Hormones and You
Hormones drive just about everything in our bodies, and while the term is widely recognized, not many people are aware of just how ubiquitous hormones are. Hormones are regulatory, meaning they are “chemical messengers” that are sent into the bloodstream and dispersed throughout the body. The natural balance of these hormones is crucial for when hormonal changes occur. When the hormones are imbalanced, these transition periods can be hard to live with.
There are different types of hormones (estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, melatonin, testosterone, and more), all secreted from various endocrine glands. Often, if your doctor suspects you have a hormone imbalance—whether it’s a deficiency or a surplus—he or she will arrange for your blood to be tested to see where the problem is. Here are some of the functions that hormones affect and/or control:
Hormones and Metabolism
A large part in how your metabolism functions is through the T3 and T4 hormones, which regulate blood glucose (sugar). When your blood glucose rises, your pancreas releases insulin, which lowers it to normal levels. By contrast, when blood glucose levels fall, your pancreas secretes glucagon to increase it. When these hormones are abnormal, the pancreas cannot secrete them, and conditions such as diabetes can become more likely.
In addition, the thyroid hormone interacts with normal growth and the metabolism. The thyroid hormone correlates to energy and body weight. If imbalanced, these levels are thrown off and have to be rebalanced.
Sexual Function and Reproductive Health
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are three main examples of sex hormones. While these hormones are present in both sexes, their levels vary in men and women. Women have more estrogen than men. Estrogen is the female sex hormone, causing female puberty and regulating the menstrual cycle. When these levels become imbalanced during menopause, or even during pre-menopausal stages, many women experience severe mood swings, disrupted sleep, hot flashes, and intense feelings of loss leading to issues with depression and anxiety. In addition, menopause frequently leads to osteoporosis. The lower hormone levels can deplete bone mass. This tends to not be noticeable until a bone is damaged more easily than usual. Progesterone, like estrogen, regulates menstruation and prepares the body for pregnancy.
Testosterone is the main male sex hormone, and it controls puberty in males. It increases bone density, muscle growth, facial hair growth, and spurs on other similar processes. When men have a testosterone deficiency, this can lead to low sex drive and problems with sexual and reproductive health. Andropause, the non-official term for male menopause, refers to the trending correlation between age and hormonal changes in men — particularly the decline in testosterone production.
Hormones, Growth, and Aging
Hormones play a big part in the way your body grows and develops. As we mentioned earlier, these hormones play a large role during puberty, but this extends to every aspect of day-to-day living, as well as growth and aging. They also change levels as people age. For example, even in pre-menopausal women, estrogen and progesterone production is already on the decline. This continues as they approach menopause and their menstrual cycles cease. But the natural aging process isn’t the only driving force for hormonal changes over the course of a person’s life. There are a number of health conditions whose direct effects or treatments can cause changes in hormone levels, such as some forms of cancer, chemotherapy, and surgery. These can even trigger what’s referred to as “surgical menopause” in women — an otherwise identical condition caused through injury, illness, or the side-effects of medical treatments.
As men age, their testosterone levels drop. Studies conducted on men showed that the levels decrease as they age, with one such study noting that in nondiabetic men between the ages of 25 and 29, the mean normal hormone was 669. In men 40 to 44, the level was 597, and in men 75 to 84, the levels dropped to 471.
Mood and Cognitive Processes
When estrogen and testosterone levels are low, it can cause serious irritability. Particularly during menopause, irritation due to a low level of the hormone can lead to serious mood changes. Cortisol is often known as “the stress hormone” because it assists the body in responding to levels of stress. This is not the only function of this hormone, however; cortisol is essential to helping the body balance and achieve homeostasis. When you are stressed, cortisol works to modulate changes in your body due to the emotion, such as immune responses, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, central nervous system processes, and more. Without cortisol, your body would be completely unbalanced, and the results could be very, very severe. Cortisol levels fluctuate throughout a twenty-four hours period in a circadian rhythm, with peaks in the morning and valleys in the afternoon.
Body Temperature and Thirst
The antidiuretic hormone helps manage the amount of water in your body by impacting the kidneys. The antidiuretic hormone (ADH) is also known as arginine vasopressin, and it is produced by the hypothalamus and stored in the pituitary gland. ADH regulates the water in your bloodstream, and there is a connection between ADH and thirst. When your water gets low, ADH triggers the sensation of thirst, alerting you that you may be becoming dehydrated. Hormones also affect your body temperature. The thyroid hormone affects your blood vessels, and having an overactive thyroid or an underactive thyroid can lead to someone feeling too hot or too cold. Hormones affect the way in which blood vessels dilate. If you have symptoms of ADH irregularities, your blood can be tested through an ADH test, which will measure the amount of the hormone to see if it is abnormal.
Hormones affect and regulate every process in your body — controlling the day-to-day activities within your body and helping you respond to the world around you. They work behind the curtain every day to keep you happy and healthy. Keeping them in perfect harmony is crucial.