Many of the vital functions of the body are influenced by the endocrine system, which consists of the glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream. Hormones are chemical signal molecules and act as messengers between the brain and the body. Most hormonal balance is maintained through feedback – a process similar to a thermostat on your heating system. Under normal circumstances hormone secretion occurs when there is a need, and stops when there is an excess. This constant flux keeps the body in a state of homeostasis, or equilibrium, as changes occur in your environment.
There is a structure in the brain called the hypothalamus which acts as that thermostat. It receives incoming information from the nervous system and then sends signals to make and release hormones in response to the needs of the body, usually targeting specific glands or organs to do the job. This thermostat is located in the base of the brain and communicates very closely with the pituitary gland through both blood vessels and nerve endings. Due to the integrated nature of the endocrine and nervous systems, the term “neuroendocrine” system is used commonly as a more accurate descriptor.
When the body is in balance, precise amounts of hormones are released into the bloodstream and the body functions normally. When there is a malfunction with the control mechanism of hormone production, then either too much or too little hormones are produced. These conditions are known respectively as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, and can be extremely difficult to manage and live with. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) is one of the vital neuroendocrine cascades that is negatively impacted with these clinical conditions.
When the control mechanisms behind the HPA axis become disturbed, the “thermostat” malfunctions resulting in inadequate timing or inappropriate amounts of hormones being secreted. Over time signs of hormone imbalance are likely to develop including:
Most treatments for hypo- or hyperthyroid conditions include taking an Rx drug or supplement to stimulate or inhibit hormone production. While this is an effective means of infusing synthetic hormones into the bloodstream, any signaling errors between the brain and glands (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis) are left unresolved.
As the the “thermostat” of the neuroendocrine system, the hypothalamus is continually processing countless nerve signals from the glands, organs, and tissues of the body. Various receptors throughout the body including temperature, pressure, and special sense receptors provide information to the hypothalamus about the state of the body’s environment.
The spinal cord serves as both a cable and a switchboard that connects the nerves of the body with the brain, including the hypothalamus. As a switchboard, the spinal cord is actually a direct extension of the brain. That means that it is made up of the same types of nerve fibers, is supported by the same coverings and fluid, and is protected by the skull and spine.
The spine has three regions and 24 individual segments. When the spine is in its optimal structural position, the nervous system that it contains is protected and nerve impulses travel freely along its fibers. Under these conditions the control system of the body has clear communication to and from its other tissues including glands, organs, muscles, etc.
Since spinal segments are moveable, they are susceptible to injury, faulty mechanics, and unbalanced alignment – especially in the upper neck. This region of the spine is most mobile, and as such, injury prone when traumas to the body (including sports injuries, slips and falls, whiplash, car accidents, etc) produce stresses to the ligaments and tissues that support the spinal segments in proper position.
Research at the Stil Institute showed that spinal problems at the C1 and C2 segmental levels (upper cervical spine or craniocervical junction) were associated with abnormal pituitary gland function. This impairment resulted in abnormal hormone secretions. In fact, spinal nerve irritation and its impacts on the HPA axis may be a significant cause of neuroendocrine dysfunction and hormone related issues.
While neuroendocrine dysfunction and hormone related conditions are very complex, understanding the important structural considerations is essential for developing a comprehensive and targeted treatment plan. While NeuroStructural Chiropractic is not a treatment of hormone dysfunction, research shows that neuroendocrine function can be negatively impacted by spinal trauma and stress.
In 2016 I was fortunate to coauthor a case series regarding female infertility and upper cervical chiropractic care which described the resolution of HPA axis dysfunction and subsequent conception in two women who struggled previously with failed fertility treatments. By restoring proper spinal balance and neurological function, these patients were able to experience greater homeostasis in their hormone function. Ultimately this resulted in natural conception and the birth of healthy children.
As in the case of these two women, many people who struggle with infertility issues have a history of spinal injury that goes undetected while pursuing traditional hormone treatments. To build a comprehensive understanding of the problem, the structural impacts to neuroendocrine function must be explored.
To find out of you or a loved one is experiencing a decreased level of neurological performance related to spinal stress, you are welcome to reserve a complimentary consultation to find out if Zenith Chiropractic can help you get back in balance.