• Understanding Hormones

    Hormones are a mystery to most of us, yet in many ways, they rule our lives. Essentially, they are chemicals that tell the body how and when to go through certain processes, such as growth, metabolism, fertility, and stress management. They regulate our sleep-wake cycles, our body temperature, and our hunger and moods, and they can even influence our body’s immune function. Understanding hormones is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle.

    Understanding HormonesTypes of Hormones

    There are more than 80 hormones that have been identified in the human body. We’ve listed the main ones here:

    Estrogen – the main sex hormone for women; controls everything from puberty to pregnancy to menstruation and menopause; also plays a role in memory and anti-aging

    Progesterone – a secondary sex hormone for women; plays a role in menstruation and pregnancy

    Cortisol – helps the body respond to stress; also plays a role in energy production, mood, and anti-inflammation

    Melatonin – helps prepare the body for sleep; also supports brain health, heart health, immune function, and cancer prevention

    Testosterone – the main sex hormone for men; causes puberty, sperm production, an increase in bone density, facial hair growth, and muscle mass growth and strength

    Adrenalin – stimulates the “fight or flight” response, which causes an increased heart rate, dilated blood vessels, and the release of glucose for a boost of energy

    Insulin – signals the body to transfer glucose from your blood into your cells for energy usage

    Leptin – known as the “satiety hormone” because it is produced by fat cells and controls appetite

    How Do Hormones Work?

    After signals from the brain, hormones are secreted out of the endocrine glands that produce them, and into the bloodstream. As the hormones circulate the body through the bloodstream, they send out signals to the cells that are meant to receive them. Once the message is received by the cells, the behavior of the cells are changed so that they perform a specific task, such as boosting your energy or making you feel hungry.

    While each hormone helps the body perform a certain function, not all hormones create the same intensity of a reaction. For example, some hormones cause effects that can be felt throughout your whole body and can cause dramatic effects, others effect only a small part of the body and can be quite subtle, while some hormones simply help stimulate the release of other hormones.

    The release of hormones in the body is caused by three different mechanisms:

    • Minerals and nutrients in your blood that serve as feedback mechanisms
    • Stimulation by other hormones, which typically leads to a rising and falling of the hormones in a predictable pattern
    • Stimulation by signals from the nervous system, which typically causes short bursts of hormones

    The following list, as provided by the Hormone Health Network provides the main hormone-producing glands:

    • Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus is responsible for body temperature, hunger, moods and the release of hormones from other glands; and also controls thirst, sleep and sex drive.
    • Parathyroid: This gland controls the amount of calcium in the body.
    • Thymus: This gland plays a role in the function of the adaptive immune system and the maturity of the thymus, and produces T-cells.
    • Pancreas: This gland produces the insulin that helps control blood sugar levels.
    • Thyroid: The thyroid produces hormones associated with calorie burning and heart rate.
    • Adrenal: Adrenal glands produce the hormones that control sex drive and cortisol, the stress hormone.
    • Pituitary: Considered the “master control gland,” the pituitary gland controls other glands and makes the hormones that trigger growth.
    • Pineal: Also called the thalamus, this gland produces serotonin derivatives of melatonin, which affects sleep.
    • Ovaries: Only in women, the ovaries secrete estrogen, testosterone and progesterone, the female sex hormones.
    • Testes: Only in men, the testes produce the male sex hormone, testosterone, and produce sperm

    What Causes Hormone Imbalance?

    Hormones are essential to almost every life process we have, but when they are out of balance, many unwanted symptoms can arise. PMS and menopause, for example, are thought to be normal, however they are the result of hormone imbalances, which means they don’t need to occur.

    Many things can cause hormone imbalance, such as aging, unhealthy lifestyle (poor nutrition, smoking, lack of exercise, etc), environmental factors, genetics, diseases and disorders, stress, drugs, and medical procedures like surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These things can change your hormone production, leading to too much or not enough of certain hormones, and they can also change how well your body responds to the hormone messengers.

    Endocrine disrupters are another big reason we experience so much hormonal imbalance these days. They are chemicals like BPA and phthalates that disrupt the body’s hormone function, leading to fertility issues, a decrease in immune function, and lowered ability to manage stress, to name a few. Some endocrine disrupters act like estrogen in the body, which can cause an overabundance of estrogen. Others block hormones from doing their work. Still others influence the amount of hormone that is released, the rate of hormone metabolism, or the way the receptor cell responds to the hormone’s signal. When possible, choose natural products that are free from phthalates, use glass instead of plastic, and look for water bottles that are BPA-free, all of which will help to reduce your exposure to endocrine disrupters.

     

    Sources:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/nature/etc/hormones.html

    http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/09/27/fantastical-world-hormones.aspx

    Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net, jk1991

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