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The nervous system, comprised of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and all the chemical messengers that ensure communication throughout the body, controls and regulates all of the other body systems. The billions of cells that make up the brain are housed in the cerebellum and in two large lobes known as the left and right hemispheres. These hemispheres float in a pool of cerebrospinal fluid and are further safeguarded against outside danger by the skull (cranium) and by the meninges, protective coverings that rest just above the wrinkled layer of brain (the cerebral cortex) nearest the skull. The brain itself sits on a pillar of tissue known as the brain stem. The oldest part of the brain, the brain stem controls the basic functions of the body, including consciousness, heartbeat, blood pressure, and respiration.

The brain stem descends through an opening in the skull and connects to the bundle of nerves known as the spinal cord. Besides being protected by the vertebrae, the spinal cord, like the brain, is covered by meninges and surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid. Two types of nerves are believed to pass between the spinal cord and the brain: large bundled nerve fibers carrying the sense of touch and the smaller bundles carrying sensations of pain.

Nervous System

The brain and the nerves speak to each other, nerve cell by nerve cell, via a distinctive group of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the doorway to a functioning nervous system - they facilitate sensory perception, muscle contraction, emotions, thoughts, and the awareness of pain. Most neurotransmitters carry out multiple tasks throughout the brain and nervous system and can be likened to words whose meanings change to suit the needs of their users.

The nervous system as a whole is comprised of three overlapping systems: the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and spinal cord; the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls involuntary functions such as heart rate, digestion, and glandular function; and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which connects the CNS to all the body tissues and voluntary muscles. Health and healing rely upon the equilibrium of these three interrelated nerve systems and the unimpeded nerve flow that is essential for the proper function of the body's other systems.

Nervous System

Because pairs of spinal nerves exit between the vertebra of the spinal column and extend to every part of the body (muscles, bones, organs, glands, etc.), nerve function can become impeded when the spinal system (including the cranium) and the body's musculoskeletal structures become misaligned due to injury or other causes.

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The musculoskeletal system, which consists of the bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissue, helps support the nervous system and is vital for optimum health. When musculoskeletal misalignments occur, we become prone to a wide range of health problems. Although such misalignments are usually associated with external factors such as prolonged stress, poor posture, ill-fitting footwear, or a traumatic injury, they can also be due to internal dysfunction, such as allergy/sensitivity problems, gastrointestinal disturbances, and hormonal imbalances.

Everyone carries some degree of stress in the muscles of the face, skull, upper shoulders, or back at some point in life. If such stress is prolonged, it can lead to chronically contracted muscles, which cause the underlying structure of the body to pull and contract. Over time, this results in adaptive compensation strategies by the body, leading to asymmetrical posture and other musculoskeletal imbalances. 

Musculoskeletal System

Generally, the musculoskeletal system has a cause-and-effect relationship with the entire body. When either the spine or the musculature are misaligned, the blood supply and the nervous system signals cannot circulate freely to all parts of the body. This forces the spine and the muscles to further compensate for the resulting reduced energy in ways for which they were not designed.

A good example of this mechanism is seen when looking at musculoskeletal imbalances that originate in the head and neck. As the most mobile part of the spine, the head and neck affect the way weight comes through the feet. Head and neck misalignments can throw off the hips, forcing the spine to compensate. This, in turn, may cause the shoulder muscles that run upward along the base of the skull to shorten, the back tissues of the nexk to become overstretched, and the jaw to become contracted, all of which pinch or place increased pressure on the nerves running through the base of the skull, down the neck and shoulders, and at the junction where the skull and jaw meet.

Over time, the neck and head become like the pole that tightrope walkers use to keep their balance, struggling against all of those other holding patterns, blocking energy, and causing further muscle strain, blood vessel constriction, nerve irritation, and headaches. This can compromise other functions of the body, bringing about chronic disturbances such as increased emotional tension, digestive problems, hormonal imbalances, and toxicity.

Other results of unhealthy musculoskeletal structure include tightness or restriction in cranial bone movement or in the dura, the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord; imbalances in cerebrospinal fluid pressure; fibrosis (in which fibrous connective tissue replaces normal tissue in the muscles or organs); scar formation in the sub-occipital area, the region where the tip of the neck meets the base of the skull; and restrictions in the movement of the back of the skull and the first two cervical vertebrae (the atlas and the axis).

Musculoskeletal System
Musculoskeletal System
Musculoskeletal System

Musculoskeletal misalignments can not only negatively influence the tone of the muscles that attach tot he neck and head, but also shut off blood supply to the brain. This is because 30% of the blood delivered to the brain comes through the vertebral artery. If the neck is out of alignment due to poor posture or trauma, the brain can actually go into partial asphyxiation as the oxygen level decreases and the carbon dioxide level increases. Headaches, especially tension headaches, are symptoms of this occurrence.

Poor Posture


Hunching over your desk, slouching on the couch, and wearing ill-fitting footwear all put undue pressure on the spinal column, pinching nerves and muscles and leading to head pain. The trapezius, the triangle-shaped muscle that covers each shoulder blade, is one of the major muscles associated with pain arising from bad posture. Tense or fatigued people tend to roll their shoulders forward, contracting the trapezius, pulling on the pain sensors in the muscle tissue and causing these muscles to pull and strain the scalp. This, in turn, jams the cranial bones and puts extra pressure on the artery that runs up the back of the skull, reducing blood circulation to the brain.

