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The hypothalamus (from gr. ὑπό, “beneath” and θάλαμος, “bridal chamber, bedroom”) is a gland that is part of the diencephalon and lies below the thalamus. It releases at least nine hormones that act as inhibitors or stimulants in the secretion of other hormones in the anterior pituitary, so it can be said to work in conjunction with the anterior pituitary.

It is a small section of the brain located at the base of the brain, near the pituitary gland. Although small, it is very important and plays a crucial role in regulating numerous body cycles. The hypothalamus is composed of three regions:

  1. Anterior region: consisting of several nuclei that are primarily responsible for hormone secretion, often interacting with the pituitary gland.
  2. Medial region: controls appetite and stimulates the production of growth hormones for the body’s development.
  3. Posterior region: regulated body temperature that causes shivering and controls sweat production.

Anatomy

Names and locations of the hypothalamic nuclei of the brain
It is composed of structures referred to as the Nucleus, each with a defined and characteristic function:

  • Arcuate Nucleus: Involved in the emotional function. It is responsible for the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), also known as luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH).
  • Anterior Hypothalamic Nucleus: Responsible for heat loss through sweating as well as inhibiting the release of thyrotropin in the pituitary.
  • Posterior Hypothalamic Nucleus: Its function is to maintain heat when feeling cold.
  • Lateral Nucleus: regulates the sensation of hunger and thirst.
  • Mammillary Nucleus: it is related to memory through its connections with the hippocampus.
  • Paraventricular Nucleus: regulates pituitary secretion through the synthesis of hormones, such as oxytocin, vasopressin, and adrenocorticotropic hormone-releasing hormone (CRH).
  • Preoptic Nucleus: involved in parasympathetic functions that are related to feeding, locomotion, and mating.
  • Supraoptic Nucleus: regulates blood pressure and homeostatic balance through antidiuretic hormone (ADH).
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus: regulates the circadian cycle.
  • Ventromedial Nucleus: involved in aggressive and defensive behaviors.
  • Dorsomedial Nucleus: regulates the sensation of satiety.

Functions Of The Hypothalamus

An image if a brain with the location of the hypothalamus highlighted
The hypothalamus is one of the brain structures with the most important role in the regulation of mood, body temperature, sleep, sexual impulses, and hunger and thirst.

Because of its relationship with the regulation of emotions and physiological states, the hypothalamus is considered to be part of the limbic system – the set of parts of the brain directly related to generating the emotions. It has been said that it is responsible for initiating and coordinating many of the processes that allow us to adapt and change to changing situations.

Also, the hypothalamus is located close to the brainstem because it is involved in the basic functions that ensure our survival and are therefore carried out involuntarily, without us realizing it. It works as a bridge between the brain and the endocrine system, but also, it coordinates everything that is done through the autonomic nervous system.

Among the processes that the hypothalamus is responsible for regulating are:

  • Sleep levels and the circadian cycle
  • Sexual arousal and associated behavior
  • Level of hunger
  • Blood pressure
  • Muscle tension
  • Body temperature
  • Available energy levels

Hypothalamic Dysfunction

Bulimia word cloud concept
Any disorder that prevents the hypothalamus from functioning properly is known as a hypothalamic disease. Hypothalamic diseases are very difficult to pinpoint because their number is so large.

The hypothalamus also plays the role of signaling the pituitary gland to release hormones to the rest of the endocrine system. Because it is difficult for doctors to diagnose which gland is not working properly, these disorders are often called hypothalamic-pituitary disorders. In such cases, there are some tests that evaluate the functioning of the endocrine system and give clues to identify the root cause of the disorder.

In hypothalamic diseases, the most likely causes are head injuries that affect the hypothalamus. Surgeries can also affect the hypothalamus, as can radiation and tumors. In some cases, there may also be a genetic link to hypothalamic disease.

Additional causes of hypothalamic disease may include:

  • Eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia
  • Diets high in saturated fats
  • Genetic disorders that cause excessive accumulation of iron in the body
  • Malnutrition
  • Inflammation
  • Infections
  • Excessive bleeding

Symptoms Of Hypothalamus Disorders:

  • Appetite changes
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dehydration
  • Frequent urination
  • Fluctuations in body temperature
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Delayed puberty

To keep the hypothalamus healthy, it is important to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet. To promote health and improve brain function, it is important to consume vegetables and fruits rich in vitamins, especially vitamins C and B.

It should be noted that the hypothalamus is one of the most important parts of the body; however, we rarely realize that it is there until it starts to malfunction. Taking care of your diet can help to keep it in good working order and, with it, prevent a great number of diseases. 

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