What do you know about your hormones? Do you understand the important role they play in your body? In your daily life? What can cause hormonal imbalances? Where you can find endocrine disrupters? How do they interfere with our hormonal levels? How does the Moon work with our hormones?
Learning how hormones work and how to keep them in balance covers a lot of ground. So to answer all the questions above, I am going to do a series of blogs. With the huge leaps and bounds science has made over the last 10 years in understanding these amazing and magical beings that live within us. I wanted to take this subject seriously as I believe it will help all of us to better understand ourselves ~ a true passion of my work and life. Because I believe that knowledge is power; it empowers.
In this blog I am going to cover the basics of hormones and how they work……
Hormone comes from the Greek meaning of the word hormon, “that which sets in motion, urge on, impulse”. Our bodies use hormones as a communication line between organs and tissues to regulate physiological and behavioral activities. They help to regulate our biological clock, digestion, metabolism, respiration, tissue function, sensory perception, sleep, excretion, lactation, stress, growth and development, movement, reproduction and mood. They rule our bodies in so many words.
Similar to our nervous system the endocrine system is one our body’s main communication systems. The endocrine system is controlled by the nervous system through the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, and yet they both work independently with the main function of the endocrine system working to keep the body in a state of balance and the nervous system working on receiving and responding to stimuli.
Hormones can take the form of protein-based molecules (water-soluable) or lipophilic (fat soluble). They are broken down into three major chemical classes, steroids, peptides and amino acid derivitives.
We have 10 main endocrine glands whose main function are to produce and release hormones. Each gland produces different types of hormones that awaken a specific response in other cells, tissues, and/or organs located throughout the body. Your endocrine glands secrete their specific hormones into your blood so that they can travel through the blood stream to reach their targets. Lets take a brief look at the ten major glands:
Hypothalamus is located in the brain below the thalamus and above the Pituitary gland where it is attached by the pituitary stalk. This gland plays a vital role in the endocrine system and also the nervous system. Many call this part of the brain the command center because it synthesizes and secretes neurohormones called releasing hormones that stimulate or inhibit the secretion of pituitary hormones. The hypothalamus controls the release of 8 major hormones by the pituitary gland. It is also in control of your body temperature, food and water intake (hunger and thirst), sexual behavior and reproduction, your circadian rhythm and mediation of emotional responses. These releasing hormones move through the pituitary stalk to the posterior and anterior lobes. The posterior lobe regulates anti-diuretic hormones and oxytocin. The anterior lobe regulates the hormones that control the gonads, thyroid, adrenal cortex and the production of growth hormones.
The Hypothalamus and Pituitary glands send out these hormones to communicate to the other endocrine glands to make their specific hormones. If your body releases too much or too little of these hormones it can create hormonal imbalance that can affect your body’s health and well being. For example, when your body has high levels of the corticoptropin-releasing hormone you might experience, acne, diabetes, osteoporosis or infertility; low levels can produce gastrointestinal issues or low blood pressure.
Pituitary gland consists of three lobes, anterior, interior and posterior. The anterior and posterior lobes release chemical messengers, hormones, via the blood to other endocrine glands to tell them to make their specific hormones. The pituitary and hypothalamus work together to create hormonal balance within your body.
Pineal gland also known as the thalamus, was the last of the endocrine organs to be discovered as it is located deep in the center of the brain was called the “third eye”. It produces melatonin.
Parathyroid glands located in the neck make a hormone called the Parathyroid hormone which is associated with the growth of muscle and bone along with the distribution of calcium and phosphate in the body.
Thyroid gland is located in the front of the neck below the Adams apple and produces hormones T3 and T4 to help regulate your metabolism, heart rate and in the uptake of calcium to bone.
Thymus gland is located behind your sternum and between your lungs. It creates the hormone Thymosin to activate the development of the disease fighting T-cells, which play a role in the function of the immune system. This gland is only active until puberty at which time it begins to slowly shrink and becomes replaced by fat.
Adrenal Glands are found above the kidneys and play an essential role in the body. The inner part of the adrenal gland, called the medulla, secretes adrenaline. The cortex, the outer part of the adrenal gland, produces the life essential hormones, cortisol and DHEA.
Pancreas is located behind the stomach, produces glucagon and insulin that control blood sugar levels (also part of the digestive system) These hormones convert glucose to glycogen and glycogen to glucose.
Ovaries produce two main hormones, estrogen and progesterone. They also produce androgens, which are responsible for producing testosterone and secreting androstenedione, a steroid hormone used as a stepping stone in the production of testosterone and oestrogen, along with DHEA.
Testes produce testosterone, the male sex hormone.
These 10 glands are responsible for producing our hormones. Now lets look at what are considered the most important hormones they secrete and a little about how they work within our body's:
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and released into the blood stream. Our cortisol levels increase early in the morning to prepare us for meeting the demands of the day and then gradually decrease throughout the day, reaching their lowest levels late in the evening ~ a pattern we know as our circadian rhythm. It also plays a role in the maintaining healthy blood pressure, glucose, and energy levels and in reducing inflammation.