Musculoskeletal System
Musculoskeletal System

Poor posture is closely related to digestive function. Eating poorly by consuming devitalized, processed foods, for instance, decreases digestive function, and the resultant drop in energy can cause difficulty in keeping good posture.

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Immune System

The immune system is a complex network of specialized organs, cells, and substances that acts as the body's primary defense against disease and a wide variety of bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, all of which we come in contact with simply by breathing, eating, and the acts of everyday living. In addition, on a daily basis many cells are damaged or killed due to trauma, toxins, microbial attack, and other processes in the body. The immune system is responsible for removing such cells, a task it can only perform if healthy.

To protect us against infectious agents and the development of disease, the immune system employs three basic defense strategies. Its first line of defense is the skin and gastrointestinal tract, which act as physical barriers, coupled with millions of immune cells to prevent infection. The second line of defense is the bloodstream and inflammatory response, which cause exposed body tissue to redden, become warm, and/or swell in an attempt to contain infectious agents and prevent them from spreading further. However, if this response is too great or occurs over a prolonged period, further damage to tissues and cells may ensue. The final line of defense occurs within various organs of the body, particularly the spleen, liver, and lymph nodes.

 

Primary Organs of the Immune System

Skin:  Along with mucous membranes, the skin is the body's first line of defense against microbial infection. Together, they form a protective barrier to keep harmful organisms from penetrating deeper into the body.  

Pancreas:  The pancreas, when healthy, produces various enzymes that help digest foods. Certain of these enzymes, especially chymotrypsin, are absorbed intact into the bloodstream to be carried to distant body sites, where they digest the fibrin coating on the surface of microbes, cancer cells, and other diseased cells. This allows immune cells to recognize and destroy such cells once their protective coating is destroyed.

Immune System

Bone Marrow:  Bone marrow within the red, fleshy portion of the thigh bones produces infant stem cells, which ultimately develop into several types of immune cells.

Spleen:  The spleen houses immune cells that manufacture antibodies. It also contains white pulp filled with lymphocytes and macrophage cells, and acts like a large lymph node, except that it filters blood rather than lymph fluid.

Liver:  The liver is the primary filtering and waste-processing plant of the body. It breaks down and disposes of dead immune cells and the waste products they have accumulated. It is lined with immune cells that help eliminate microorganisms from the bloodstream.

Thymus Gland:  The thymus gland secretes thymosin, a hormone that strengthens immune response. It also instructs certain lymphocytes to specialize their function. The thymus is also an essential part of the endocrine system.

Lymphatic System:  The lymphatic system acts as the body's master drainage system and is comprised of lymph nodes, clusters of immune tissue that detect and filter foreign and potentially harmful substances in the lymph fluid. Lymph fluid flows in the lymphatic system throughout the body, helping to maintain the fluid level of cells and carrying various substances from body tissues to the blood. The primary concentrations of lymph nodes are in the neck, armpits, chest, groin, and abdomen.

Types of Immune Cells

The body's immune response is carried out by various immune cells that support each other, including one trillion lymphocytes and 100 million antibodies, which the lymphocytes produce and secrete. A lymphocyte is a specialized white blood cell that represents 25% to 40% of the body's total blood count. Lymphocytes increase during infection and when a person is fighting immune diseases such as cancer. Produced in the bone marrow, they are found in high concentrations in lymph nodes, the spleen, and the thymus gland.

Immune System
Immune System

They occur in three forms: B cells, T cells, and natural killer (NK) cells. B cells mature in the lymph nodes and produce antibodies to neutralize antigens (harmful microorganisms or foreign cells). T cells mature in the thymus gland and react to and destroy specific invading antigens, cancerous cells, or infectious agents. Helper T cells (also known as T4 or CD4 cells) secrete immune proteins (particularly the interleukins and interferon) to stimulate B cells and macrophages and activate killer T cells. Suppressor T cells prevent excessive immune reactions by suppressing antibody activity.

NK cells are a type of nonspecific, free-ranging lymphocyte. Unlike other lymphocytes, NK cells are not activated by a specific antigen, but recognize and quickly destroy any foreign invader on first contact. They contain an estimated 100 different biochemical substances for destroying foreign cells. Their primary role is surveillance - to rid the body of aberrant or foreign cells before they can mature and produce cancer and infection.

Macrophages are a form of white blood cell that can engulf germs and foreign proteins and then damage or destroy them by releasing enzymes. Macrophages act as the immune system's vacuum cleaners and filter feeders, ingesting everything that is not normal healthy tissue, including old blood cells. Neutrophils are a type of leukocyte formed in the bone marrow and released into the bloodstream. Their principal activity is to ingest foreign particles, especially harmful bacteria and fungi.

Interferon, familiar to many as a cancer treatment, is a natural protein produced by cells in response to a virus or other foreign substance. Vitamin C and certain herbs can also stimulate its production. Interleukin is a class of immune messenger protein with various functions, including T-cell activation.

Antibodies are protein molecules set in motion by the immune system against a specific antigen. Also referred to as immunoglobulins, antibodies occur in the blood, lymph, colostrum, saliva, and gastrointestinal and urinary tracts, usually within three days of the first encounter with an antigen. The antibody binds tightly with the antigen as a preliminary for removing it from the body or destroying it.

