One of the most important and powerful facets of your body is the release of hormones. Hormones are chemicals that carry out different functions within the body by delivering messages through the blood to your organs, skin and muscles. The signals from these hormones tell your body what to do and when to do it. In our latest free webinar, Susan Eichorst, PA-C, MMSc, delves into the details of our hormones, how they can be affected by various conditions and how to live your best life by tackling health issues at the source. Let’s dive in:
How Hormones Work
Hormones are essential for your health and your body’s equilibrium. The endocrine system is a messenger system made up of the glands and organs that make and release hormones directly into the bloodstream to regulate various functions. Major endocrine glands include the pancreas as well as the pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid and adrenal glands. Women also produce hormones in their ovaries. After a hormone is secreted by a tissue or organ, it binds to the hormone receptor on or in the targeted cell, which then activates that cell. The amount of receptors on a target cell can increase with more exposure to the hormone.
Now that we know how hormones help the body, let’s discuss just a few of the important hormones your body secrets on a daily basis:
Produced primarily in the ovaries, estrogen is a sex hormone that most women start producing during puberty. The functions of estrogen vary depending on sex, age and pregnancy status. During puberty, estrogen stimulates breast growth and body recomposition. As adults, estrogen helps thicken the uterine lining, preparing women for menstruation or a potential pregnancy. It’s important to maintain a balance between your estrogen and your progesterone. Estrogen dominance occurs when your estrogen levels exceed your progesterone levels, and can cause more severe PMS, heavier periods, mood swings, weight gain and, if left untreated over time, may ultimately cause infertility.
Progesterone is crucial for menstruation and helps maintain the early stages of pregnancy. It is primarily produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands. The average menopause occurs at 52 years of age, but progesterone levels start to decline beginning in your mid-20s. Progesterone declines by 30-50% between your 20s and 40s. During menstruation, estrogen rises and then decreases after the egg is released, and progesterone levels then rise to maintain the uterine lining long enough to let a fertilized egg implant before the placenta develops. During pregnancy, the placenta produces the bulk of progesterone necessary for maintaining a healthy pregnancy, which is why, after delivery, there’s an abrupt drop in progesterone.
Many people consider testosterone to be a “male” hormone, which simply isn’t the case — each cell in the body, regardless of sex, has a testosterone receptor. Plus, women cannot ovulate without testosterone in their system, making it a necessary hormone for everyone. Maintaining adequate levels of testosterone is extremely helpful in maintaining musculoskeletal, vascular and brain health. Testosterone helps women increase and maintain bone density and muscle, raise the libido and sharpen cognitive function while reducing anxiety and depression. Testosterone has even been proven to shrink tumors in the breasts. In women, testosterone is produced in the ovaries, the adrenal glands, fat cells and skin cells.
Known as the stress hormone, cortisol is responsible for regulating responses to actual and perceived stress. Secreted by the adrenal glands, cortisol regulates blood pressure and increases glucose levels to provide us with the energy necessary to process stress and its effects on the body. It also helps control your body’s use of nutrients, suppresses inflammation and regulates your blood sugar. It also helps to control your sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythm. Cortisol decreases in the evening as you’re winding down for the night, and increases in the morning, providing you with the energy to start the day. While normal cortisol levels help your body function properly, consistently high cortisol levels can cause damage to your cells, block progesterone receptors and suppress your immune system.
Insulin is a peptide hormone produced by the pancreas that plays a vital role in digestion and energy production. After we eat and digest food, our body releases glucose into the bloodstream. This prompts the pancreas to secrete insulin, which allows blood sugar to enter the body’s cells, letting them use glucose as energy to power the body and its functions. Cells either obtain energy from this glucose or convert it into fat for long-term storage. This hormone also promotes cell metabolism and growth. Insulin is designed to spike quickly and then return to baseline, usually after you eat. Although glucose is an important component of the body’s energy, it can be toxic in high levels, so insulin moves any excess into muscle and fat.