus),
5. Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Ayurvedic treatment options for endocrine disorders
The Indian system of medicine popularly known as Ayurveda has excellent treatment options for endocrine disorders. The treatment involves detoxification of the body through natural and holistic approach that may significantly prevent and reduce hormonal imbalances. Some of these treatment methods include-
1. Inducing Panchakarma program through various avenues such as music, scents, visuals that serves in calming the nervous system and reducing stress in addition to helping in detoxifying the body.
2. Shirodhara treatment done under the guidance of experienced and well trained Ayurvedic physician in which warm oil is poured on the forehead area known as third eye that is associated with the pituitary and pineal glands. This treatment helps in stimulating the release of serotonin and melatonin hormones that are necessary for overall endocrine health.
3. Through Pranayama/Yoga techniques that help in calming the mind from stress which is responsible for endocrine glands and its associated hormonal imbalances.
4. Treatment in the form of adaptogen herbs such as Ashwagandha, Brahmi, guggulu, shilajita, Gokshura, and Punarnava
Homeopathy treatment options for endocrine diseases
Homoeopathy – an alternative medical system provides treatment options for endocrine disorders or diseases. Homeopathy is based on the philosophy that like cures like treats symptoms by giving infinitesimal amounts of substances in large doses would cause the same symptoms in a healthy person. In case of breast cancer, Carcinoc-sin may be used but should be used under the guidance of a trained professional.
Acupuncture treatment for endocrine disorder
Acupuncture and oriental medicine is an ancient system of medicine originated in China that can be traced back to 2,500 years ago is based on the principles of the patterns of energy flow (Qi) all over the body that is essential for health. Any disruptions in this flow are believed to be responsible for the disease. Treatment is geared toward balancing .
1. Eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals especially consuming variety of whole food, plant based options such as leafy greens, fresh fruits, whole grains, seafood such as fish, seaweed.
2. Avoid junk food such as burgers, soft drinks, fried foods, caffeine products, alcoholic drinks, smoking, dairy products etc.
3. Exercise regularly such as doing yoga, running, jogging, aerobic exercises, playing outdoor games such as tennis, basketball etc. to maintain healthy weight levels.
4. Controlling sugar and blood pressure levels in case of diabetic and hypertension patients. Managing stress levels is also quite important.
5. Have medical checkups at certain intervals especially for those who are above 40 years of age.
Conventional Treatment approach for endocrine diseases
The endocrine therapy for breast cancer may vary that may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The hormonal therapies for breast cancer in conventional treatment involve blocking the production of estrogen or limiting its ability to reach the tumor cells that need it to grow.
The simplest therapy involves the invasive method of endocrine therapy through the surgical removal of ovaries or an oophorectomy/mastectomy (in extreme cases only). Ovaries are the source of estrogen that helps in the growth of the tumor. The drug therapies used in treatment of breast cancer are of two types-
(1) Drugs in the form of Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs)
(2) Drugs known as Armotase Inhibitors (AIs)
Women suffering from metastatic breast cancer have better survival rates when they take AI drugs that are usually prescribed for the first endocrine therapy for postmenopausal women.
Overall, it can be said that maintaining a healthy endocrine system is important for living a healthy life for both men and women at large.
National Adrenal Diseases Foundation: : www.medhelp.org/nadf/
Bone Health, Parathyroid, & Calcium Disorders:
NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases (National Resource Center): www.niams.nih.gov/bone/
American Diabetes Association: : www.diabetes.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Overweight & Obesity Home Page): www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/
Dr. Dorette Lewis-Senior ND. MSAc. BS-RN