The hypothalamus is not the title of an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” or a strange mammal with a duck’s bill, it’s a major part of the endocrine system’s link to your nervous system and it plays a part in regulating how your body functions on many levels. It takes care of some of the everyday functions that you take for granted and don’t even think about- it’s the part of your brain that does the thinking for you.
Here are a few samples of what the hypothalamus regulates:
- Your appetite- it tells you when you are hungry
- Thirst- it signals when you need liquids
- When it’s time to sleep, when sleep is over
- Your body temperature
- Blood pressure
- Sexual arousal and general mood
Pretty important stuff from something about the size of an almond. It’s located right below the thalamus just above the brain stem. It controls the metabolic processes and it synthesizes and secretes neurohormones. These hormones control and regulate the secretion of pituitary hormones that link the nervous and endocrine systems. (More about that to follow)
So what happens when the hypothalamus stops functioning properly? You may suffer from headaches, poor vision feeling cold all the time, constipation, fatigue, weight gain, dizziness or weakness or sexual dysfunction.
Lack of anti-diuretic hormone production by the hypothalamus can also cause diabetes insipidus. This condition is when kidneys are unable to reabsorb water and the body can’t regulate how it handles fluids.
You doctor can perform tests based on your symptoms that can determine the level of your hormones like cortisol, estrogen, growth hormone, prolactin and testosterone. Your thyroid can be tested and hypothalamic dysfunction can be evaluated for precise treatments. Most causes of hypothalamic dysfunction are treatable and missing hormones can be replaced.
Keeping the hypothalamus healthy can be as simple as adding these foods to your regular diet:
- Foods that contain Vitamin B1/Thiamine like sunflower seeds, pork, bran, whole grains, split peas and lima beans.
- Fruits and Vegetables – The more colorful the better
- Fish – it contains lots of vitamin B-12 that regulates mood and helps your body process energy from your food.
- Citrus Fruits- These are high in vitamin C that helps sleep regulation, immunity strength and anxiety reduction.
The role of the hypothalamus in regulation of hormones and the pituitary gland will be discussed next week.