What are Hormones?
Our bodies are made up of close to 40 Trillion cells and in order for them to work together for our health and happiness we need some pretty impressive communication systems. Of course the master control system is the brain and nerve system which sends electrical signals to each and every cell of the body at close to 300 mph.
Our second critical communication system is called the endocrine or hormonal system. This system is made up of a network of glands that secrete chemical signals that trigger our cells to do specific actions. This system is a very important control system that is intimately related to the nerve system. In fact, many researchers are lumping both of these systems into one large “super system” called the neuroendocrine system. The main difference between the two systems is how the messages are delivered. With nerves of course the message is sent electrically similar to a telephone wire. With the hormones, the message is sent in little chemical “packets” similar to sending a letter in the mail. Both are essential for maintaining communication throughout the body.
Just because these little chemical messengers are vital for life doesn’t mean that most people know much about them. In fact, most people have little more than a cursory knowledge about estrogen and testosterone and then that’s about it. So let me do a brief introduction to some of the other members of the hormone “family” that we all should know about.
The thyroid gland produces key hormones that control our baseline metabolism (how fast we build up and tear down our bodies and how we manage energy throughout the day). The thyroid is signaled to produce thyroid hormone by the master gland called the pituitary gland. It produces a hormone called TSH. TSH stimulates the thyroid to make T4 which is the inactive form of thyroid hormone then out in the body, T4 gets converted to T3 which is the active thyroid hormone. With so many steps involved in the process, there are many opportunities for things to get out of balance. The thyroid gland can get turned on too high or can slow down production and become sluggish. Most people that have thyroid problems have the type that causes low production called hypothyroidism and of that group, the majority are actually suffering from an autoimmune attack of the thyroid called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Symptoms of low thyroid include: fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, weak or brittle hair and nails, cold hands and feet, brain fog and depression. A thorough health history and blood tests are the best way to diagnose this condition but many doctors only test TSH levels and may miss many cases of suboptimal thyroid function. If you are suffering from any thyroid symptoms, a full thyroid panel is recommended.
The adrenal glands are small, walnut sized glands that sit on top of each kidney. They have two layers within them that produce 2 different types of hormones. Most people are familiar with the adrenal glands role in the management of stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. Because the body’s primary defense mechanism is to avoid danger, it places a high priority on making these hormones.
In our busy, stressful modern-day lives, we are chronically pumping out cortisol and it can lead to significant imbalances.
Symptoms of adrenal stress are quite diverse. They include: fatigue, sleep dysfunctions, depression, thyroid symptoms, elevated inflammation, immune dysfunction, anxiety, racing heart beat, increased pain perception, fibromyalgia, sex hormone imbalances, blood sugar swings and many more. Testing is best done through saliva or dried urine samples through very specialized laboratories.
Insulin is a fat-storage hormone produced in the pancreas in response to the presence of glucose in the blood stream. It’s job is primarily to signal the cells to “drink” up the sugar to be used as fuel in the cell. Unfortunately, when the blood sugar levels are chronically elevated due to poor diet choices, the levels of insulin go up and up. Eventually the cells become resistant to the effects of insulin and we develop type II diabetes.
Elevated blood sugar and insulin are intimately connected to obesity, diabetes, inflammatory conditions and heart disease just to name a few. It is extremely important to make correct lifestyle choices to get these hormones under control and we have seen many cases where diet and exercise plans specific to the individual have reversed the progression of these diseases.
Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone
These hormones are produced somewhat in the adrenal glands but mostly in the ovaries in females and testis in males. Each sex has the need for all of these hormones but as most people are aware the levels of each are different between the sexes.
Chronic stress, nutrient deficiencies and toxic chemicals in the environment are known to disrupt hormones balance.
Symptoms of sex hormone imbalance include: fatigue, depression, irritability, moodiness, water retention, infertility, miscarriages, osteoporosis, endometriosis, irregular menstrual cycles, PMS/PMDD, low libido, weight gain, sleep problems and many more.
Sex hormones can be tested in regular blood tests but for more detailed information, we often recommend dried urine testing through Precision Analytical laboratory.
Balancing Hormones Naturally
There are a variety of other hormones that are important to health of course but these major players are the ones that are most often related to the symptoms our patients present with.
Identifying the right hormones to test and even which tests to run is the first step in establishing a correct diagnosis but the real key to feeling better to adopt a holistic approach including, supplements, bio-identical and homeopathic hormones as well as comprehensive lifestyle modification.
When all of the pieces of the puzzle are in place, hormone levels can change quite rapidly leading to normalizing of weight, energy, mood, sleep and many other foundational aspects of health.
How is your hormone “family”? If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of hormonal imbalance or if you would like to have a more detailed look at how your hormones are working in your body, please contact our office for a free initial phone consultation. Call 801-677-7878.