Hormones are the body’s chemical communicators traveling from the array of glands that make up the endocrine system to the body’s cells where they prod those cells to do everything from building tissue to cheering you up. Some hormones perform a multitude of tasks depending on what cells they interact with, and the context surrounding the interaction.  Hormones play a vital part in your body’s daily activities, and no matter what your health goals are understanding what hormones do can help you in reaching your goals.

In the following excerpt from the book Real Cause, Real Cure by Jacob Teitelbaum, MD and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors explain the endocrine systems and what the hormones it produces do in the body.

Understanding Your Endocrine System

Hormones are like bosses on a business trip—they travel throughout the body via the blood stream, telling organs and cells what to do. Some control growth (the explosion of puberty is set off by hormones). Some control your metabolism—your energy level, heart rate, speed of digestion, and body temperature. They all function via feedback: If you’re overheated, they tell your body to cool down; if you’re freezing, they order up more fuel for the internal fire. This feedback mechanism sometimes works like a set of biochemical dominoes, with one hormone telling an other to get busy and then that hormone issuing its own instructions. To understand the endocrine system better, let’s take a quick look at the various glands and the hormones they produce.

•Hypothalamus. How much you want to eat and drink. Whether you sweat or shiver. How fast your heart beats. Whether your sleep is deep or shallow. All these functions are supervised by hormones from the hypothalamus, an almond-size gland just above the brain stem. Much of the work the hypothalamus does is through releasing hormones that tell the pituitary to release its hormones, which stimulate other endocrine glands.

•Pituitary gland. This pea-size gland underneath the hypothalamus is a big performer in spite of its size. The hormones it generates include…

  • Human growth hormone (HGH). For tissue growth in kids and tissue repair and mus cle building in adults.
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Triggers the thyroid to produce its hormones. (As I’ll discuss in a minute, the underproduction of thyroid hormones—hypothyroidism—is an un recognized and untreated American epidemic, with terrible consequences for health.)
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). These two hormones influence the sex and reproductive organs (gonads), playing a role in the production of estrogen and progesterone in women and testosterone in men.
  • Prolactin. Breastfeeding doesn’t happen without it.
  • Antidiuretic hormone (vasopressin). Regulates kidney function (how much you uri nate) and the volume of blood.
  • Oxytocin. In women, it tells the uterus to contract during childbirth and also plays a role in milk production. It’s called “the hormone of love” because it may stimulate the positive feelings that help a new mother bond with her baby. It also plays a key role in a woman’s ability to have an orgasm and the “afterglow” of sex. In men, oxytocin is produced during orgasm, aiding sperm release, and it may help keep the prostate gland healthy. Studies also show the hormone may help men bond with children and spouses.

•Pineal gland. This is a small (and to scientists still somewhat mysterious) gland in the mid dle of the brain. It manufactures melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle.

•Thyroid gland. Located in the neck, this gland is the body’s gas pedal—it controls how fast or slow just about every part of you goes. And when you’re slow, you feel low. If your metabolism is sluggish, you gain weight easily and lose it with difficulty. If your digestion is pokey, you become constipated. If your body temperature is set too low, you’re cold all the time. If your brain is plodding, you can’t think clearly. These are just some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism. (There are many more, as I’ll talk about in a minute.)

•Parathyroid glands. These two small glands on either side of the thyroid generate para thyroid hormone. This hormone controls calcium levels in the blood. Without enough calcium in your circulation, hormones couldn’t travel from spot to spot, your heart couldn’t beat, your blood couldn’t clot, and your nerves couldn’t transmit their electrical signals.

•Thymus gland. This often-ignored gland in your mid-chest helps regulate the immune system. It creates thymulin, a hormone that helps T-cells (a type of infection-fighting white blood cell) multiply and also energizes the immune system’s natural killer cells. Thymulin requires zinc to function optimally. Unfortunately, zinc is depleted in chronic infections, leading to weaker thymulin and more infections.

•Adrenal glands. Famous for producing adrenaline—the hormone that puts the “fight” in the fight-or-flight response—these two glands sit atop your kidneys. The adrenals have an outer section (the adrenal cortex) and an inner section (the adrenal medulla). The cortex makes cortico steroids, which help regulate your response to stress, your immune system, and the functioning of your sex organs. The medulla kicks out catecholamines (including adrenaline in the form of epinephrine and norepinephrine), and they ready you to respond to sudden stress.

•Testicles and ovaries. The testicles make testosterone, and it does more than turn a boy from a soprano into a tenor. Too-low levels (a common problem among my middle-aged and older patients) can drain your enthusiasm and energy, lower your libido to half-mast, muddle your moods, and install a spare tire. Men produce much more testosterone than women do, but women do produce the hormone (in their ovaries and adrenal glands). Low levels in women also can pull the plug on vitality, optimism, and sex drive.

Produced mainly by the ovaries, estrogen and progesterone are involved in every aspect of sexual development and reproduction in women. An imbalance in estrogen and progesterone levels—with progesterone being too low—can trigger symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome). This menstrual difficulty affects more than 75 percent of reproductive-age women, with 20 percent to 40 percent saying the symptoms (such as irritability, depression, food cravings, back pain, headache, pelvic cramps, bloated abdomen, and tender breasts) interfere with daily life. The decrease of estrogen in later life can serve up a second round of distressing symptoms, such as hot flashes, insomnia, brain fog, muscle pain, and loss of libido. In men estrogen and progesterone are produced by the adrenal gland, and imbalanced levels (too low or too high) can depress libido, cause erectile difficulty, and reduce sperm production.

•Pancreas. Located behind the stomach, this organ pumps out digestive enzymes and two hormones that control blood sugar (glucose). The one you’ve probably heard a lot about, insulin, helps glucose move out of the bloodstream and into muscle and fat cells for energy or storage. The condition called insulin resistance—when the “locks” of insulin receptors on cells are clogged with fat and can’t use the “key” of insulin—is the prologue to prediabetes. But it also makes glu cagon, which boosts blood sugar if it’s too low.

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