The Antigen-Specific Immune Response

Immune System

The immune response begins when a macrophage encounters a foreign invader and consumes it. As it does so, it displays pieces of the invader (antigens) on its surface. Helper T cells recognize the antigen displayed and bind to the macrophage. This union stimulates the production of chemical substances, such as interleukin-1 by the macrophage and interleukin-2 by the T cell, that allow for intercellular communication between immune cells.

Interleukin-2 signals helper T cells and NK cells to multiply. The proliferating helper T cells release substances that cause B cells to multiply and produce antibodies. NK cells now begin shooting holes in host cells that have been infected by the invading microorganism. At the same time, the antibodies released by the B cells bind to antigens on the surfaces of free-floating foreign material. This makes it easier for macrophages or NK cells to destroy antigens and signals other blood components to puncture holes in the invaders.

Finally, as infection is brought under control, the activated T and B cells are turned off by suppressor T cells. However, a few "memory cells" remain to quickly respond if the same microorganisms attack again.

Fever can also be involved as part of the immune response, further helping the body to heal. When body temperature rises, antibodies are manufactured at a faster rate and blood and lymph more quickly move to their destinations. In some cases, invading microbes are killed by the higher body temperature. Similarly, inflammation and swelling of tissue also help to localize infection so that the body can heal faster.

Causes of Immune Dysfunction

An overactive or underactive immune system can lead to a variety of disease conditions. Although immunity can decline with age, this is not inevitable and impaired immunity is more often due to a variety of other factors. Among the disease conditions associated with impaired immunity are allergies, autoimmune diseases (such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis), cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Immune System
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Lymphatic System

 

 

Although we may not feel or see it, it’s one of the most important (and often forgotten) systems of the human body. The lymphatic system is a subset of the immune system and acts as the body's "master drain." It includes a vast network of capillaries that transport lymph, a series of lymph nodes throughout the body (primarily in the neck, groin, and armpits) that collect the lymph, and three organs (the tonsils, spleen, and thymus) that produce white blood cells known as lymphocytes to scavenge for toxins and microbes. The lymphatic network parallels that of the blood vessels and can be likened to a tree in the body, with the branches extending up into the head, the roots going down to the feet, and the throracic duct, or "trunk," located in the chest.

Since 1930, it has been known that lymphatic vessels have the ability to remove blood proteins and excess water from the spaces around the body's cells, allowing the cells to receive life-supporting oxygen. When the lymphatic system becomes congested, the cells become oxygen-deprived. Over time, this can result in the onset of pain and disease.

Lymph is the fluid that fills the spaces between the cells, containing nutrients to be delivered to the cells, and cellular debris (bacteria, dead cells, fatty globules, heavy metals, and other waste products) to be removed. The lymphatic system's primary purpose is to carry toxins away from the cells by collecting and filtering lymph, neutralizing and disposing of bacteria, other microbes, and toxins, and then returning its contents to the bloodstream.

The lymph flows slowly through the body to the thoracic duct (at the rate of three quarts per day), where it drains into the bloodstream. Once in the blood, the toxins are transported to the liver and kidneys, where they are broken down and excreted. Some of the lymph also empties directly into the colon, where it is eliminated with the feces. Unlike blood circulation, the lymphatic system does not have a pump like the heart to move it along. Rather, its movement depends on muscle contractions, general body activity, lymphatic massage and other forms of compression, and gravity. Research has shown that deep breathing each day is one of the most effective methods of activating the lymphatic system and keeping lymph flowing.

Lymphatic System
Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system becomes more active during times of illness such as the flu, when the lymph nodes, particularly at the throat, visibly swell with collected waste products. By reactivating the flow of lymph as part of an overall treatment program, alternative physicians are often able to quickly reverse such disease conditions. By providing instruction in the various ways proper lymph flow can be maintained, they also empower people to more effectively prevent disease from occurring.

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In healthy individuals, the body's detoxification system is able to neutralize and eliminate toxins, thereby minimizing tissue damage and preventing illness. But the detoxification system, including the liver, the intestines, and the lymphatic system, cam become overwhelmed by toxins. Toxic overload causes congestion in the lymphatic system, in which thickened lymph accumulates in the nodes without being emptied into the blood for removal from the body, and may also involve chronic intestinal constipation and liver dysfunction. The body's inability to remove toxins is a major cause of accelerated aging and a primary contributor to chronic, degenerative disease processes.

The detoxification system has two lines of defense. Specific organs prevent toxins from entering the body, while others neutralize and excrete the poisonous compounds that get through this initial line of defense. Key components of the detoxification system include the gastrointestional barrier, including the small and large intestines; the lymphatic system; kindeys, bladder, and other components of the urinary system; skin, including sweat and sebaceous glands; and the lungs.

Detoxification System
Urinary Tract

The gastrointestinal tract usually serves as the first line of defense against toxins entering the body. When it becomes compromised, it also affords disease-causing agents a place to fester, sometimes to the point where they eventually break through the intestinal membrane and enter the bloodstream. Once the bowel is toxic, the entire body soon follows. When undigested food particles, bacteria, and other substances normally confined to the intestines escape into the bloodstream, they trigger the immune system and inflammation ensues. If the intestines continue letting toxins through, then the liver, lymph, kidneys, skin, and other organs involved in detoxification become overwhelmed.

The liver is the root of stability for the entire body, when it is functioning at its best so do all other systems and organs of the body.  The blood that runs through our veins is like a river system that affects all areas and organ systems of the body. The liver bears most of the burden for eliminating toxins once they have entered the bloodstream. All foreign substances are carried to the liver to be filtered and expelled from the body. Using enzymes and antioxidants, the liver chemically transforms toxins into harmless substances that can be extracted via the urine or stool. Other toxins are eliminated through the lymphatic system, the kidneys, the skin (through perspiration), and the respiratory system.

Detoxification System
Detoxification System

When imbalances occur in the detoxification system, the result can be poor digestion, poor assimilation of nutrients, constipation, bloating and gas, immune dysfunction, reduced liver function, and a host of degenerative diseases.

Detoxification System

How the Liver Handles Toxins

The largest internal organ, the liver is one of the body's most important components, performing over 500 functions and filtering virtually everything we take into our bodies. The liver is the root of stability for the entire body, when it is functioning at its best so do all other systems and organs of the body. Working to maintain stability and harmony between various body systems, the liver functions as a nutrient warehouse and processing facility, supplying and regulating thousands of essential substances in the body, and dismantling the millions of toxic compounds that enter the body each day.

The liver performs this last function by collecting toxic waste from the blood, which flows through it at a rate of approximately 1 1/2 quarts per minute. As the blood enters the liver, specialized immune cells and enzymes remove and destroy harmful bacteria and other foreign matter. Cells known as hepatocytes are able to manufacture new enzymes for every new waste that enters the liver. This ability to "customize" enzymes is what makes the liver such a potent detoxifier.

In addition to harmful chemicals, the hepatocytes break down excess hormones, such as estrogen, cortisol, and adrenaline, circulating in the blood. The hepatocyte's enzyme system works in a two-phase cycle, first deactivating toxins, then "packaging" them in a molecular structure that allows them to dissolve in water, making it easier for toxins to be excreted in urine or feces. When the liver's ability to detoxify becomes impaired due to toxic overload, it becomes more difficult for toxins to be eliminated. This causes them to circulate in the blood and accumulate in fat and muscle tissue.

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The gastrointestinal system is comprised of a 30-foot hollow tube called the alimentary canal. Its job is to absorb nutrients while trying to prevent the absorption of abnormal substances. This is accomplished by the coordinated efforts of three processes: the nerve-controlled muscles that push food through the canal; gastric juice secretions by the stomach, pancreas, and liver, which allow for the subsequent breakdown of the food; and the absorption of fluids and nutrients by the small and large intestines.

Gastrointestinal System

Digestion starts the moment food enters your mouth. As you begin chewing, alkaline enzymes secreted from the salivary and parotid glands begin to break down the food. As you swallow, the food is moved rapidly through the esophagus and lands in the stomach reservoir, where it is stored, liquified and processed by the acidic gastric juices. The stomach - under the careful control of the nervous system by way of the vagus nerve and stomach-secreted hormones gastrin and histamine - releases enzymes (pepsinogens) and hydrochloric acid to reduce proteins to medium-sized fragments called polypeptides.

Gastrointestinal System

Once the food is thoroughly broken down, it passes into the small intestine, where it is met with an intense secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver. The intestinal wall of the small intestine is essentially the front line of the digestive defense, because it safeguards against the absorption of toxic molecules. This task is carried out by microvilli, tiny hair-like "fingers" that sift through all partially digested particles and selectively soak up proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals as they pass along. Over the ensuing 4-6 hours, most of the nutrients are assimilated as the food travels through the first 40 inches of the small intestine, leaving the remaining 20 feet to absorb the leftover water, electrolytes, bile salts, and vitamin B12.

A healthy intestinal wall, one coated primarily with "friendly" bacterial microorganisms, provides the protective lining that is necessary to keep damaging substances out of the body's circulation while letting helpful ones in. However, repeated exposure to harmful substances send the white blood cells living alongside the microvilli into attack mode. Although intended to help, this effort irritates the intenstinal lining even more because these white blood cells begin to explode shortly after absorbing the abnormal particles, thus releasing a round of inflammatory hormones, like histamine, with which the intestinal wall must also contend.

At this point, the front line of digestive defense has fallen, and abnormal proteins and toxic particles begin passing through the intestinal membrane into the bloodstream, causing what is called "leaky gut syndrome." To address this situation, the body calls upon the liver. Nothing enters the bloodstream without first passing through the liver. Normally, this giant blood filter ensures that all useful elements of food undergo interchange, synthesis, oxidation, and storage, and that all toxins are metabolized and processed into safe by-products that the kidneys can eliminate.

But when the body is repeatedly exposed to pollutants and toxins, thorough detoxification is no longer guaranteed. Problems such as leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth (dysbiosis), alcoholism, and drug abuse increase the load on the liver, causing oxidation reactions to produce free radicals faster than enzymatic reactions can process them. This allows free radicals to escape into the bloodstream and, in time, the body goes into "oxidative stress," eventually overloading the system and causing chronic illnesses such as autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches.

