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What are hormones?

Did you know the word hormone comes from the Greek meaning, “set in motion?” The term hormone was introduced by scientists in 1902 to describe a chemical substance that travels around the body influencing physiology and behavior. Hormones really do set everything in your body “in motion.” Hormones are chemical messengers that are produced in the body by glands and can be transported by the blood to a target organ. Hormones are used to communicate between organs and tissues and control almost all tasks in the body relating to regulation. These include sex and brain function, growth, and the breakdown of food. Hormones are messengers that tell other parts of the body how and when to work.

One of the first people to investigate the importance of hormones was a zoologist that noticed that castrated roosters did not act the same as roosters with their testes intact. What he realized was that certain organs produce hormones and are imperative to keeping the body functioning optimally.

There are many different classes of hormones and they are defined by their function. Steroid hormones are hormones derived from cholesterol. These include testosterone, estradiol, and even cortisol. 

Two major classes of steroid hormones include:

  • Corticosteroids:
    • Glucocorticoids:
      • Cortisol 
  • Sex steroids: 
    • Progestogens:
      • Progesterone, a protective hormone involved with many functions but known to support fertility
    • Androgens:
      • Testosterone, a hormone with many functions but is known to facilitate male characteristics 
    • Estrogens:
      • Estradiol, a hormone with many functions but known to contribute to female characteristics
      • There are several other estrogens including estriol and estrone

Among these are the three major sex hormone groups: estrogens, androgens, and progesterones. Males and females make all three, just in different amounts.

Sex hormones have many effects on the body including: 

  • -Body development 
  • -Fertility and pregnancy
  • -Mood 
  • -Metabolism
  • -Skin health
  • -Aging
  • -Immune system
  • -Brain health
  • -Cancer development and apoptosis (programmed cell death)
  • -Muscle growth
  • -Heart rate
  • -Menstrual cycles
  • -Wake and sleep cycle 
  • -A hormone may also regulate the production and release of other hormones

Hormones travel throughout the body, either in the bloodstream or in the fluid around cells, looking for target cells. Once hormones find a target cell, they bind with specific protein receptors inside or on the surface of the cell and specifically change the cell’s activities. The protein receptor reads the hormone’s message and carries out the instructions (Tulane University). Hormones do not just exist in the bloodstream but in our tissues. For example, “The tissue/plasma ratio of E2 [estradiol] ranged from 1.45 to 20.36 with very high values in early follicular phase and the lowest in mid-luteal phase” (Batra).

Many different factors can affect hormones such as nutrition, stress, environment, medications, and other lifestyle factors. Furthermore, all the hormones affect each other. For instance progesterone influences estrogen, testosterone, LH, FSH, and prolactin. An excess of any of the above hormones will suppress progesterone. Each hormone affects the other, stimulating or inhibiting depending on the level of secretion.

To test your hormones, go to www.momenthealth.co.