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Most of us have heard about hormones or have a basic understanding of what some of the most important hormones are and what they do, but few of us truly understand how wide-ranging their effects are. We usually associate hormones with two main things; puberty and pregnancy. We all know about the wide variety of changes that take place during adolescence and that these are attributed to hormones. When a woman is pregnant, we talk about hormones as they make important changes to the body to allow for it to carry a healthy baby to term. However, hormones play a vital role in many more of the bodily processes that are essential to life.

Understanding Hormones

The Society for Endocrinology (which is the study of hormones) tells us, “A hormone is a chemical that is made by specialist cells, usually within an endocrine gland, and it is released into the bloodstream to send a message to another part of the body. It is often referred to as a ‘chemical messenger’. Hormones are found in all multicellular organisms and their role is to provide an internal communication system between cells located in distant parts of the body.” The endocrine glands are where hormones are produced and are found throughout the human body.

What are Hormones Doing in your Body Right Now?

If we think of hormones as chemical messengers, then we can divide what hormones do into two different messages or communications. Sometimes hormones deliver a message from one endocrine gland to another with the message to change the production of a particular hormone. Sometimes hormones deliver a message from an endocrine gland to an organ to tell it to do something. This process is happening right now in your body; your body is monitoring how it is functioning and endocrine glands are producing hormones in order to maintain healthy function. We don’t notice it is happening, and we rarely notice the effects as we go about our daily lives. However, there are times when we do feel the effects of hormones becoming more noticeable. If you were to suddenly realize that you were late for an important event, you would feel a sudden sense of alarm – panic even – and you would jump up from where you were sitting and dash off to get ready. You may have been relaxed just a few moments before realizing, perhaps even feeling sleepy, but this sudden alarm gives you a boost of energy. Your heart rate would increase, you would move faster and be more alert. You might feel nauseated or anxious. All of this is down to hormones – in this case mostly adrenaline – which kicks in. The purpose of this adrenaline is to get you where you need to be. The same would occur if you were in danger, adrenaline kicks in to help you get to safety.

Diagram of the human body showing where the different hormones are and their roles

Endocrine Glands

The endocrine glands produce hormones and send them out as chemical messengers by secreting them directly into the blood These glands may also monitor the blood for changes so that they know when to release certain hormones. The major endocrine glands and their functions include;

  1. The pituitary gland – sometimes called the master gland as it is responsible for so many hormonal functions. The pituitary gland is tiny but it is responsible for controlling the thyroid gland, testes ovaries and adrenal glands. It plays major roles in growth and reproduction.
  2. The pineal gland – responsible for melatonin production which regulates the all-important sleep pattern.
  3. The thymus – responsible for the production of T cells, which are an essential part of the immune system. T cells adapt to fight off specific invaders that threaten their health, in order to keep us from infection and disease.
  4. The thyroid – responsible for various functions, but most important is it’s role in controlling the metabolism, the process by which the body gets energy from food for all kinds of essential processes.
  5. The adrenal glands – responsible for the body’s response to stress, which is its most well-known function. The adrenaline glands are also important for healthy blood pressure, immunity, sex hormones and metabolism.
  6. The pancreas – responsible for the digestive system and the regulation of blood sugar levels.
  7. The testes and ovaries – responsible for puberty and the hormones required for sexual reproduction in men (testes) and women (ovaries)

Hormones and Mood

A lot of the time when people ask ‘what are hormones’, they are interested in how hormones affect our moods. Hormones play a vital role in so many aspects of how our bodies work but they also play a major role in mood. Mood problems and even mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can be affected by hormone levels. This goes some way to explaining why our mood dips or changes at certain times; for women, there may be changes depending on where in the menstrual cycle they are, but men and women are both subject to mood fluctuations based on how much sleep they are getting, the stresses of everyday life, diet changes and changes as we age.

What are Hormone Disorders?

It only takes a microscopic amount of a hormone to make huge changes in the human body. So when there is too much or too little of a hormone, the effects can be really very profound. Hormone disorders come in many different forms and an endocrinologist is the best person to speak to regarding potential hormone disorders. There are many different ways in which problems involving hormones can be treated. Science has delivered synthetic hormones that can change the lives of those who do not produce enough of particular hormones. Hormone therapy is a rapidly developing aspect of medical science. If you believe you may have a hormone disorder, then checking hormones levels is usually quite a simple process involving looking at the symptoms and conducting some basic medical tests. 

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