What Is Hormones, And How Do They Affect Your Health?

What Is Hormones, And How Do They Affect Your Health?

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In recent years, hormones have been a hotly debated topic. You’ve probably heard all sorts of contradictory information about their impact on fitness and health. You’ve probably heard that insulin is the enemy when it comes fat loss. You may have heard that cortisol should be avoided at all costs.

The reality is that the body’s highly complex ecosystem includes hormones. The vast complexity of hormones is not appreciated when they are labelled as “good” or “bad”. This second part of our Female Health Series will give you all the tools to help your hormonal health.

What are hormones?

Hormones can be defined as chemical messengers. They are any compound that is produced by the human body and has a biological impact elsewhere. Hormones are one of many signals that trigger a specific process, effect or series of effects. This includes the regulation of circadian clock, internal temperature and hunger signals, as well as energy levels.

Endocrine glands secrete hormones into your blood directly from the organs that produce them. The endocrine system is not directly connected to the endocrine organs, but they work together in harmony to regulate almost every physiological process. The release of one hormone may trigger the release or another, leading to a coordinated outcome.

The heart, liver and stomach are just a few of the organs that produce hormones. The same hormone can be produced and secreted by different organs. Somatostatin or growth hormone inhibiting hormone is produced in neurons of the brain as well as cells from the stomach and the pancreas. It is because hormones are localized to the organs that produce them, and work peripherally on other tissues.

The bloodstream is the main way that hormones travel throughout your body. Some hormones such as catecholamines and peptides are water-soluble, and they dissolve easily into the blood plasma. This means that they can move around the body on their own. However, thyroid and steroid hormones are water-soluble and must ‘piggyback on’ proteins and fatty acid molecules to travel through the bloodstream.

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What do hormones do?

In two different scenarios, hormones can be used. First, there are general physiological functions, like digestion, sleep-wake cycles, cell regeneration, etc. Consider them as your daily ‘to-do list’. The light-dark cycles is a classic example. The sensors in your eye detect the falling light levels. Melatonin is released, which causes you to fall into a deep sleep. This allows for the repair of your cells to occur.

The body’s adaptive response is represented by the second scenario. The concept of homeostasis, which literally means’maintaining the status quo’ is key to understanding this constant adaptation. The body tries to maintain status quo and perceives change as a threat to its survival. Imagine you are an early human being who is being chased by predators. Your body will gather all the resources it can to help you escape danger. You enter a “fight-or flight” or “sympathetic” state. Your heart rate increases, pupils dilate and blood flows to your muscles in order to help you escape perceived danger.

Modern life can be a very stressful environment. Your body cannot tell the difference between an office full of people and a real threat to its survival. There are many factors that interfere with the natural hormone signaling and cause us to be in an unbalanced or ‘heterostasis state’. This prevents us from performing at our best.

What is the Function of Hormones?

Homeostasis is a benchmark against which the body measures thousands of inputs in order to determine if it should trigger certain processes. This is done through negative feedback loops, and feed-forward mechanism of which hormones form a part.

The brain decides on how to react based upon experience and biology when the nervous system detects changes. The brain responds by sending down the chain messages to organs that trigger hormone release.

Three inputs regulate hormone secretion

  1. Changes in the plasma concentrations
  2. Release of neurotransmitters
  3. Actions of another hormone on the endocrine cell

More than one input may also affect the amount of hormones you produce. Your body, for example secretes insulin as a response to changes in blood sugar and fatty acid levels as well as activation from the nervous system.

The hormones bind with a receptor and produce a specific result. Each hormone is composed in a way that fits the receptor best. As an example, testosterone binds with the testosterone receptor and oestrogen to the oestrogen-receptor. Hormones, unlike keys, can attach to different receptors, causing a blockage or a weaker response. Other foreign compounds such as phytoestrogens or xenoestrogens can mimic our own hormones. They block their receptor from binding.

There are also subtypes for hormone receptors such as the alpha and beta receptors of oestrogen. A single hormone can have different effects depending where it acts. As an example, oestrogen is anti-inflammatory for fat cells and stimulates milk production for breast tissue.

The intensity of an hormone’s effects depends on three factors.

Amount of hormone secreted by you.

Theoretically, a higher hormone level should result in a stronger effect (but this is not always the case).

The sensitivity at the receptor site.

The body compensates for a less sensitive receptor site by producing more hormone. If a receptor is more sensitive, then the body will produce less hormone in order to achieve the same result.

“Affinity”, e.g. how likely it is for a hormone to bind with a receptor.