The cells of the liver also produce bile (which is stored in the gallbladder), another essential tool of digestive defense, which perfoms two important functions. First, bile helps to eliminate unfilterable breakdown products (called bilirubin) from the blood before they are passed to the kidneys. Second, bile neutralizes stomach acid and eases the intestinal absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins. If the liver becomes overloaded with toxins or too much stored glucose, the gallbladders canals become compressed, which decreases bile flow and impairs digestion.

An overloaded, swollen liver also reduces the flow of blood from the pelvic and abdominal regions. This blood pooling may putrefy in time, setting the stage for a host of problems including hemorrhoids, bowel irritation, uterine/ovarian or prostate irritation, neck pain and stiffness, and, in severe cases, heart palpitations. Once the liver becomes unable to dilute toxins and keep the blood clear, the gastrointestinal system becomes exhausted.

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The endocrine system is comprised of the pineal, pituitary, hypothalamus, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pancreas, gonads or sex glands, and other glandular tissue located in the intestines, kidneys, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Controlled by the higher centers of the brain and the nervous system, these glands secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream in an attempt to maintain balance and harmony within the body.

Endocrine System
Endocrine System

Hormones act as powerful electrochemical messengers, even when released in minute amounts. Among other functions, they guide and regulate most of the body's subtle biochemistry, normalize substances that maintain homeostasis, integrate bodily functions, and determine your size, stature, fat and hair distribution, the sound of your voice, your emotions, and the occurrence of head pain. Scientists have identified hundreds of hormones, with new ones still being discovered.

The endocrine glands release their hormones via a complex interplay between higher brain glands (the hypothalamus and the pituitary) and their end-organ glands (the thymus, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pancreas, and the gonads). This process serves as a sensitive messenger service, with individual hormone carriers specially programmed to communicate only with specific hormone receptors.

An overview of the Endocrine Glands

Hypothalamus and Pituitary:  The hypothalamus and pituitary govern the release of the body's hormones and set in motion the entire biochemical chain of events. The hypothalamus, which is a section of brain tissue rather than a true gland, exerts direct control over the pituitary by releasing hormones that activate it. The pituitary then sends special messages, relayed by hormones called gonadotropins, to all the other endocrine glands, telling them what hormones to make and when to make or stop making them.
The pituitary, a pea-sized gland that hangs below the brain and directly behind the eyes, is divided into three parts or lobes. The anterior lobe, or front portion, produces and secretes six hormones: prolactin, which initiates the production of breast milk; adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH), which stimulates the adrenal cortex hormones; thyrotrophin, which stimulates the production of thyroid hormones and regulates the breakdown of fat; somatotropin, a growth hormone that stimulates all body tissues and fat cells to control the growth of long bones and prevent aging; follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the maturation of ovarian follicles; and luteinizing hormone (LH), which stimulates the production of estrogen and progesterone in females and testosterone in males.
The intermediate lobe of the pituitary contains cells called melanocytes that produce melatonin. The posterior lobe, or back portion, is an extension of the brain. Rich in specialized nerve cells, it produces two hormones: oxytocin, which determines breast milk ejection and smooth-muscle contractions in the uterus; and vasopressin, which helps the kidneys and arteries control water reabsorption, controls smooth-muscle contraction in the arteries, and aids in circulation.

Endocrine System

Pineal Gland:  Shaped like a pinecone (hence its name) the pineal gland is located in a pocket at the rear of the brain near what is known as the splenium of the corpus collosum. The pineal gland's primary function is the biosynthesis of the hormone melatonin, which controls skin pigmentation and the circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle). Melatonin can also initiate defensive responses to toxins in the blood.

Thymus Gland:  This tiny gland, located in the center of the chest directly behind thee breastbone, is a key producer of immune cells.

Thyroid Gland:  The thyroid gland acts as the body's thermostat, the chief pacesetter of metabolism. It also determines the rate at which the body uses energy and, like the adrenals, helps run and regulate nearly every organ and system in the body - cell reproduction and growth, tissue repair, circulation, heart rate, nerve tissue sensitivity, hair, skin, and nail growth, sex hormone regulation, and both cholesterol and sugar metabolism in the liver.

Parathyroid Glands:  The parathyroid glands are small, saucer-shaped knobs on the back and side of each thyroid lobe. These tiny glands secrete a hormone called parahormone that allows more calcium to enter the bloodstream. If the parathyroid malfunctions, calcium levels may fall too low, which can lead to problems in muscles and nerves.

Pancreas:  The pancreas lies in the upper abdomen and performs a hormonal function in addition to a digestive one. As the producer of insulin, this vital gland is responsible for balancing blood sugar (glucose) levels in the body. A sufficient supply of glucose to the cells in the body is essential - without this, the cells starve.

