Hormones and health are a loaded topic. No doubt you’ve read many posts and articles on how much hormonal health plays a role in overall well-being, with many focusing solely on sexual and reproductive health. However, hormones do more than just impact reproduction and mood. To be honest, the effect of hormones on your body and mine cannot be covered in one blog post. Hormones play an essential role in your health and impact your wellness and vitality in myriad ways. So, while we cannot cover the entire picture here, we will seek to provide you with an overview of how important hormones are to your health.
What are hormones anyway?
Before diving into the role hormones play in your life, let’s discover what they actually are. Knowledge is power. Essentially, hormones are chemical messengers. Various glands produce hormones, and these chemical messengers deliver information via the bloodstream to multiple body parts. Hormones help regulate appetite, assist with various cellular processes, impact your stress levels and blood sugar, assist with sexual function, and even help regulate growth.
Specific glands and organs in your body produce hormones, all considered part of the endocrine system.
These glands include:
- Pineal glands
- Adrenal glands
- Pituitary gland
- Parathyroid glands
Endocrine glands are located throughout the body. The pituitary, hypothalamus, and pineal glands are located within the brain. Both the parathyroid and thyroid are located in your neck. The thymus is home between your lungs. You can find your adrenal glands on top of your kidneys, and the pancreas is housed behind your stomach. The testes and ovaries house your sex hormones and depend on your sex at birth.
While these specific glands release hormones, so do other tissues and organs. This category includes the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract (or GUT), fat tissue, and even the placenta.
These chemical messengers affect many body systems, and when something is off, you will notice. For example, hormonal imbalances can make you feel sluggish, retain weight, have mental disturbances, notice changes in growth, and impact reproduction. Let’s look at three ways hormone balance is essential to overall health.
How do hormones work?
Hormones are released from various glands, tissue, and organs into the bloodstream and send messages to receptor cells signaling action. Once the specific receptor cell for the hormone is reached, the hormone signals to the cell that something needs to happen. For example, cortisol, a hormone released from the adrenal glands, tells the cells to adjust for blood pressure and helps the body adapt to stress.
Insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar, is released from the pancreas telling the cells to allow blood sugar to enter for energy use. When an imbalance occurs, the cells do not receive the proper information causing bodily functions to dysregulate.
Various sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone assist with sexual function, sexual desire, and tissue and bone mass. Clearly, hormones play a role in creating and maintaining health and must be understood. Any imbalance can create deficiencies and impact health.
And these are only a few of the mighty chemical messengers that play a role in assisting your body. Many underlying conditions can play a role in your hormonal health. Let’s take a closer look at three ways hormones impact your health.
Hormones and blood sugar
Many hormones work together to help with blood sugar regulation. For example, glucose, sugar, is necessary for many bodily processes and dependent upon a delicate balance of sugar within the blood to proceed.
Insulin and glycogen, secreted by the pancreas, help the body keep blood sugar at acceptable levels. However, too much or not enough of either can lead to diabetes. Diabetes, by definition, is a chronic condition that affects how your body uses sugar.
For example, Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin and is typically diagnosed before early adulthood. It is an autoimmune response that causes the body to stop producing insulin. Between 5% and 10% of all diabetes, cases result from a Type 1 diagnosis. In these cases, those with this condition must take insulin shots to help regulate blood sugar.
Type 2 diabetes usually has a later onset and is typically a byproduct of lifestyle choices. Type 2 diabetes differs from Type 1 in that the body still produces insulin but does not use it effectively. Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include age, obesity, lack of exercise, poor diet, and family history. You can take control now by eating a healthy diet, exercising, and losing weight if necessary.
Hormones and sleep
Quality sleep is one of the pillars of good health. While at rest, our bodies repair themselves. Sleep also impacts hunger, appetite, and blood sugar levels and can play a role in sexual and cardiovascular function. You know how terrible you can feel if you’ve ever had a few days of restless sleep. Great sleep also helps with hormone production and regulation, so focusing on a solid nighttime routine is a great place to start if you suffer from sleep problems of any kind.
The quality and time of your sleep are essential for all bodily processes, but did you know that multiple hormones also play a role in sleep? Yep, these chemical messengers also play a vital role in the rest you get. For example, the pineal gland, located in the brain’s center, is responsible for secreting melatonin, often referred to as the “sleep hormone.” This powerful hormone helps with your circadian rhythm. Management of melatonin is also affected by your sleep-wake cycle, another reason why quality sleep is of the essence.
Sleep helps regulate cortisol too
Have you ever noticed how a stressful day can lead to a sleepless night and vice versa? Cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, is meant to spike in the morning to give you energy as melatonin decreases, can also be detrimental to your sleep. When our rest is off, so is our body’s ability to handle cortisol levels. One way to help prevent this is to work on your stress and put the electronic devices down at night.
We should also note that the sex hormones – progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone- can also play a role in sleep. Progesterone and estrogen change during a woman’s monthly cycle, as well as perimenopause and menopause influence sleep quality. Testosterone levels are at their highest during REM sleep. Therefore, testosterone levels will change if you do not spend enough time in this sleep phase.
Hormones and reproductive health
Entire books and research anthologies are written on this topic, so we will not seek to cover every way in which sex hormones can impact health. But, here is what we will say, the sex hormones, primarily estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, are essential. They contribute to sexual development, fertility, impact puberty, pregnancy, mensuration, sperm production, and more.
The sex hormones are released from the sex organs, ovaries in women, and testes in men. While they are most often associated with sexual function, they do much more. These hormones also play a role in mental and emotional health. They also impact bone health, body weight, and fat distribution, affect your skin and hair, and assist with cardiovascular health.
Hormones are vital components of health
Clearly, there is much to say on the topic of hormones, and we have barely scratched the surface here. We hope this article is informative and you realize just how mighty these chemical messengers are.
Here at Innova Primary Care, we seek to treat the whole person. We recognize the vital role hormones play in your overall health and well-being. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are here to serve our patients and provide answers and referrals as needed.