A common-sense approach is best, with a few small wrinkles
Given its pivotal role in a healthy, functioning human body, the endocrine system receives relatively little attention. The system of hormones works by carrying healthy levels of hormones into the circulatory system to be distributed to organs throughout the body.
The endocrine system consists of:
- Pineal gland (modulating sleep)
- Pituitary gland (Known primarily for affecting growth, but also plays a role in blood pressure, management of energy, metabolism, and some aspects of sexual reproduction)
- Pancreas (digestion)
- Ovaries and testes (sexual reproduction)
- Thyroid/hypothyroid (mood, metabolic rate)
The bones, kidneys, liver, and heart are among those organs with secondary endocrine functions. Accordingly, the entire body is affected by the health—or lack thereof—of this particular system. A healthy diet helps to ensure proper, long-term function. The list of foods to add and to avoid for proper endocrine health looks a lot like most similar lists—with a few interesting additions (or subtractions!)
Pineal Gland: Anyone who’s recently become a parent or had any unexpected disruption to their schedule can tell you all you’d ever want to know about the effects of disturbances to the sleep cycle. Foods rich in vitamins B5 and B6 will help to regulate the pineal gland, while aiding in the production and distribution of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the all-important circadian rhythms. These foods include: lentil beans, avocados, sweet potatoes, tuna and turkey.
Generally speaking, you’re looking to cereals, fish, grains, and beans in this category.
Pituitary Gland: It’s kind of ironic that such a small gland—approximately the size of a pea—is primarily responsible for regulating growth in living organisms. But this small-but-mighty engine runs primarily on vitamins D and E, which means your basic group of high-protein meats, fish, eggs, and nuts. Manganese is naturally stored in the bones, but the pituitary gland craves the mineral for added function, meaning leafy green vegetables, bans and whole grains can only help the cause.
Pancreas: For proper pancreas function, the list of ‘don’t eat’ foods is much longer than the advisable foods. Olive oil, in particular, is cited as being good for the pancreas, in addition to many of the food groups covered in the pineal and pituitary sections.
The list of foods to avoid is a long one, but not one that requires much thinking. It’s basically populated with every type of food you’d expect to be advised to avoid. Red meats, fried foods, butter, mayonnaise, and pastries all find their ways onto this list.
People with inflammation or conditions affecting the pancreas may benefit in particular from increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Ovaries and Testes: Remember, we’re talking about foods that revitalize health here, not necessarily aphrodisiacs. So you won’t find anything as enjoyable as strawberries and whip cream on this list. But there are some dietary considerations for proper sexual health, which is primarily about proper blood flow.
For males, zinc has received a great deal of positive attention lately—leading to a great deal of discussion around oysters. When seafood isn’t available, zinc is readily available as a supplement. More generally speaking, foods rich in amino acids such as walnuts, almonds and whey proteins are advisable for this category.
Most attention on healthy foods for female reproduction focuses on boosting fertility, which may or may not be a goal at any particular time. In any case, these tips include adding non-animal proteins (nuts and beans rather than chicken and beef), vitamins and supplements, and perhaps surprisingly, high-fat dairy products. Indeed, this article cites low-fat dairy products as having a link to ovulatory infertility.
Authors caution, however, against using the study or its contents as justification for late-night freezer binges on pints of ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Thyroid: Stop me if you’ve heard this one—eat lots of nuts and vegetables. Hey, there’s a reason they’re called “health foods”—they have a positive effect on most, if not all, parts of the body . Cruciferous vegetables (“cruciferae” is Latin for cross-bearing, a reference to the shape of the flowers) such as cauliflower, broccoli, and brussel sprouts are particularly effective.
Experts recommend avoiding or cutting gluten intake to aid in proper thyroid function as well.
Lastly, the standard “get more exercise” recommendation applies here. When exercising, the pituitary gland releases human growth hormone (HGH), while the thyroid emits hormones that help to regulate blood pressure, and so on.
The good news for your patients is that proper endocrine health largely consists of following some common-sense recommendations to maintain a proper diet. By citing the gland that is particularly troublesome or a particular area of concern for each individual, you can find some more specifically tailored recommendations (increase fruits and vegetables for pancreatitis, avoid gluten for thyroid issues, etc.)
But in summary, proper endocrine health begins where all healthy habits do—eat right and exercise!