Glands are a special type of tissue that produce chemicals that travel through the bloodstream and affect cells in other parts of the body. These chemicals are called hormones and they are extremely potent, being produced in very small amounts but having profound effects. The true meaning of gland is ‘tissue that secretes hormones’ but the term is also used for tissues that secrete products that travel locally.
These sit on top of the kidneys and are divided into two parts: the outer cortex, which makes steroids, and the inner medulla, which produces adrenaline in response to nervous control from the central nervous system. Some consider the adrenal glands to be governed by an energy meridian called, in Chinese medicine, the ‘triple heater’, and the adrenal glands in turn govern the pitta or fire energy in Ayurvedic beliefs.
Stress, both physical and psychological, will drain the adrenal glands of energy, leading to biochemical-chemical imbalances caused by poor steroid production as well as general malaise and tiredness from the lack of adrenaline. Tumours may arise in all glands but the most common in the adrenal glands is phaeochromocytoma, which is a tumour of the adrenal medulla that causes an excess of adrenaline, which in turn can cause rapid heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, weight loss and sweating. This is a serious condition that mimics hypothyroidism and requires immediate medical attention and probably surgery.
These are not truly glands because they do not secrete a hormone. They are small amounts of tissue found in the labia on either side of the vagina that secrete a lubricating and cleansing fluid. A blockage in the duct from these so-called glands leads to Bartholin’s cysts .
In the truest sense of the word, these are not strictly glands. They are a mesh of protein found in the lymphatic system. After the goodness from blood has left the blood vessels and fed the tissues, it is collected with waste product in the lymphatic system and drained, through a complex of vessels that match the arteries and veins for quantity and length, before going back to the bloodstream in the chest. Along the way the lymph, which will be carrying bacteria, viruses and any other foreign matter, will pass through lymph glands. Caught in the meshwork are white blood cells, which devour the foreign matter and break it down before releasing it back into the lymph flow.
These glands can swell in the presence of infection and this is generally a good sign, showing that the body’s defence mechanism is active. Unfortunately if the body is overreacting or out of control, such as in leukaemia or lymphoma, the numbers of white blood cells increase, get trapped in the lymph glands and these swell excessively.
Cancer can also drain from its primary site into lymph glands, which then harbour the cancer cells which help to prevent their spread around the body. Temporary swelling in the lymph glands in association with an obvious infection can, and should, be left alone but any persistence or pain within glands should be reviewed by a health practitioner.
These small glands are found in the middle of the thyroid tissue in the neck. They are responsible for the balance of calcium and thereby magnesium in the body tissues.
Problems with the parathyroid glands are a potentially serious medical condition and are often found by routine blood screening showing incorrect levels of calcium. Any persistent swelling in the neck should be reviewed by a physician .
This gland is found at the side of the face in front of the ears and overlying the jaw joint. It is a salivary gland with a tube passing down the side of the cheeks to a small opening. The parotid gland produces saliva, helping digestion and cleanliness of the mouth.
The parotid gland is surrounded by a tight capsule and infection or inflammation that causes swelling can be very painful and should be treated urgently. Tumours in the parotid gland are not uncommon and may be dangerous if left unattended. Stones may form in the parotid duct, leading to a blockage and swelling. This too needs to be attended to swiftly.
If anyone has occasionally noticed a sharp but transient pain in the side of the cheeks when putting anything sour or tart in the mouth, they may be interested to know that this is because of the immediate response of saliva production from the parotid gland, which causes a restriction within the muscles of the parotid gland tubes that is like a cramp. It is a physiological response and nothing to worry about.
This small gland is found towards the front of the brain and corresponds in Eastern philosophy to the third eye. Its function is not fully understood but it is known to produce the natural hormone melatonin, which controls our circadian rhythm and sleep pattern. There is probably some control over our mood and, as I notice that science slowly but surely finds support for ancient Eastern philosophies, we will find that the pineal gland has something to do with our intuition or sixth sense (thereby corresponding to the third eye).
