Over 200 hormones or hormone-like substances have been discovered in the human body.1 While that is a huge number, they can be organized into several different categories, each with their own unique purpose. Continue reading for a better understanding of what exactly hormones are and how they can affect your overall health and well-being in major ways.
What Exactly Are Hormones?
Hormones are chemicals made from chains of amino acids that are produced by the endocrine system. These glands include the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, adrenal glands, testes and ovaries, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, and pancreas.2 The purpose of these chemicals is to relay messages, or signals, from the endocrine system through the bloodstream to different organs and tissues throughout the body.3
Hormones control a variety of factors such as your growth, behavior, metabolism, sleep, mood, sexual experience, and emotions.4
Hormonal balance is important. Having too much or too little of a given hormone may cause problems with weight, blood-sugar control, infertility or weak bones.5,6
There are three main classifications of hormones: lipid-derived hormones, amino acid-derived hormones, and peptide hormones.
Lipid-derived hormones are derived from cholesterol and include steroid hormones. Examples are the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, as well as the adrenal hormones aldosterone and cortisol.
Acid-derived hormones are made from the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan. These include the adrenal hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, as well as the thyroid hormone thyroxine.7
Peptide hormones are a special class of hormones made from amino acid chains. Peptide hormones work predominantly on the endocrine system, including the thyroid and adrenal glands. They also include hormones of the pituitary such as oxytocin and growth hormone. These hormones are short-lasting.8,9
Let’s take a look at these nine key hormones that affect our health and well-being.
1. Thyroid Hormones: Triiodothyronine And Thyroxine
The thyroid gland produces triiodothyronine (also known as T3) and thyroxine (also known as T4). These important hormones help regulate your body weight, energy levels, internal temperature, skin, hair, and nail growth, among other characteristics.10 They do so by combining iodine and the amino acid tyrosine into T3 and T4. They are then released into the bloodstream, where they circulate throughout the body.11
2. Parathyroid Hormone
The parathyroid gland is located on the neck behind the thyroid. This gland produces parathyroid hormone. It is responsible for regulating the level of calcium in the blood, in order to protect the health of the bones. Calcium is the most-regulated element in the human body and is used to control many organ systems.12 It is essential to life. If calcium levels get too low, parathyroid hormone triggers the bones to release more calcium into the blood.13
3. Insulin (And The Pancreas)
The pancreas is responsible for producing insulin. Insulin’s job is to regulate blood sugar levels by binding to receptors in the cell membranes that allow sugar into the cell.14 It converts carbohydrates in our food to glucose. This glucose is then used as energy to fuel our bodies. Insulin is critical to keeping blood sugar from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). If blood glucose gets too high, then the insulin removes it from the blood and stores it in the liver.15
4. Cortisol (And Weight Gain)
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It is produced by the adrenal gland. Cortisol is released during periods of stress, when your brain senses that you are in imminent danger. It is released to put your body into survival mode, also known as “fight-or-flight.” This action is aided by the hormones of the adrenal medulla.16
Excess levels of cortisol can occur due to stressors emanating from within or outside the body. As long as the body perceives a threat, cortisol continues to be released from the adrenal cortex, and the body remains on high alert. After the threat ends, the parasympathetic nervous system moderates the levels.
Cortisol is also responsible for:
- Controlling how the body uses fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
- Regulating blood pressure
- Increasing blood sugar
- Managing the sleep/wake cycle17
Sometimes, the body produces too much cortisol which can result in weight gain and other health issues. On the other hand, not producing enough cortisol can result in autoimmune issues, weight loss, and weakness.18
Estrogen plays an important role in both the female and male body. In females, it is involved with developing and maintaining the reproductive system and female-specific characteristics, including breasts and pubic hair.19 It also plays a role in cognitive health and bone health. In males, in the form of estradiol, it is essential to libido, erectile function, and spermatogenesis.20
Sometimes, estrogen levels fluctuate. Many factors influence this occurrence. They include monthly periods, pregnancy, childbirth, lactation and breastfeeding, and menopause.21
Progesterone works hand-in-hand with estrogen to support the female reproductive system in releasing an egg each month. It then plays a vital role in maintaining a new pregnancy after the egg is fertilized and implanted in the uterus.
At the same time, high levels of progesterone can prevent other eggs from maturing during a pregnancy.22
7. Pituitary Hormones: ACTH
The endocrine system is the group of glands responsible for producing and secreting hormones that the body uses for a variety of functions.23 The pituitary is known as the master gland. It controls the function of most glands of the endocrine system. The hormones of the pituitary gland include peptide hormones such as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), growth hormone, and follicle stimulating hormone, as well as prolactin and oxytocin.
Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and other hormones, as well as small amounts of female and male sex hormones.24
8. Pituitary Hormones: Human Growth Hormone
Human growth hormone, also known as somatotropin, stimulates your body’s growth starting after birth. It is responsible for cell reproduction and regeneration, as well as growth of fat tissue and connective tissue.25 In children, growth hormone stimulates the growth of bones and cartilage. The secretion of this hormone reaches its peak at puberty and during growth spurts.
In rare cases, the pituitary produces too much growth hormone. This results in acromegaly, a condition in which a person’s legs, hands, and facial features are enlarged. Tissues of other organs, such as the kidneys, heart, and liver, may also be enlarged. On the other hand, a deficiency in this hormone can cause dwarfism.26
9. Pituitary Hormones: Follicle Stimulating Hormone
Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) acts on the testes to produce sperm in men, the ovaries to produce eggs in women, and both sex organs to produce the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen.27
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