Adrenal Glands:  The adrenals act as the body's energy reserve tank. These two triangular glands perched above the kidneys are responsible for overall health and vitality, since they supervise all hormone functioning. Each of these glands is divided into two parts, an inner section called the medulla and an outer layer called the cortex.
The adrenal medulla produces a set of hormones called catecholamines - the stress hormone adrenaline (also known as epinephrine), noradrenaline (or norepinephrine), and dopamine - all of which play an important role in the way we respond to danger, intense emotion, low blood sugar, extreme temperatures, oxygen shortages, low blood pressure, and stress.
The adrenal cortex manufactures three categories of steroidal hormones: mineralocorticoids, which help control the body's fluid balance by regulating the kidney's reabsorption of sodium and potassium; glucocorticoids, which affect the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, sugar, and fats, maintain blood pressure, and enable the body to respond to physical stress; and sex hormones, androgens and estrogens, which are responsible for male and female characteristics.
The chemistry of life depends on the ability of the adrenals to control the body's internal fire: if there is too little oxidation, the internal fire will not burn, yet too much will cause burnout. Therefore, the adrenals must constantly monitor glandular activity, nerve energy, physical energy, and oxidation throughout the entire body. In addition, the adrenals support immunity, determine red and white blood cell counts, aid in blood clotting, and control voluntary muscles, bodily strength, the heart muscles, blood pressure, uterine tone, and involuntary muscle contractions (peristalsis).

Sex Glands:  The sex glands (gonads), the ovaries and testes, are the most difficult glands to regulate. Sex hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, and testosterone, have a delicate function and require constant fluctuations in the glandular balance to stay in tune. For proper coordination between the sex glands and the sex hormones, the pituitary must be doing its job exactly as it should. If this fails to occur, the biofeedback mechanism by which the ovaries or testes self-regulate is thrown out of kilter, as are the hypothalamus and the pituitary, causing the entire endocrine system to become imbalanced.

Health Effects of Hormonal Imbalance

As people age, the endocrine glands may begin to shrink in size, causing hormone production to also decline (some hormone production may increase in an attempt to stimulate failing glands). This affects the activity of a multitude of processes throughout the body. The pineal gland, for example, produces melatonin, and antioxidant that affects sleep, body rhythms, and emotional well-being. Melatonin levels decline with age. So does DHEA, produced by the adrenal gland. At age 70, an individual produces just 10% of the DHEA produced at age 25. Reduced levels of DHEA have been linked to heart disease, lupus, skin cancer, and diabetes. Women are well aware of the effects of shifting hormone levels with age, particularly the symptoms of menopause. But hormone imbalances can also contribute to a number of other health problems, including weight gain, yeast infections, fibroids, and breast cancer. And in males, lower levels of testosterone lead to diminished sex drive, impotence, and loss of bone tissue and muscle mass.

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Also known as the circulatory system, the cardiovascular system consists of the heart and blood vessels, which work together to transport blood throughout the body, carrying oxygen and nutrients to the cells and tissues and carrying away cellular waste products for filtration and elimination.

Cardiovascular System
Cardiovascular System

The heart is a hollow, muscular organ in the chest that contracts rhythmically to circulate blood throughout the body. It both sends blood rich with oxygen and nutrients out to the body's tissues and pumps blood from the rest of the body to the lungs to be re-oxygenated. At rest, the heart normally beats 60-80 times per minute (100,000 beats per day) and during exercise or stress may beat up to 200 times per minute. The average amount of blood pumped per heartbeat (at rest) is 2.5 ounces (1,980 gallons per day).

Blood Flow Through the Heart

The heart is actually two pumps side by side, each consisting of two chambers - the left and right atria, and the left and right ventricles. These chambers are connected by valves that allow blood flow in one direction only. The rhythm of each heartbeat is regulated by a part of the heart muscle known as the sinoatrial node, connected to the central nervous system, which acts as a natural pacemaker.

Blood flows through the heart as follows: Blood that has been oxygenated in the lungs flows into the left atrium, then is pumped through the aorta to replenish the entire body. Oxygen-depleted blood returns from all parts of the body to the right atrium, where it is pumped through the right ventricle via the pulmonary artery to the lungs.

Cardiovascular System

Each heartbeat has two phases: distole (resting) and systole (contracting). During the diastolic phase, the left atrium fills with oxygenated blood from the lungs, and the right atrium fills with oxygen-depleted blood from the body. The systolic, or contraction, phase begins from the top of the heart as both atria squeeze the blood into the ventricles: the right atrium through the tricuspid valve into the right ventricle, the left atrium through the mitral valve into the left ventricle.

The contraction then continues from the bottom of the heart, squeezing both ventricles upward. The right ventricle moves blood through the pulmonary valve into the pulmonary artery, and then into the lungs. Blood from the left ventricle is pumped through the aortic valve and into the aorta, then out to all parts of the body.

The diastolic, or resting phase, then restarts as all valves close and the atria begin to refill.

Cardiovascular System

Completing the cardiovascular system are the blood vessels. These consist of the aorta (the body's largest artery), the arteries, the arterioles, the capillaries, the venules, the veins, and the vena cava. The arteries carry blood away from the heart and, except for the pulmonary artery, blood passing through the arteries is usually oxygenated. As arteries become progressively smaller, they are called arterioles.

The body's smallest blood vessels are the capillaries, which serve as the interface between the arterioles and the venules. Capillary membranes are extremely thin and permeable, allowing for the exchange of gases. The venules are tiny vessels that continue from the capillaries until they eventually merge and form veins, the blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart. All the body's veins come together to form the superior and inferior vena cava, which is connected to the heart's right atrium.

