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What Are Hormones?

Hormones are special chemical messengers within the body that are created in the endocrine glands. Besides from doing many other things, hormones control most major bodily functions, from simple basic needs like hunger to complex systems like reproduction. They even control the emotions and mood. Understanding the major hormones and what they do will help patients take control of their health.

Where are They Secreted From?

Hormones are secreted from the endocrine glands in the body. The glands are ductless, which means that hormones are secreted directly into the blood stream rather than by way of ducts. Some of the major endocrine glands in the body include:

  • Pituitary gland
  • Pineal gland
  • Thymus
  • Thyroid
  • Adrenal glands
  • Pancreas
  • Testes
  • Ovaries

These organs secrete hormone in microscopic amounts and it takes only very small amounts to bring about major changes in the body. Even a very slight excess of hormone secretion can lead to disease states, as can the slightest deficiency in a hormone.

What Is the Endocrine System?

The endocrine system is the network of glands that are responsible for producing and dispersing hormones. Moreover, the endocrine system is also responsible for regulating some extremely important bodily functions including body temperature, metabolism, body growth and sexual development. The endocrine system is made up of primary and secondary organs. The primary organs include the pancreas, hypothalamus and the pituitary, thyroid, pineal, and parathyroid and adrenal glands. The secondary organs include the kidneys, heart, gonads, and thymus.

How Do Hormones Get Released?

Just like most bodily functions, everything starts in the brain. Located in the brain are the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands, which are the centers of endocrine system. The hypothalamus receives signals from other parts of the brain and translates them into endocrine language: hormones. Once these signals are set in motion, other signals decide whether to inhibit or release certain hormones. Some of these hormones will act directly, which will later affect muscular development or start processes like birth and nurturing. Others will send signals indirectly to secondary organs.

Types of Hormones

The body has many different hormones, but certain types have a bigger role to play in the body's health and well-being. Understanding these roles is very important for those who are looking to protect and manage their health.

For women, estrogen is the main sex hormone. It causes puberty, prepares the body and uterus for pregnancy, and regulates the menstrual cycle. During menopause, estrogen level changes cause many of the uncomfortable symptoms women often experience.

Progesterone is very similar to estrogen but is not considered the main sex hormone. Like estrogen, it assists with the menstrual cycle and plays a role in pregnancy.

Cortisol has been called the "stress hormone" because of the way it assists the body in responding to stress. This is just one of several functions of this important hormone.

Melatonin levels change throughout the day, increasing after dark to trigger the responses that cause sleep.

Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men. It causes puberty, increases bone density, triggers facial hair growth, and causes muscle mass growth and strength.

What Do Hormones Do?

Hormones are essential to many different bodily functions and changes. Furthermore, hormones play a huge part in life from puberty and childbearing to feeling sleepy or happy. They can make you gain or lose weight and regulate ovulation and menstruation. The list of functions affected by hormones is almost endless. The health of your hormone-producing glands can have a huge impact on your life. For example, if a part of your endocrine system isn’t working, you can expect to see a significant impact in your life. Symptoms will vary depending on which organs or glands are affected.

When they are in proper balance, hormones can help the body thrive. On the other hand, small problems with hormones can cause serious and life-altering symptoms. If you have concerns about any of your hormones, talk to a qualified endocrinologist.