What Are Hormones, And What Do They Do?
Hormones are chemical messengers that are created by glands called endocrine glands located in various parts of the body. The major function of hormones is to send signals throughout the body to control and coordinate complex functions like growth, metabolism, and fertility. Hormones play a role in basic needs like hunger, to complex processes like mood, behavior, reproduction and even sleep.
The Endocrine System
Our glands produce and store our hormones, and make up the endocrine system. The brain sends signals to our glands to secrete hormones directly into our bloodstream. The main hormone-producing glands are:
Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus is responsible for keeping the body in homeostasis. It helps to control body temperature, hunger, blood pressure, sleep cycles, sex drive, body fluids, moods and the release of hormones from other glands.
Parathyroid: The parathyroid regulates calcium levels in the blood, largely by increasing the levels when they are too low
Thymus: This gland plays a role in the function of the adaptive immune system and the maturity of the thymus, and produces T-cells.
Pancreas: The pancreas produces insulin that helps control blood sugar levels.
Thyroid: The thyroid produces plays a major role in the metabolism, growth and development of the human body. The thyroid helps control vital functions like breathing, heart rate, central and peripheral nervous system, menstrual cycles, body weight, cholesterol, and more.
Adrenal: Adrenal glands produce the hormones that control stress hormones.
Pituitary: Considered the “master control gland,” the pituitary gland controls other glands including the adrenal glands, thyroid gland, ovaries and testes. The pituitary gland has a hand in many vital function and processes like the metabolism, growth, sexual maturation, reproduction, blood pressure.
Pineal: The pineal gland produces melatonin, which modulates sleep and has a hand in our circadian rhythym.
Ovaries: Found only in women, the ovaries produce the female sex hormones like estrogen, testosterone and progesterone.
Testes: Found only in men, the testes are responsible for producing male sex hormones, including testosterone, and produce sperm.
Types of Hormones
There are many many types of hormones, but for now, well cover the ones that have the biggest impact on our overall well-being. Understanding some the the major hormones can give us better insight in our health and vital functions.
Estrogen (or estradiol): For women estrogen is the main sex hormone, and kick starts puberty , regulates the menstrual cycle, and prepares the body for pregnancy. Women see major changes in estrogen levels during menopause.
Progesterone: Progesterone is not a main sex hormone, but it doesplay an important roles in the menstrual cycle and in maintaining the early stages of pregnancy.
Cortisol: Also commonly know as the “stress hormone”, cortisol is best known for helping fuel your body’s “fight-or-flight” instinct in a crisis. Cortisol is also important for regulating energy, sleep, blood sugar, inflammation and blood pressure.
Melatonin: Melatonin helps control and trigger responses that cause sleep.
Testosterone: Testosterone is the main sex hormone found in men, and is what triggers puberty in adolescents. It also has a role in increasing bone density, facial hair growth, and increasing muscle mass and strength.
The Take Away
Hormones play a major role in our body’s functions by sending messages between cells and organs. Proper balance and homeostasis of our hormones is essential to our overall wellbeing and health. We’ll be talking a lot more about hormones! But in the meantime here’s some of my favorite hormone-related posts: