According to women’s health expert, Lorna Vanderhaeghe, “hormones are chemical messengers that tell other systems throughout your body what to do, how to do it and when to do it.” Hormones are made out of various nutrients such as cholesterol, amino acids or fats from the diet. There are over 50 known hormones in the body and they are influenced by a wide variety of factors, such as exercise, diet, stress and sleep, digestion and environmental toxins.
Three Main Types:
- Steroid Hormones -> These are made from cholesterol and manufactured by the liver. Examples include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol. Note that some steroid hormones can also convert to other hormones and back again.
- Peptide Hormones -> These are made from protein/amino acids. Examples include insulin, LH & FSH, prolactin, dopamine and growth hormone.
- Amine-Derived Hormones -> These are made from certain amino acids. Examples include melatonin, serotonin, thyroxine, and epinephrine.
Organs, glands and cells in the body secrete hormones into the bloodstream. The main hormone producers in the body are the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid and parathyroid, adrenals, pancreas, ovaries, pineal, thymus and fat cells. Other organs that can produce and secrete hormones include the liver and large intestine, among others.
Hypothalamus: Takes in signals from the nervous system and sends out hormone messages to the pituitary gland, directing it to either stop or start a hormone process.
Pituitary: Produces specific hormones in response to signals from the hypothalamus and sends out instructions to endocrine glands and organs. This is known as the “master gland” because its hormones act on the thyroid, testes, ovaries and adrenal glands.
Thyroid/Parathyroid: The thyroid gland sets the rate for your body’s metabolism, which means it regulates nearly every cell in the body. This gland receives messages from the TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) from the pituitary. It secretes both T4 and T3 hormones, which travel through the bloodstream. The thyroid also secretes calcitonin, which lowers the amount of calcium and phosphate in the blood as necessary to stop bone breakdown and stimulate movement of calcium into bone. The parathyroid gland secretes parathyroid hormone (PTH), which does the opposite. It stimulates bone cells to break down bone and release stored calcium into the blood. It is also involved in calcium absorption by the intestines and its conservation by the kidneys.
Adrenals: The adrenals secrete both male and female sex hormones and become the prime producers of estrogen and progesterone when the ovaries “retire” (i.e. menopause). They release the stress-response hormones that guide the body’s reaction to a stressor, as well as small amounts of estrogen, testosterone, cortisol and progesterone. Adrenals contain two parts, the adrenal medulla and the adrenal cortex. In response to triggers from the hypothalamus the adrenal medulla secretes epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine as part of the fight or flight response. When a longer-term stress response is required, the adrenal cortex produces the hormones cortisol in response to a signal from the pituitary gland.
Pancreas: Assists in digestion by secreting enzymes. It also secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon directly into the bloodstream. Insulin pushes sugar/glucose into cells to decrease blood glucose levels, while glucagon increases the level of glucose in the blood when it gets too low. The pancreas monitors blood sugar levels and secretes one of the two to make adjustments in order to keep levels table. When blood sugar is constantly high, the pancreas becomes exhausted.
Ovaries: The ovaries secrete the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. When the pituitary gland sends out FSH and LH throughout the menstrual cycle, it is targeted for the ovaries. These are the storage organ for eggs in females. An increase in FSH stimulates the full maturing of one or multiple eggs. LH is the hormone that stimulates the release of the egg from the ovary. Fallopian tubes act as portals for the egg to the uterus.
Pineal Gland: Makes melatonin and secretes it into the bloodstream, which regulates the sleeping and waking cycle.
Thymus: This gland play an important role in immune function. It secretes hormones such as thymosin.
Fat Cells: Also known as adipose tissue, they are located in different places in men and women. Both estrogen and testosterone play a role in fat deposition in the body. Did you know that the size of fat cells can change throughout life, but the number of fat cells is determined by the late teens? This is why appropriate prenatal and teen nutrition are key in adult weight management. The size and number of fat cells affect hormone balance. Fat cells manufacture and store estrogen!
Liver: The liver is the key organ for clearing excess hormones. The liver also decides if a hormone is going to convert to one hormone or another. In addition, it manufactures cholesterol, the starting material for all steroid hormones. A healthy liver is key to healthy hormone balance.
Gut: The gut is home to trillions of bacteria, some good, some bad and some neutral. The beneficial bacteria in our “microbiome” are called probiotics. Probiotics can metabolize and recycle hormones in the body. They can reduce the levels of cortisol in the body due to a chronic stress and regulate circulating estrogen levels. Certain probiotics can also promote optimal insulin levels, help maintain healthy weight, support healthy sleep and potentially increase testosterone levels in males.
In order to have optimal hormone function and balance, it is important to ensure that various parts of the body are functioning properly as they each play an important role. Tune in to Part 2 next week for more information on specific hormones and what they do for you!
-This column is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach -