Healthy Living

What Are Hormones?

what-are-hormones

Introduction

Hormones are a special kind of chemical messengers in the body that are created by the endocrine glands. These chemical messengers control and coordinate complex processes in the body, such as growth, metabolism, fertility, and reproduction. Hormones can also influence the body's immune system including a person's emotions, mood, and behavior. 

The human body has around 50 different types of hormones in the body that are categorized into three main types. A hormone's structure usually determines how it functions in the body. 

Three Main Types of Hormones

1. Protein and Polypeptide Hormones

These hormones are made from amino acid chains and are water-soluble. Their receptors are located on the cell's surface since they have a difficulty getting through the cell membrane. These hormones make up most of the body's hormones. An example would be insulin, which is the major energy storage hormone in the body. 

2. Steroids

Steroid hormones are mostly made out of cholesterol. The receptors of steroid hormones are inside the cell because they can easily pass through the cell membrane. An example of a steroid hormone is cortisol, which is also called as the stress hormone.

3. Tyrosine Derivatives

These hormones come from the amino acid tyrosine. An example would be the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. This is the reason why tyrosine is critical to the function of the thyroid gland. 

Hormones are secreted by the endocrine gland. This gland is ductless, so secreted hormones directly go into the bloodstream instead of the ducts. Some of the major endocrine glands are:

  • Adrenal Glands
  • Pituitary Gland
  • Thyroid Gland
  • Ovaries
  • Pineal Gland
  • Testes
  • Thymus
  • Pancreas

All of these glands and organs secrete hormones and bring about major changes in the body. 

Functions of Hormones

Hormones have a lot of functions that are important for the smooth functioning of the body. An excess or deficiency of any type of hormone can greatly affect an individual's normal daily routine. Hormones help regulate growth, the development of the body, and any deficiency of the growth hormone

They can activate or suppress the immune system and is mostly carried out by the hormone called cortisol and steroid hormones. The sex hormones called estrogen and testosterone help in the development of reproductive functions, such as menstruation, lactation, childbirth, and pregnancy.

Other important hormones that play a part in the process of reproduction include:

  • Oxytocin - for the process of childbirth
  • Prolactin - for lactation 
  • Luteinizing Hormone and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) - to maintain a normal menstrual cycle 

There are certain hormones that help in the secretion of other hormones as well. One example is the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is released from the pituitary gland and stimulates the release of another thyroid hormone called thyroxin. Any resulting increase in the level of this thyroid hormone in the blood would act as a feedback signal to the pituitary gland to stop the release of any TSH. 

Below are some of the other effects of hormones in the body:

  • Regulates mood swings and cognitive functioning
  • Helps control thirst and hunger
  • Helps in maintaining the salt-water balance in the body
  • Influences programmed cell death or apoptosis
  • Helps in regulating metabolic processes of hormones, such as cortisol, thyroxine, and insulin. These hormones help in the process of absorption and the utilization of various nutrients in the body.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal imbalances can be diagnosed through blood tests. Aside from collecting a blood sample, a person's urine or saliva can also be used to check for any hormonal abnormalities. 

If your healthcare provider detects a hormone deficiency, a synthetic hormone replacement therapy may be recommended. If there is an excessive production of hormones, certain medications can be prescribed to curb the effects. If a person has hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid gland, treatment may include taking synthetic thyroxine, which is available in the form of a pill. On the other hand, if a person has hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid, your healthcare provider may prescribe drugs like propranolol to counteract its effects. 

Hormones and Their Functions

Cortisol

There are several hormones that are secreted by the adrenal glands, and one of them is cortisol, which is also regarded as the body's main stress hormone. When there is a cortisol imbalance in the body, a person may experience adrenal fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is a controversial term that is said to be due to high levels of stress, which lead to taxed adrenal glands. The theory behind adrenal fatigue is that chronic stress can influence the adrenal glands to insufficiently produce the required levels of cortisol people need to feel good. 

Although adrenal fatigue is not an accepted medical diagnosis, this term is commonly used in naturopathic and alternative medicine. The term adrenal insufficiency or Addison's disease is used instead of adrenal fatigue when referring to the insufficient production of one or more hormones due to an underlying illness. 

Some of the signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Body aches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of hair in the body
  • Hyperpigmentation or skin discoloration

Thyroid Hormone

Each cell in the body is in need of the thyroid hormone for a healthy functioning. There are various kinds of underlying thyroid issues occurring in the body that would not easily show up in laboratory tests. One example is thyroid conversion problems, which can cause ongoing symptoms and weight gain. 

In such cases, an individual may experience the following symptoms:

  • Feeling tired or fatigue
  • Infrequent bowel movements
  • Dry skin
  • Mental sluggishness
  • Cold intolerance
  • Morning headaches
  • Hair fall or thinning of the hair on the scalp
  • Weight gain even after consuming a diet low in calories 

Estrogen

There are three forms of estrogen, and they estrone or E1, estradiol or E2, and estriol or E3. The ratio among these forms of estrogen is said to be very important for both men and women. Few studies have associated estrogen imbalance with an increased mortality rate in people who have heart problems and cancer

When estrogen is low, people may experience the following symptoms:

An excessive production of estrogen can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Heavy bleeding during periods
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Brain fog
  • Feeling emotional and weepy
  • Bloating
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Premenstrual headaches
  • Lack of sleep or insomnia
  • Breast tenderness
  • Feeling depressed or anxious
  • Gallbladder problems 

Progesterone

Both men and women need a healthy balance of progesterone. The hormone progesterone is helpful when it comes to balancing and neutralizing the effects of having too much estrogen in the body. Without an optimal amount of progesterone, the amount of estrogen may turn out to be harmful and can go out of control. Such condition is called estrogen dominance. 

With lack of required estrogen, an individual may experience the following symptoms:

  • Breast tenderness and pain
  • Infertility
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Easily gaining weight
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Skin that doesn't look healthy
  • Lack of sleep or insomnia

Testosterone

In women, low levels of testosterone have been associated with certain issues such as a lack of sex drive, heart-related conditions, and breast cancer.

In one study, it was found out that men who have low levels of testosterone tend to have a higher death rate. When women have too much testosterone in the body, they may experience symptoms, such as:

Without enough testosterone, women may also experience symptoms, such as a lack of sex drive, stubborn weight, and fatigue. Men do not produce estrogen similar to women. Estrogen is rather converted through a process known as aromatization. The enzyme called aromatase transforms testosterone into estradiol, which is essential for erectile function, modulating libido, and spermatogenesis.

Insulin

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. This hormone allows the body to use glucose (blood sugar) from carbohydrates to store glucose for future use or for energy. Insulin is the one that regulates a person's blood sugar level from getting very low (hypoglycemia) or very high (hyperglycemia). Insulin is usually described as a key that helps unlock cells to allow the entry of sugar, which is used for energy. 

Key Takeaways

  • Hormones are a special kind of chemical messengers in the body that are created by the endocrine glands. 
  • These chemical messengers control and coordinate complex processes in the body, such as growth, metabolism, fertility, and reproduction. 
  • Hormones can also influence the body's immune system including a person's emotions, mood, and behavior.