Heart function and overall circulation can be negatively impacted by a variety of factors, especially the buildup of "vulnerable plaque," which can occur in response to microbial infection and accounts for an estimated 85% of all cases of heart attack and stroke; atheriosclerosis due to oxidized cholesterol and/or elevated homocysteine levels; poor diet and nutritional deficiencies; lack of exercise; chronic stress; and other factors that are often not considered by conventional M.D.s, such as mercury exposure, low thyroid function, environmental pollution, and poorly managed emotions (especially anger and rage).

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The respiratory system is comprised of the nose, sinuses, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and the lungs, and provides oxygen to every cell in the body while also expelling carbon dioxide. To accomplish this, the average person inhales about 22,000 pints of air per day. Nothing is more important to optimal physical well-being than the quality of our air and our ability to breathe it. During the past 30 years, both of these critical aspects of health have drastically diminished.

The nose and the sinuses (four sets of air-filled cavities around the nose and eyes) act as the body's primary air filter and protect the lungs from invading microorganisms and particulates (dust, sand, soot, smoke, etc.). Each sinus connects to the nasal passage by thin ducts, which is what makes mucus drainage and air exchange possible. Both the nose and sinuses also act as humidifiers and temperature regulators, moistening dry air and cooling hot air and warming cool air that would otherwise shock and harm the lungs.

Respiratory System
Respiratory System

A single continuous tissue known as the respiratory epithelium serves as the outermost lining of the entire respiratory tract, extending from just inside the nostrils to the alveolar sacs in the lungs. The epithelium's outer tissue is the mucous membrane, also known as the mucosa, which acts as a first line of defense against foreign microbes and particulates, a task primarily performed by the cilia, microscopic hair-like filaments. When the mucous membrane breaks down, sinus infections, colds, and other respiratory ailments can occur.

The respiratory tract extends down from the nose and mouth to the trachea, or windpipe, in the neck, and then into the thorax, which divides into the main bronchi of the left and right lungs. The bronchi subdivide into smaller bronchi and bronchioles, ending up in the alveoli, small air sacs where gaseous exchange occurs. The lungs themselves are divided into lobes - three on the right and two in the left (to accommodate the heart).

There are two types of respiration: external respiration, or breathing, which refers to the intake of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide; and internal, or cellular, respiration, during which glucose and other small molecules are oxidized to produce energy. Internal respiration requires adequate supplies of oxygen and creates carbon dioxide as a by-product. Both of these processes have been compromised in many people today, primarily due to environmental pollution. Other contributing factors to diminished respiratory capacity include cigarette smoke, impaired immunity, emotional stress (repressed anger or sadness), poor diet, food allergies and sensitivities, overuse of antibiotics, dental problems, and genetic inheritance.

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The male and female reproductive systems, in addition to generating new life, are viewed by many alternative practicioners as a gauge of one's overall health and longevity. Men and women who have healthy reproductive organs also tend to be healthy in general, and men and women who enjoy healthy sexual relations throughout their lifetimes on average exhibit fewer overall health problems as they age.

The Female Reproductive System

Throughout her life, a woman's reproductive system follows rhythmic patterns of change, monthly cycles, and the completion of those cycles with menopause. By becoming acquainted with the needs, characteristics, and problems of each phase, a woman can make informed choices about lifestyle and health care.

Female Reproductive System

The female reproductive organs - the uterus (womb), two ovaries (connected to the uterus by the Fallopian tubes), the cervix, vagina, and clitoris - mature during puberty, the stage during which a girl becomes a woman and menstruation begins. Like the male reproductive system, it is activated and regulated by sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and, in lesser amounts, testosterone) produced by the ovaries during the menstrual cycle.

A woman menstruates an average of 400 to 500 times during her lifetime. Yet there are many misconceptions about menstruation and some have been repeated so often that they are considered fact. Most notable is the assumption that the average menstrual cycle is 28 days, neatly paralleling the cycles of the moon. While women's bodies do have an observable rhythm, the menstrual cycle actually has a wide range of lengths that can be considered normal. In addition, while two or three generations ago women began to menstruate at around 15 or 16 years of age, today puberty begins at 12 or 13.

The monthly menstrual cycle results from coordinated hormonal interplay among the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the ovaries. Each month at the start of the cycle, estrogen is secreted by the 10-20 eggs growing in the ovaries. The estrogen triggers the thickening of the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) with blood vessels, glands, and cells in anticipation of new life. It also causes the production of a cervical fluid that facilitates the passage of sperm through the cervical opening and enhances its survival. Once the mature egg has left the ovaries, it can be fertilized in the fallopian tubes.

Female Reproductive System
Female Reproductive System

Next, estrogen production subsides and progesterone production increases. This second hormone forms a thick mucus plug in the cervix to prevent sperm or bacteria from entering and maintains the endometrium in a nutritious, blood-rich stage in anticipation of the egg's fertilization by the sperm (conception). If conception does not occur, all hormone levels drop and some of the endometrial layer is released, or "shed." This is called menstruation. The cycle then starts over. If fertilization does occur, progesterone secretion continues to increase, maintaining the uterine lining and pregnancy until the placenta takes over secreting progesterone and other hormones at about three months' gestation.

By becoming aware of her menstrual cycle, a woman is better able to plan her days accordingly. The monthly cycle can also be used as a guide in maintaining general health, because, as research is now suggesting, a woman's immune system peaks before ovulation and decreases afterward. In addition, research shows that vaccinations, surgery, and prescription drugs have fewer harmful side effects when women use them before ovulation.

Female Reproductive System

During the course of her life, a woman will eventually stop menstruating and enter menopause. Generally, this occurs between the ages of 48 and 52, but some women cease menstruating as early as their late thirties and early forties, while others don't stop until their mid-fifties. Because women are healthier now, menopause no longer indicates the onset of old age, and women can expect to live a third of their adult lives after menopause.

Menopause commences when the ovaries stop producing estrogen. Perimenopause is the period commonly thought of as the 5-10 years before menopause (approximately between the ages of 35 and 50). It is characterized by several years of irregular cycles with no ovulation since the ovaries are at the end of their egg supply. Without an egg's presence, progesterone is no longer produced and therefore perimenopause is frequently characterized by estrogen dominance, with side effects ranging from water retention, weight gain, and mood swings to fibrocystic breasts, breast cancer, fibroids, or endometrial cancer.

The onset of menopause, however, does not mean that estrogen levels drop to zero. Some estrogen is still produced in fat cells, the supporting tissue around the ovaries, and in the intestinal tract using precursors produced by the adrenals. Weight gain after menopause can be the body's attempt to take advantage of this situation. Estrogen is also made through other chemical pathways in the body. It is this reserve of estrogen that many natural therapies draw on for their effectiveness.

In addition to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopausal problems (hot flashes, vaginal dryness), other common health complaints associated with the female reproductive system include hormonal imbalances, infertility, and other problems associated with pregnancy, excessive or absence of menstruation (menorrhagia and amenorrhea), dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), bladder infections (cystitis), endometriosis, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, and cancer of the cervix or ovaries. Since many of these conditions are often chronic, alternative medicine is generally more effective than conventional medicine in treating them, and far more noninvasive.

The Male Reproductive System

The male reproductive system consists of the penis, testicles (testes), epididymis (a tube along the back of the testicles where sperm is stored), prostate gland, urethra, vas deferens (a tube connecting the testicles to the urethra), the seminal vesicles (which secrete a thick fluid that forms part of the semen), and bladder. The primary function of the male reproductive system is to produce testosterone, the male sex hormone, and to produce and store sperm.

 
Male Reproductive System
Male Reproductive System

The penis is composed of spongy tissue and a network of nerves and blood vessels. When men become sexually aroused, the spongy tissue becomes engorged with blood, causing an erection. Arousal can occur due to either physical or psychological factors or a combination of the two. The testicles, supported by the scrotum, contain hundreds of tubules, within which millions of sperm are produced daily. Testosterone is also manufactured in the testicles and influences male characteristics such as body hair, voice, and whether or not a man will experience male-pattern baldness. Testosterone levels also influence how fat is distributed in a man's body

Sperm is collected from the testicles by the epididymis, where they mature and are stored. Prior to the moment of ejaculation, the sperm exit the epididymis to travel along the vas deferens, toward the base of the bladder. There, they mix with secretions produced by the prostate gland. As arousal continues, contractions of the prostate and seminal vessels cause the sperm to mix with prostatic and seminal fluids and enter the urethra. As the urethra fills, further arousal causes rhythmic contration of the penis's erectile tissues, eventually culminating in orgasm and ejaculation.

As men enter midlife, levels of their male hormones, known as androgens, decline and can become unbalanced. When this occurs, a variety of symptoms begin to manifest, including fatigue, less endurance and muscle strength, loss of libido, weight gain (especially around the midriff), and impotence. Such symptoms are indications of the andropause complex, also referred to as "male menopause," a diagnosis that is increasingly gaining acceptance among physicians. The andropause complex of symptoms is usually noticeable by the time a man is in his fifties, although they can appear much earlier. All such symptoms are signs that a man's hormones, both in terms of their levels and their ratios to one another, are in a state of flux, shifting into a new, midlife configuration.

Declining hormone levels, and the resultant symptoms that accompany them, are not inevitable, however, and may be slowed or reversed by a number of alternative therapies, including natural hormone replacement therapy and the use of glandular extracts. Other important approaches include proper diet, nutritional supplementation, detoxification, exercise, herbal medicine, and homeopathy.

The Prostate Gland's Relationship to Health

Prostate Gland

The prostate gland lies at the base of the bladder, surrounding the urethra, and weighs less than an ounce. The size of a walnut, it is bordered by the rectum, bladder, pubic bone, and pelvic muscles. Its purpose is to secrete substances that protect or enhance the functional properties of sperm cells and to provide a fluid support system for the sperm cells. It does this by secreting a thin, milky alkaline fluid during ejaculation to enhance delivery and fertility of the sperm. In addition, the prostate acts as the genitourinary system's first line of defense against infection and disease.

Prostate Gland

Prostate fluid consists of zinc (in the male body, the prostate has the highest concentration of this mineral and zinc may be largely responsible for the prostate's ability to defend against infection and disease), citric acid, potassium, fructose, prostaglandins, proteolytic enzymes, prostate specific antigen (PSA), and acid phosphatase. Levels of these last two substances, when elevated, are considered reliable indicators of prostate cancer.

Some of the more common problems associated with the prostate are benign hypertrophy (BPH), prostatitis, and prostate cancer. All of these conditions are greatly influenced and accelerated by the aging process and therefore need to be monitored regularly, especially as men move through middle age into older age.