When we think of hormones, what comes to mind for many people is women, perhaps suffering the ill effects of PMS, or pre-menstrual syndrome. Hormones are, in fact, far more complex in their functions, and are not only the domain of women. Also referred to as the endocrine system, hormones are responsible for regulating a range of biochemical processes within the body.
Most hormones are released from the hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal and thyroid glands, as well as the ovaries and testes. They circulate through the body to perform their individual functions, and are only able to interact with hormone receptors that are apparent in every cell. Once this interaction is complete and successful, biochemical processes will begin within the cell.
The endocrine system could be described as vast, complex and delicate. Therefore, if, for whatever reason, it is significantly out of balance, disease may occur. Hormonal imbalances may develop for a number of reasons; however, it is generally believed that environmental chemicals in our air, water and food are responsible, as are heavy metals, herbicides and, certain plastics that mimic the effects of estrogen within the body. The remainder of this article discusses some of the body’s main hormones and the functions they perform.
Human Growth Hormone (hGH) is produced by the pituitary gland, and instrumental in controlling muscle and bone growth, as well as reducing our levels of body fat. It performs a variety of very important functions within the body, including: Increasing calcium retention, and bone mineralization; increasing muscle mass by forming new muscle cells; promoting lipolysis which reduces adipose, or fatty tissue; increasing protein synthesis and stimulating the growth of all internal organs except the brain; playing a role in fuel homeostasis; reducing the uptake of glucose in the liver; promoting liver gluconeogenesis; contributing to the maintenance and function of pancreatic islets; stimulating the immune system. hGH is influenced by many factors, such as stress, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and growth hormone itself. Levels decline naturally with age, so by the time an individual is 60, s/he will have approximately 80% less growth hormone than at the age of 20. Signs of hGH reduction include, increased body fat, increased anxiety, social isolation, poor general health, and a lack of positive well being.
Currently, estrogens are the most widely prescribed hormones, particularly for those women, who are, or have, experienced menopause. Mainstream medicine has typically prescribed estrogen that has been extracted from horse urine, such as Premarin®. However, hormone expert Dr Jonathan Wright, author of the book Natural Hormone Replacement Therapy for Women over 45, describes the benefits of bio-identical estrogens. According to Dr. Wright, estrogen in replacement form should mimic nature as closely as possible, including the combinations of the 3 estrogens, Estriol, Estradiol and Estrone. Esnatri is a cream that successfully combines these three, at what Dr Wright considers safe levels.
Progesterone is a natural hormone associated with the reproductive cycle. It is secreted by the ovary following ovulation, is ingested through the birth control pill, and is present in menopausal hormone replacement therapy. It has also been used in treating PMS and infertility when women experience pregnancy loss. While it is believed that progesterone supplements behave as natural Progesterone does when in the blood stream, synthetic progesterone like chemicals, called progestogens, differ in so far as they bind to progesterone receptors and are chemically different from natural Progesterone. Until recently, natural progesterone has not been able to be absorbed orally, however, it now appears that a process called micronization (forming tiny crystals of progesterone), enables absorption through the gastrointestinal tract. Birth control pills still contain progestogens as their active progesterone like constituent.
An option now exists to test your hormone levels in the comfort and privacy of your own home. Health Check Kits are used to test testosterone, estradiol, DHEA, cortisol, DHT, estrone, androstenedione or progesterone. Saliva based test kits are considered more accurate than blood tests when testing certain hormones, as the saliva tests only measure what is referred to as the free hormone, or those not bound together with proteins. This type of testing offers an accurate and effective means of monitoring your hormone levels as well as the effectiveness of any supplements you may be taking.
The thyroid gland is a vitally important gland whose role is to control the entire endocrine system. It is located under the Adam's apple in the throat, and it secretes a hormone into the bloodstream called thyroxine. Thyroxine controls the body's metabolism and its utilization of fat. When the thyroid is not functioning normally, (or is considered under-active), the body secretes too little of this hormone. This can result in poor concentration, confusion, memory problems, cold hands and feet, weight gain, menstrual problems, sleep disorders, dry skin, thinning hair and low energy levels. An under active thyroid is also a major cause of a common painful musculoskeletal condition known as fibromyalgia. Thyroid deficiency generally affects women over the age of 40, although men and teenagers may also be at risk, especially if it is hereditary. Some hypothyroidism, clinically diagnosed as thyroid deficiency syndrome, may be caused by a condition called Hashimoto's thyroiditis. This is an autoimmune disease, 90% of sufferers being women, in which the body's own immune defenses turn on the thyroid gland, causing an inflammatory response that eventually destroys it. Thyroid supplements can be natural or synthetic. However, it is considered better to use a whole-natural thyroid extract because synthetic versions usually do not have the full complement of thyroid hormones T1, T2, T3 and T4. The most popular thyroid supplements are not the synthetic T3 or T4 versions, but rather the natural (porcine origin) extracts, the most famous of which is Armour®.
For those not familiar with the uses and benefits of Melatonin – it is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland within the brain. At night, Melatonin is produced to help the body regulate its sleep-wake cycles, and presently, it is most commonly associated with aiding general sleep patterns and sleep affected by jet lag. Additionally, Melatonin is involved in a range of important functions within the body from an anti-oxidant and anti-aging perspective. Research has documented the effects of Melatonin as an anti-oxidant, on cancer, depressive disorders and endocrine disorders.
The Thymus gland is located in the chest and produces 13 thymic peptides. The World Health Organization has shown that the availability of circulating Thymus peptides in the blood is directly proportional to an individual’s risk of contracting infections. It is known that the Thymus atrophies very early, often declining in its function at the start of puberty. Circulating thymic peptides reduce inflammation, the type associated with rheumatism.
DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is the most common of the hormones circulating in the blood; however, levels have been shown to decline significantly with age. Released from the adrenal glands, it plays a significant role in immune health and testosterone conversion.
This is the first hormone that is produced from cholesterol and is often referred to as the master hormone. Pregnenolone is best known for its anti-inflammatory action and its cortisol inhibiting effects, which reduce anxiety.