Age Science: Hormones
From head to toe, hormones are involved in almost every biological process, including sexual reproduction, growth, metabolism and immune function. There are more than 50 hormones secreted into the body, responsible for thousands of body processes.
More than 20 different hormones — including insulin, testosterone and serotonin — influence your weight, shape, mood, appetite and eating habits, and an imbalance in any one of them could be cause for concern. Plus, a whole host of hormones influence our sex lives, explains Dr. Alvin Pettle and Lorna R. Vanderhaeghe, co-authors of Sexy Hormones (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2007).
“It’s like a symphony with many different instruments that all have to be balanced to play in harmony. Hormone deficiencies and excesses disrupt this natural rhythm, leading to discord in the body,” says Pettle.
HOW HORMONES WORK
The word hormone comes from the Greek hormo, meaning to set in motion, and that’s exactly what hormones do in the body, telling various tissues what to do and when. They are produced primarily by a network of endocrine glands, the main ones being the pineal, hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, thymus, adrenals, pancreas, ovaries and testes.
Once produced, they work in a sort of lock-and-key mechanism. The hormone (the key) attaches itself to specific receptor sites (the lock) on individual cells. If the key fits the lock, the door will open. If a hormone fits the receptor site, there will be an effect. “Sometimes, the hormone fits the lock exactly; other times, it alters the action of the lock,” says Vanderhaeghe. “Some of these locks can take more than one key, meaning several hormones can affect it.”
THE KEY PLAYERS
Hormone therapy aims to restore the body’s natural hormone levels and is best supervised by a physician.
To ascertain possible deficiencies, Pugen says he creates a hormone profile, which includes a good medical history and physical examination, followed by a full blood screen of all hormones necessary for continued good health, as well as nutrients and other inflammatory markers. Screening methods include blood and 24-hour urine and saliva tests, depending on the doctor’s level of investigation. Treatment options include prescription supplements and bioidentical hormones as well as over-the-counter supplements.
Hormone: Estrogens Source: Ovaries, Adrenals There is no single hormone called estrogen, explains Pettle. Rather, there are three types of body estrogens: estriol, the weakest; estrone; and estradiol, the strongest. Both men and women produce estrogens but in vastly different amounts. Too much estrogen can create a condition called estrogen dominance. Women with estrogen dominance are plagued with conditions ranging from endometriosis and fibroids to heavy periods and breast cancer. Estrogen dominance in men contributes to weight gain, breast development, lowered libido and prostate problems.
Hormone: Progesterone Source: Ovaries, Adrenals Progesterone is manufactured in the ovaries in women and in the adrenals in men. Its job is to balance the effects of all the other primary hormone groups in the body, including estrogen, testosterone and cortisol. Progesterone receptors can be found throughout the body, from the brain to the bladder. When progesterone is low or blocked from reaching the cell receptors, other hormones can get out of balance and start to create problems, ranging from oily skin and abdominal fat to anxiety and depression.
Hormone: Testosterone Source: Testicles, Adrenals Both men and women need and produce testosterone, although in differing amounts. Men produce testosterone in the testicles; women in the adrenals from DHEA and in the ovaries, where estradiol is converted to testosterone. Symptoms of excess testosterone range from acne and oily skin to weight gain; symptoms of low testosterone include low or no sex drive, memory decline, muscle wasting and weakness.
Hormone: DHEA Source: Adrenals