The hypothalamus and the regulation of bodily systems

The measurement of the vital signs of blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate [and minute ventilation] and body temperature is an important way to begin evaluating the function of the hypothalamus.

And abnormal patterns of these vital signs may be due to abnormal functioning of the hypothalamus OR may be due to injuries impeding the normal function of the autonomic nervous system [part of the peripheral nervous system not the central nervous system], to which the hypothalamus must respond and must coordinate as best it can.

We do not yet know which is so, given the abnormal pattern of vital signs seen in bipolar depression and in mania.

Function of the Hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is vital for the maintenance of homeostasis through the coordination of autonomic, endocrine, and somatic behavior. To achieve this, a series of processes occur.

Firstly, the hypothalamus plays a role in the autonomic nervous system. It processes sensory impulses received from the smooth muscle within the body which lines organs such as the intestines and stomach, as well as blood vessels. By processing the impulses, the hypothalamus is able to regulate the movement of food, heart rate, and the contraction of the bladder.

Furthermore, the hypothalamus is considered by some to be the vital interaction between the body’s central systems: the endocrine system which is responsible for regulating bodily states by releasing hormones; and the nervous system which coordinates and sends synaptic information. The hypothalamus detects changes within the body and coordinates responses by stimulating the release of hormones from organs and glands. These pathways enable the hypothalamus to regulate a series of processes within the body.

Disorders of the Hypothalamus

Typical development of the hypothalamus is crucial to ensure that normal function can occur. Research has found that atypical development may lead to a plethora of issues such as depression and sleep disorders caused by abnormalities in the hypothalamic circuits.

Research has highlighted links between the prevalence of depression and the activity of the hypothalamic circuits. It has been noted that hyperactivity or dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis occurs in those diagnosed with major depressive disorder. As the HPA is responsible for acute cortisol responses to stress and the secretion of the hormone, dysfunctions can lead to a range of disorders such as depression. Specifically, the following trends have been found in those with depression which may indicate dysfunction of the hypothalamus: lowered expression of the glucocorticoid receptor; over secretion of cortisol; and reduced inhibitory feedback to the HPA induced by glucocorticoid.

The hypothalamus plays an integral role in the coordination and regulation of many bodily systems. Potential dysfunction of the area can result in a wide range of issues such as insomnia, mood disorders, and obesity.

The hypothalamus regulates :

Regulation of Satiety

Regulation of Body Temperature

Regulation of Emotions

Regulation of Sleep

From What is the Hypothalamus? By Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD Reviewed by Chloe Bennett, B.Sc.

All of the above are affected in bipolar depression and mania.

All require intact skeletal and smooth muscle function in order to perform their tasks.

On the subject of Emotions, One of the functions of the hypothalamus is to convert emotion into a physical response. When intense emotional feelings such as fear, anger, or excitement are generated in reaction to either stimulus within the surroundings or by an individual’s thought processes, synaptic impulses are transmitted to the hypothalamus. Based on the type of emotion experienced, the hypothalamus may send a series of signals via the autonomic nervous system and pituitary system to induce a physiological response. For example, in cases of fear, individuals may experience quickened heart rate and shallow breathing.……..

What if emotions are also generated by changes to the body’s physical responses. All emotions can be generated by chemicals which change the vital signs responding and reacting to these chemicals , whether they be medications or recreational drugs or nicotine [smoking]. Internal bodily reactions are communicated by the peripheral autonomic nervous system and if the result affects pH or hypercapnia or hypoxia or hyperopia or thermoregulation irregularities or changes to reflexes [reflexes being generally protective] etc…then emotions , in particular intense and unusual emotions [euphoria, panic, chronic fear, anger, etc..] may be the result of internal physical responses to these chemicals rather than any other stimulus.

The autonomic nervous system cannot speak. The somatic nervous system can only show not tell. Even the hypothalamus cannot tell us whether it is atrophied. And it cannot tell us if something is wrong with it because it is hampered by peripheral nerve damage making homeostasis more difficult.

The vital signs are the only measurements that can speak to problems involving the autonomic nervous system and homeostasis, especially when the patient is confused and does not know what is wrong.


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