Diseases or problems with the pineal gland are rare and usually only found on investigations such as CT scans.
This is probably the most complex gland in the body. It is found in the middle of the brain tissue and is divided into two parts, anterior and posterior, that control most of the other glands in the body.
The hormones produced control the thyroid gland, growth (especially in children), the female hormonal cycle and ovulation, water content in the body, steroid production from the adrenal glands and other functions throughout the body. This walnut-sized gland may cause a variety of problems if it does not function as it should. Tumours of the pituitary gland initially may be noticed as visual disturbance because it sits close to the route of the optic nerve. Diagnosis of pituitary malfunction requires a physician’s expertise, although many minor problems may be associated with the pituitary gland and its relevance to Eastern medical philosophy.
I find it fascinating and not coincidental that all Eastern philosophies believe in a central energy point at the top of the head, the crown chakra. This corresponds to the superficial point of the pituitary gland. It is interesting that for over 5,000 years this point has been documented as being a master control point of the entire system. This belief has since been supported by modern science and its findings over the last 100 years as we have unravelled the complex control function of the pituitary gland.
Not well accepted by the orthodox world is the principle of a psychological effect on the pituitary gland. It is accepted that stress and anxiety can cause hormonal fluctuations and the holistic consensus of opinion is that the psychology of an individual produces chemicals from the brain or transmits energy to the pituitary gland that have a negative effect. The most obvious symptoms are those suffered by young females, in particular, who under pressure may throw their cycle. The pituitary has a connection to a part of the brain that registers and recognizes smell and it may be this sensitivity to pheromones (airborne chemicals) that induces a coinciding of hormonal cycles in women who live in close proximity.
Salivary glands (which include the parotid gland) are distributed around and under the jaw line. They produce saliva, which contains enzymes to start the breakdown of food, fluid to moisten what we eat and different types of immunoglobulins to help protect and clean the mouth. Saliva is mildly alkaline which accounts for its extra production in association with gastric problems that may cause an excess of acid production.
The control of salivation is through neurological reflexes and some neurological problems, such as motorneurone disease and tumours of the salivary gland, can produce excess salivation. It is necessary to bring to the attention of a physician any persistent excess salivation or pain in the soft tissues underneath the jaw line. A dry mouth may be caused by disease of these glands or a stone in the duct .
Sebaceous glands are found in the skin and produce sebum, which is the characteristic moistening and protective compound necessary for healthy skin. Excess sebum production leads to oily skin, and blockages in the ducts from these microscopic glands can be the cause of pimples, acne and sebaceous cysts .
There are rare genetic conditions that prevent the sebaceous glands from functioning, leading to persistent dry skin open to infection. Dehydration may affect the constituency of sebum and the function of sebaceous glands and this needs to be corrected by increased intake of water .
This small amount of tissue is found behind the sternum (breast bone) and is responsible for the production of T cells. These T cells are a vital part of the body’s white blood cell immune system.
Problems with the thymus gland are rare although it corresponds with the heart chakra and therefore is influenced by the emotional state of an individual. A recent hypothesis suggests that the thymus gland may store parasites that may be released on contact with petrochemical pollutants in the atmosphere. Release of these parasites causes destruction of the T cells, which may be instrumental in the ill-health of HIV/AIDS patients.
The thyroid gland is an H-shaped structure about the size of a palm situated along and under the Adam’s apple. It is made up of cells that are concerned with the synthesis of thyroid hormones, the most prominent being thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3). These are both made up from iodine and the amino acid, tyrosine. (The thyroid gland also contains a small amount of tissue known as the parathyroid, which produces a hormone called calcitonin that controls calcium levels in the body.)
The thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating the metabolism of cells throughout the body. The amounts in the body are controlled by a chemical released from the pituitary gland known as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). This itself is controlled by another hormone called TSH-Releasing Hormone (TRH), which comes from a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. This is a prime example of a biofeedback mechanism. An increase in the level of thyroid hormones depresses the production of TRH, which is not available to stimulate the production of TSH, which, thereby, does not stimulate the thyroid gland unless T3 and T4 are made. This cycle attempts to maintain a constant level of circulating hormone within a suitable range.
Blood tests are now freely available but the normal ranges are only guidelines. For example one laboratory has a normal range of 44 -143nmol/l. If that individual should, however, have a level around 120 then they are, in reality, hypothyroid.
It is better to evaluate thyroid status by measuring the basal body temperature (BBT), which gives us some indication of the metabolic rate of the cells of the system. This, in combination with the blood tests and symptoms of hypo- or hyperthyroidism, provides a much better guideline. Individuals may have T3 or T. levels in the low part of the normal range and be considered ‘euthyroid’ (normal for thyroid function), but in reality their levels should be, say, 120.
The orthodox medical world would consider the thyroid to be functioning normally but in fact the person is considerably hypothyroid.
Basal body temperature (BBT) To measure the BBT, place a thermometer beside your bed before sleeping and then, first thing on awakening, place the thermometer under the tongue whilst remaining in bed for at least 5 minutes. It is best to repeat this test on ten successive days and take the average temperature. Normal body temperature is between 97.6°F (36.4°C) and 98.2°F (36.7°C).
Numbers at the other end of the scale may indicate hyperthyroidism.
If you refer to that section you will see that the thyroid may well be controlled not only by hormones from the pituitary and hypothalamus but also by a direct energy flow. Problems, either biochemical or energetic, with these parts of the brain may therefore strongly influence the entire body by affecting the thyroid.
A goitre is the term used for any enlargement of the thyroid gland.
Goitre is therefore the definition of a symptom similar to jaundice rather than a condition itself. A cancer or inflamed thyroid may show up as a goitre. Bacterial infections causing an acute thyroiditis are very uncommon but a viral infection such as mumps is a little more frequent. These are known as subacute thyroiditis and generally present as a tender thyroid with severe pains throughout the neck.
A goitre can be described as non-toxic or toxic. A toxic goitre is a swelling associated with hyper-throidism, discussed in that section.
A non-toxic goitre is caused by the thyroid gland enlarging in an attempt to trap more iodine to make more thyroxine. This occurs in people who are not taking enough iodine into their system through diet or who have a glandular defect .
The goitre in hypothyroidism, therefore, tends to be diffuse with an equal growth throughout the gland. Hyperthyroidism may exhibit a diffuse growth but also appears in a uninodular or multinodular pattern. Frequently a rumble may be heard if the gland is listened to through a stethoscope because of the increased vascularity.
Most goitres are asymptomatic (without symptoms) but, if they grow too much, local pressure effects may be noted, particularly a tightness around the neck, a persistent irritation of the throat or a change in voice due to pressure on the vocal cords.
Physiological goitres may occur at puberty and pregnancy. This is due to the influence of oestrogen and progesterone.
Any swelling in the neck should be reviewed by a physician for a firm diagnosis. This may include investigations via ultrasound and blood tests.
Please refer to the relevant sections on hypo- or hyperthyroidism depending upon the cause or effect of the goitre.
Named after an Irish physician in the early 19th century, this disease is characterized by a diffuse swelling of the thyroid gland, known as a goitre, and a bulging of the eyes, known as exophthalmos. The cause of the disease is unknown, although it tends to be hereditary and most commonly affects women. The thyroid gland is overactive and symptoms of hyperthyroidism are prominent; the condition has a specific symptom of circumscribed lesions under the skin over the shinbone (this is known as pretibial myxoedema).
Any suggestion of a swelling in the neck or development of bulging eyes with or without symptoms of sweating, palpitations, weight loss, insomnia or overactivity should be reviewed by a doctor to check that hyperthyroidism is not the diagnosis.