As you already know, hormones are vitally important to your body. Balanced hormone levels are crucial for overall health. They are responsible for making sure your body systems function correctly and control many processes. There are so many hormones in your body working hard to keep you healthy, but let’s focus on eight key hormones and the effects they can have.
Estrogen is a female sex hormone. It is produced mainly in the ovaries, but your adrenal glands produce some, as do fat cells. Estrogen is a key hormone for women in particular because it is responsible for menstruation, menopause, reproduction, sex drive, and even bone and blood health. One of the hormones it works in concert with is progesterone, another female sex hormone. The two need to be in balance for good health.
While a woman’s estrogen levels will rise and fall naturally throughout her life, there are things to look out for to see if there is an imbalance that can be treated. High estrogen levels increase risks for breast and uterine cancer. Too much estrogen can also lead to depression or general moodiness. Low levels of estrogen can cause skin issues like acne, lesions, and thinning skin. It is also linked to hair loss.
Of course, menopause is caused in part by a lack of estrogen. So hot flashes and night sweats, sleep issues, decreased sex drive, and other menopausal symptoms can be related to low estrogen levels.
A key male sex hormone, testosterone is primarily produced in the testicles. Women also produce lower levels of testosterone in the ovaries and adrenal glands. Testosterone is responsible for regulating sex drive, muscle strength, fat distribution, bone mass, and the production of red blood cells.
Low levels of testosterone can result in infertility due to low sperm production, reduced sex drive, erectile dysfunction, body hair loss, loss of muscle mass, decreased strength, and swelling in the breast tissue.
Too much testosterone in men can prematurely trigger puberty (before age 9). It can also cause aggression, irritability and acne. Additionally, it can exacerbate sleep apnea in those who have it already.
In women, too much testosterone can cause acne, thinning hair on the head, more body and facial hair, low libido, irregular periods and reduction in breast size.
Produced by the pancreas, insulin is responsible for converting sugar, or glucose, from the carbohydrates you ingest into energy. Or it can also help store the glucose in the liver for future use. Insulin is the hormone that keeps your blood sugar levels from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).
Diabetes, one of the most common diseases in the US, is caused by the body’s ability, or inability, to produce and process insulin. Check out the Center for Disease Control for more information on diabetes, which affects 9.4% of people in the United States.
Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland. It mainly functions as a response to stress. It kicks in to put your body in survival mode in dangerous situations. It also controls inflammation and blood flow.
Too much cortisol can result in hypertension, anxiety, high cholesterol, autoimmune problems, and a condition called Cushing’s syndrome.
Low levels of cortisol also cause problems like low blood pressure, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite. These are all symptoms of Addison’s disease.
5. Human Growth Hormone
Often referred to as HGH, growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland. As the name suggests, it stimulates growth as well as cell reproduction and regeneration. It also boosts metabolism. Children and adolescents produce the most growth hormone, but adults require a lower level to maintain healthy tissues, bones, and muscles.
Children who do not produce enough growth hormone to meet physical milestones may be prescribed HGH injections. Some adults also seek to increase their levels of growth hormone because it has been said to be anti-aging and make you feel and look younger by boosting muscle tone. Levels can be naturally increased through diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits.
You might have heard of serotonin as it relates to moods or mental health. This hormone is involved in memory and learning ability, sleep regulation, some muscle functions, and digestion.
Many antidepressants you might have seen advertised alter the amount of serotonin in your system. That’s because low levels of serotonin can cause depression. Low serotonin can also lead to weight gain, migraines, and insomnia. Your cravings for carbohydrates may also increase.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, too much serotonin can cause confusion, agitation, and lethargy.
Another hormone that works on the nervous system is adrenaline. Secreted by the aptly named adrenal gland, adrenaline is what enables you to think and then act quickly in situations that are perceived as dangerous. It is for that reason that adrenaline is referred to as the “fight or flight” hormone. The release of adrenaline sends extra blood to your heart and muscles.
Adrenaline has also been known to block pain. You may have heard about people in chaotic and dangerous situations not noticing an injury that would normally be painful. That’s because of the abundance of adrenaline in their systems. The effects of adrenaline can stick around for up to an hour.
Prolonged continual stress can lead to the overproduction of adrenaline. The results of too much adrenaline can include high blood pressure, palpitations, rapid heartbeat, weight loss, anxiety, irritability, and dizziness.
8. Thyroid Hormones
These hormones that come from the thyroid gland are responsible for many things. They manage the metabolism of all of your body’s cells. This can affect metabolism, weight gain and loss, energy levels, and body temperature.
An imbalance of thyroid hormones can lead to issues with all of the above functions. Serious thyroid disorders include Hashimoto’s disease and Grave’s disease.
Dr. Karen Clark is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. She is also a certified menopause practitioner of the North American Menopause Society. She is an expert at managing hormonal issues for women. If you have concerns about hormonal issues and want to explore testing and treatment options, call (919) 960-2720 to schedule an appointment.