Hormone-releasing glands that are spread throughout the body make up the endocrine system. These glands include the pineal gland, hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, adrenal glands, pancreas, ovaries, and testicles. The hormones released into the bloodstream by the endocrine glands help regulate reproduction, metabolism, sleep, blood pressure and heart rate. Several nutrients found in whole foods can help maintain endocrine system health.
Foods for Thyroid Health
The thyroid is the largest endocrine gland, and thyroid disease and inflammation can have a significant effect on the overall functioning of the endocrine system. Vitamin D helps control overall thyroid hormone production. While synthesizing vitamin D from sun exposure is ideal, foods such as cod liver oil, organic eggs, fortified dairy products, fortified cereals, mushrooms and oily fish will also boost vitamin D levels.
Selenium is a mineral that helps activate the enzymes needed to maintain normal thyroid function and to stimulate thyroid hormone production. Foods containing the highest amount of selenium are organ meats, clams, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, raw Brazil nuts, tuna, shrimp, sardines and wild-caught salmon.
Iodine, an essential mineral, helps make thyroid hormone, which is important for metabolic processes. In addition to iodized table salt, foods rich in iodine include cod, wild-caught salmon, sardines, sea vegetables, scallops, shrimp, whole grains and plain yogurt.
Foods for Adrenal Health
The adrenal glands are especially important during times of stress because they secrete epinephrine and norepinephine in order to trigger the "fight or flight" response. Stress stimulates the adrenals to release cortisol, the "stress hormone," to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, metabolism, immune response and anti-inflammatory actions. If cortisol levels remain high, adrenal fatigue can occur.
In the November 2009 issue of "Today's Dietitian," registered dietitian Dina Aronson suggested certain anti-inflammatory foods to support adrenal health. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and fatty fish.
Foods for Hypothalamus Health
The hypothalamus plays a key role in metabolism and weight management. A study published in a 2013 issue of the "British Journal of Nutrition" found diets high in certain polyunsaturated fatty acids, including a 1:1 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s, improved hypothalamus health and function. According to this study, a diet low in saturated fat and rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids will improve hypothalamus function. Foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids include flaxseed oil, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef, eggs, sardines and tuna.
Foods for Pineal Gland Health
A disruption in the sleep cycle has cascading, negative effects on the entire endocrine system and overall health. Vitamins B-5 (pantothenic acid) and B-6 (pyridoxine) help the pineal gland to produce and release melatonin, a hormone that regulates circadian rhythms -- your body's inner clock mechanism. Foods containing vitamins B-5 and B-6 include avocado, beans, lentils, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, tuna and turkey.