A hormone’s affinity is higher when it binds to its specific receptor rather than trying to bind to an all-purpose receptor, which causes a weaker reaction.

What Happens If Hormones Are Mistaken?

Imbalances can occur when the body produces too much or too little of a particular hormone or if the receptor site is not sensitive enough. Several factors can disrupt hormonal signalling. The effects of ageing, chronic diseases, stress, lifestyle and genetics are all significant.

  • Hormone secretion and production
  • Hormone metabolism
  • Circulating hormones of the blood
  • Target tissue response
  • The menstrual cycle, for example. The menstrual cycle.

Signs of Hormonal Imbalance

A blood test can only confirm hormonal imbalances. However, if one of these signs is present, this could indicate a hormonal balance.

You suffer from severe PMS symptoms.

It’s not normal to experience severe PMS. Your sex hormones may be out of balance if you experience frequent low moods and anxiety, heavy periods or severe pain.

Your skin is prone to breakouts.

A hormonal imbalance between progesterone and testosterone, or oestrogen, can cause an increase in sebum, which leads to minor skin infections. Adult acne can also be caused by poor gut health.

Your mood is often sluggish and you are easily upset.

Oestrogens and progesterones directly affect serotonin, and dopamine which controls ‘happiness and pleasure’. The drop in hormones during PMS causes the typical slump. If you experience this feeling all the time it may be a sign of conditions like hyperandrogenism or PCOS.

You are experiencing extreme hunger and cravings.

It’s okay to be hungry but you shouldn’t feel ravenous all the times. It could be a sign of hormonal imbalance if you are overweight and have trouble controlling your appetite.

Rapid weight change

Women are more likely to suffer from thyroid disorders such as Graves’ and Hashimotos. If you are losing or gaining weight quickly, ask your doctor to perform a blood analysis.

Learn how Joanne, a woman with Hashimoto disease, overcame her health issues with Ultimate Performance.

What can you do to improve your hormonal profile?

Positive lifestyle changes are a great way to improve your hormonal profile.

Do a blood test.

Only laboratory tests can tell you if there is a hormonal imbalance. Hormones can be complex and what’s normal for one person may not be normal for another. Medichecks is one company that offers at-home tests and expert advice.

Improve Your Sleep

Short sleep has been shown to affect hormone regulation. This includes insulin, ghrelin and dopamine. It can also increase sensitivity to pain[1, [2],[3],[4]. Focusing on your sleep habits is a priority if you are concerned about hormones.

Improve gut health

There is strong evidence linking severe PMS, acne, psoriasis and mental health issues with gut microbiota imbalances[5],[6],[7],[8]. A high-fibre, minimally processed diet can help improve symptoms. Be sure to avoid foods that are inflammatory, like FODMAPs[9],[10].

Exercise Regularly.

Hormonal balance can be improved by improving body composition. High body fat levels are linked to diseases such as type II diabetes and PCOS. Resistance training can improve your body composition, and therefore, these conditions. Resistance training can improve insulin and leptin levels, which are two important factors for weight management[14].

Reduce the cardio.

Overdoing cardio can lead to an overproduction of cortisol (the stress hormone), resulting in negative effects, such as menstrual cycles disorder[15],[16],[17]. If you experience an irregular period, opt for low-impact activities like walking over hours of intense cardio.

Manage stress.

Psychological stress is a major factor in auto-immune disorders, including Graves’ disease, Hashimotos’ and Cushings syndromes. These diseases all involve hormonal imbalance[18],[19]. Although they are chronic diseases requiring advanced care, self-care, mediation, or booking a pampering day can all help.

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The hormones are complex and can have a cascade effect. Therefore, focusing on them alone is not the best way to look at things. Ask your doctor to run a blood-test if you are concerned about your hormone health.

The Key Takeaways

  • A hormone is an endocrine compound that has a biological impact on the body.
  • Homeostasis is a fundamental principle of human physiology that allows the human to maintain a balance in all physical processes.
  • The body has a complex system that regulates hormones.
  • Endocrine disorders are caused by the body producing too much or too little hormones or when receptor sites become over- or sub-active.
  • The symptoms of hormonal imbalance are adult acne, severe PMS (premenstrual syndrome), low energy, mood and sex desire, as well as rapid weight changes.
  • Although it’s only possible to diagnose with a blood test – lifestyle changes will help improve hormonal balance.

As women age, their hormone levels, oestrogen in particular, decrease. Menopause has a major impact on women’s mental and physical well-being. Menopause will still be taboo in 2023. Why do we avoid discussing it?

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