What is the pineal gland?
The pineal gland (or epiphysis) is a small gland located deep in the center of the brain. So called for its characteristic pine cone shape.
It is also known to those who practice meditation as the ” third eye “, seat of spirituality and balance.
Brain structure of recent discovery and study , has been the subject of speculation over time.
We now know that this gland secretes melatonin , a hormone derived from the neurotransmitter serotonin important in regulating the body’s internal clock.
The brain is made up of two distinct hemispheres connected by fibers . The pineal gland is located exactly in the center, between the two hemispheres. Its specialized cells are called pinealocytes, they are responsible for the production of melatonin.
Pineal gland and circadian rhythms
The pineal gland is the pivot of the body’s internal clock as it regulates circadian rhythms, i.e. the rhythms of sleep / wakefulness, and conditions the signals of fatigue and lack of lucidity.
Melatonin is the hormone responsible for regulating circadian rhythms and its production depends on the amount of light to which the individual is exposed. Greater quantities of melatonin are released in low light conditions to promote sleep: in cases of alteration of the sleep / wake rhythm or in the case of jet lag syndrome , food supplements based on melatonin can be taken to restore the lost balance.
Scientific research, however, suggests that the link between melatonin and sleep may not be that simple : some studies have shown that removing the pineal gland in mice would not affect normal activity levels when the animal is exposed to the natural light cycle. dark.
The role of this gland can therefore vary widely between different animals.
Other functions of the pineal gland
The pineal gland regulates a number of other functions such as:
- Bone metabolism : Research in mice has suggested that changes in pineal gland function could affect bone metabolism. Postmenopausal women
are significantly more vulnerable to osteoporosis : this could be due to the fact that the efficiency of the pineal gland tends to decrease with age. The study concluded that melatonin supplements could help increase bone mass, acting as a shield against postmenopausal osteoporosis.
- Mental well-being: sleep and mental well-being are inextricably linked. Sleep deprivation can cause or worsen some ailments.
Conversely, some psychological disorders can also make rest more difficult. Some of these disturbances have been linked to exposure to light.
For example, seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that affects a person’s mood and tends to occur when light levels are low (fall – winter). This may be due to sensitive changes in melatonin secretion.
- Pituitary gland function : The pituitary gland (or pituitary gland) is a gland located at the base of the brain, closely related to the hypothalamus, linked to a wide range of hormonal functions, including growth and thyroid function.
Scientific research shows that the pineal gland can alter the behavior of the pituitary gland : melatonin can condition the pituitary gland in the secretion of hormones that play an essential role in the development of the ovaries and testes and regulate functions such as the female menstrual cycle.
- Aging : As we age, the pineal gland tends to secrete lower amounts of melatonin.
It is unlikely that melatonin is solely responsible for the physiological changes related to age, but reduced levels of melatonin can contribute to understanding the aging process: in old age, in fact, we tend to sleep less or have difficulty falling asleep.
- Sense of Orientation : Scientific studies in people with an impaired pineal gland have revealed that damage to this gland is associated with a decline in sense of direction.
Dysfunctions of the pineal gland
The pineal gland can accumulate calcium deposits , which, if in excess, can prevent it from functioning properly. Since the pineal gland is closely associated with the hypothalamus, the pathologies affecting the latter (tumors or hormonal dysfunctions) can lead to dysfunction of the pineal gland.
The most obvious symptom? A significant change in circadian rhythms : This could mean sleeping too much or too little, feeling active and restless in the middle of the night, or feeling sleepy during the day.
Other symptoms of impaired pineal gland function may include apparently general manifestations such as headache, nausea, vomiting or tremors, impaired sense of direction.
Or problems not immediately attributable to the functions of the gland such as alterations in fertility, menstruation or normal ovulation, conditions of osteoporosis.
Alterations in psychological well-being can also find links with the health of the pineal gland, in particular disorders related to the change of seasons