The Brain Body Link: What I Learned About Migraines Today

Your body’s physiological activity is orchestrated by a small gland buried deep inside your brain.

The hypothalamus is the Chief Executive Officer of your endocrine system. It is the master gland, keeping track of everything that is happening inside your body and mind, and determining whether any changes are needed.

Like any good executive, the hypothalamus doesn’t do the work itself. Instead, it delegates tasks to other glands to achieve the desired result.

The Brain Body Link

The hypothalamus interprets the body’s needs based on signals it receives from the brain and biochemical feedback from the body. It then sends messages to the other glands in the form of special hormones called releasing factors.

The hypothalamus regulates the autonomic nervous system by controlling your heart rate and dilation of blood vessels. It dictates sleep cycles to the pineal gland based on light levels perceived by the eyes. It also controls your appetite, body temperature, and fluid balance.

Most of the hormones generated by the hypothalamus are sent to the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain. If the hypothalamus is the CEO of your endocrine system, the pituitary is the Director of Operations.

The pituitary responds to the instructions sent from the hypothalamus by generating a variety of hormones that activate other glands. Pituitary hormones are sent to the thyroid, adrenals, and gonads (ovaries or testes) to coordinate their activity. They also control liver and kidney function, cell growth, and blood sugar levels.

What I Learned About Migraines Today

Each endocrine gland responds to the instructions sent to it by other glands, which originate in the hypothalamus. Once the gland is activated, its hormones circulating in the bloodstream serve as feedback to the pituitary and hypothalamus, indicating that the job is being done as requested and no further instructions are needed.

This feedback should cause a decrease in releasing factors created by the hypothalamus. I’m fascinated by the idea that errors in the feedback loop could be related to migraines.

Stress, dehydration, and sex hormones are three of the most common migraine triggers. These are all physiological responses controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary. What I’m thinking is that a broken or noisy feedback loop would mean the instructions continue to be sent even though the job is already in progress.

Maybe a migraines are the result of micromanagement by the body’s executive team.

Take stress as an example. The brain decides it is stressed out. The hypothalamus receives this message, and tells the pituitary it needs a stress response. The pituitary signals the adrenal glands to activate the fight-or-flight mechanism. The adrenals start releasing cortisol as instructed, which is transported through the bloodstream and eventually gets back to the brain.

Now, what if the pituitary and/or the hypothalamus doesn’t receive the message?  They will keep demanding a stress response even though it is already occurring. The adrenals will try to work harder to accommodate the request. More cortisol gets released than needed, at some point reaching toxic levels. Like the overworked employee, the adrenal glands eventually burn out, and can’t do the job efficiently anymore.

I’m interested to find out more about how this feedback loop works and whether there are situations that it breaks down. Stay tuned to find out more…


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