When we are under long periods of intense stress, our adrenal glands secrete high levels of cortisol. Research has found a link between high levels of cortisol and excessive weight gain around the belly. So for those trying to loose weight, reducing your stress levels will be important. Other body responses to high secretions of cortisol are mood swings that include anxiety, depression and irritability; lack of sex drive; and irregular or infrequent periods.
DHEA is made primarily by adrenal glands and is important in the production of testosterone and estrogen. When we are under stress the ability of the adrenal glands to produce DHEA is limited. DHEA is an important component for mental clarity and cognitioin and is not only produced by the adrenals but also in the brain. DHEA also protects us against the effects of inflammation and when in sufficient supply increase libido and sexual arousal and enhance our immune system.
Estrogen is mainly produced by the ovaries and also by fat cells and the adrenal gland. Known as the female sex hormones they are important for sexual and reproductive development, mainly in women. Estrogen refers to all of the chemical hormones in this group, which are estrone estradiol and estriol. Estrogen regulates our menstrual cycle along with the growth of our uterine lining during the first part of the cycle. It also plays an important role in bone formation, blood clotting and maintaining the strength and thickness of the vaginal wall and vaginal lubrication. It preserves the elasticity and moisture content of your skin. For women Estrogen levels increase during puberty and pregnancy and decrease after menopause or once a woman stops menstruating.
Men produce estrogen as well but at lower levels than women. Men’s estrogen is secreted by the adrenal glands and testes. High levels of estrogen in men contribute to prostate cancer, heart disease and enlarged breasts. When men testosterone is transformed into estrogen the low levels of testosterone can cause many unpleasant symptoms including loss of muscle mass, fatigue, low libido, erectile dysfunction.
As men age, testosterone and progesterone levels drop and estrogen levels rise. However, increased estrogen production in men can result from aging, a high degree of body fat, nutritional deficiencies or excessive alcohol use. Decreased testosterone levels along with increased estrogen levels can result in decreased sexual desire and arousal.
Progesterone is made by the ovaries, placenta, and adrenal glands. In women this hormone mainly regulates the condition of the inner lining (endometrium) of the uterus. Low levels of progesterone can lead to abnormal menstrual cycles or difficulty in conceiving. It can also cause estrogen levels can decrease sex drive, contribute to weight gain and gallbladder problems.
Progesterone in men is a building block for many hormones, which include testosterone. It builds bone mass, takes a part in regulating blood sugar, brain activity and functions throughout the body to ensure healthy balance.
Testosterone is produced in the adrenal glands, testes, ovaries and brain (and in the placenta during pregnancy). This hormone is important in the development and function of male sex organs; enhancing libido and sexual arousal in both men and women; aiding in the building of muscle and bone; assisting in brain function; stamina and restful sleep; and is known to influence our moods and motivation levels.
Thyroid hormones (T4 and T3) ~ our thyroid takes iodine from our food and converts it into T3 and T4 hormones. These hormones regulate the speed of your metabolism. When these hormones are “overactive” or “inactive” it can lead to weight gain or loss even when eating a good diet. They also aid in bone growth, protein synthesis and brain development.
Growth hormone (GH) is produced in the pituitary gland and works to stimulates growth tissues and bone & reproduction of cells. Our growth hormones are crucial during puberty as we experience growth spurts; like height, length of our bones and muscle mass. It also works with the liver to produce insulin growth facor-1 ~ which activate growth during puberty and maintains body composition in adults.
Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone and secreted by our gut and acts on the appetite regulation center, hypothalamus in the brain to induce hunger. In turn, this increases stomach acid secretion and gut motility in preparation for food intake. The best way to positively influence and work with this hormone is to get a good nights sleep and follow a high protein, high fiber, high water meal plan.
Insulin is the most important hormone that the pancreas produces. The role of insulin is to lower glucose levels in the bloodstream and promote the storage of glucose in fat, muscle, liver and other body tissues. High sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance and which is when your body is fighting to hold on to the energy you ate rather than metabolizing it as fuel for your daily life. This can cause you to feel tired and gain body fat. To combat insulin resistance exercising is great as the more fit you are the better your body is at using the food you eat for energy.
Melatonin is produced and released by the pineal gland and plays an important role in the regulation of our internal body clock. Higher levels of melatonin, close to 10 times higher, are produced at night when it is dark. Light entering our eyes will communicate with our melatonin hormones telling them to drop off. This is why melatonin levels also have a seasonal rhythm, with higher levels in the fall and winter and lower in spring and summer due to the daylight hours.
Hormone balance is like a big puzzle that just doesn’t fit together if pieces are missing. These beautiful chemical messengers are sorely understood or discussed and yet impact our lives ~ starting in the womb. Many of us are out of harmony with our natural biological rhythms because our hormones are out of balance.
Next week I will talk about the fight to keep our hormones balanced in the midst of a chemical pool of endocrine disrupters.
Ready to kick this one to the Moon <3,
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