7 Key Hormones & How They Affect Your Health
The nearly 50 hormones produced in your body impact just about every facet of your existence. Growth, metabolism, mood, temperature, heart rate, sleep, sexuality—all are governed by these chemical messengers. While all of your hormones are important, there are some that serve critical functions on their own and also influence other systems.
The Super Seven
Too little or too much of any one of these seven hormones, particularly thyroid hormone, can have a cascading effect on the others. Hormones are generally created by the endocrine system including the pineal gland, pituitary gland, pancreas, ovaries, testes, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, hypothalamus, and adrenal glands. When these organs are functioning optimally, they produce just the right amount of hormones needed to carry out various processes throughout your body.
1. Thyroid Hormones
The thyroid gland keeps your metabolism under control through the action of thyroid hormones, which it makes by extracting iodine from your blood. Thyroid cells are the only ones in your body that specialize in absorbing and using iodine, which they use to create the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. These hormones don’t just control your overall metabolism, weight, energy levels, and temperature. They actually directly manage the metabolism of every single cell in your body, so if your levels are off, every cell can be affected. Thyroid disorders that result in too little or too much thyroid hormone can cause a wide range of symptoms, and left untreated can result in illnesses such as Hashimoto’s disease or Grave’s disease. To learn more, read my book The Autoimmune Solution.
Caring for Your Thyroid
Iodine is added to table salt but even so, most people don’t get enough of it. Somewhat surprisingly, processed foods, which tend to contain a lot of salt, generally use the type without iodine, so you can’t count on it there. Fish such as cod, tuna, or shrimp are natural sources but you’d need to eat a lot to get the amount you need. A multivitamin is the way to go, but you need to be careful about the one you select. I’ve specially formulated my Myers Way® Multivitamin with iodine to support thyroid health.
Insulin is released by your pancreas, which is located behind your stomach. This critical hormone enables your body to use glucose or sugar from carbohydrates in the food you eat for energy. It helps keep blood sugar levels from getting too high or too low. If you have more sugar in your body than you need, insulin helps store it in your liver and release it later when you need it for energy.
Maintaining Proper Insulin Levels
If your pancreas does not produce insulin naturally, as in the case of type 1 diabetes, you must take insulin regularly. This is usually administered through injections or an insulin pump. If your body does produce insulin but not enough to balance the sugars in your blood, you may develop hyperglycemia or high blood sugar. This can cause long-term complications including type 2 diabetes. Candida, which thrives on sugars, can also become an issue when blood sugar levels are too high. Fortunately, lifestyle changes including a healthy diet and moderate exercise can go a long way toward creating an insulin/blood sugar balance.
This female sex hormone is created in your ovaries, although your adrenal glands and fat cells make some too. Estrogen is responsible for reproduction, menstruation, and menopause. Like its male counterpart, testosterone, it is created from the precursor hormone DHEA which also produces the progesterone that plays an important role in menstruation and pregnancy. Estrogen is important in bone and blood health as well as sex drive. Levels of this hormone naturally rise and fall during a woman’s lifetime. Excess estrogen increases the risk of breast cancer, uterine cancer, depression, and moodiness. It can lead to estrogen dominance, a condition in which progesterone is not in balance with your estrogen. Low estrogen levels can lead to acne, skin lesions, thinning skin, or hair loss.
Your body can be fooled by xenoestrogens, chemical compounds that mimic estrogen.1 These can be found throughout our environment including in plastics, the foods we eat, and the water we drink. Because some estrogen is produced by fat cells, excess weight can increase your estrogen levels. Your gut also impacts estrogen because it regulates enzymes that metabolize estrogen. Fortunately, many of these issues can be addressed by taking care of your gut health. Cleansing environmental toxins with coconut charcoal and eating a healthy diet are also important. Finally, adding supplements such as my Estroprotect can help balance any xenoestrogens you can’t avoid.
This mood-boosting hormone is associated with learning and memory, regulating sleep, digestion, and some muscular function. It is primarily produced in the gut. Recent research has shown that serotonin levels that promote a positive impact on mood can increase longevity by as much as 10 years.
Low levels of serotonin can lead to depression, migraines, weight gain, insomnia, and carb cravings. Too much serotonin can cause agitation, confusion, or lethargy.
Gut Health and Serotonin
A small amount of the fungus Candida naturally lives in your mouth and intestines. Its job is to aid with digestion and nutrient absorption. When it is overproduced it can block your gut from releasing serotonin, which can drastically affect your mood. Candida can easily get out of control if you eat a high-carb diet, consume excess alcohol, or take medications that kill the bacteria that keep Candida in check. Find out if you have Candida overgrowth and the steps you can take to bring it in check and release your serotonin here.
The main function of this stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland is just that—to respond to stress. However, cortisol also plays a role in controlling inflammation and regulating blood flow. In danger mode, the adrenal gland boosts production which increases heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and overall inflammation. Nearly all of your cells have cortisol receptors, so in times of high alert, cortisol can shut down processes such as digestion. Extremely low levels of cortisol can result in Addison’s disease, symptoms of which include low blood pressure, fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite.
Cortisol and Stress
While cortisol’s job is to quickly respond to danger, under ideal conditions this only happens in short bursts. If you are under continued stress over a long period, your body will continue to produce cortisol. This can lead to a host of issues including ulcers, high blood pressure and heart disease, anxiety, increased cholesterol levels, autoimmune issues, and Cushing’s syndrome. Learning to manage stress through a variety of techniques such as meditation, exercise, or socializing is a great way to help manage cortisol. You may also consider adding supplements that include herbs that support stress relief such as my Organic Greens.
Adrenaline, like cortisol, is secreted in the adrenal gland and also in some neurons of the central nervous system. It is derived from the amino acid tyrosine.2 It helps you think and act fast in response to danger by sending extra blood to your heart and large muscles. Adrenaline also blocks pain. These intense effects can last up to an hour.
For more information, check out my interview with Dan Kalish, IFMCP, where we discuss how the adrenal glands affect autoimmunity and gut health, as well as how tracking adrenal gland repair can help reverse autoimmunity.
As with cortisol, sustained stress can lead to an overproduction of this fight-or-flight hormone. This can result in dizziness, irritability, anxiety, weight loss, palpitations, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure.3 If you want to test your cortisol levels at home, I recommend using the home cortisol test from LetsGetChecked. It measures adrenal performance or stress through a simple finger prick blood test. The results are available online so you can share them with your functional medicine doctor.
Learning relaxation techniques that help you manage stress can go a long way toward alleviating symptoms. Supplements that support optimal adrenal function can also help.
7. Growth Hormone
Growth hormone, often called HGH, is a protein that is produced in the pituitary gland. It stimulates growth, cell reproduction, and regeneration, and boosts metabolism. Production rises in childhood, peaks in adolescence, and declines in adulthood. However, even after you stop growing, you still need growth hormone for healthy muscles, bone, and fat tissues.
Increased Growth Hormone
Children who don’t have sufficient growth hormone can receive prescription injections. In rare cases, adults with issues involving the pituitary gland or hypothalamus may also receive them. However, there are ways to boost your body’s own production. Growth hormone is naturally released in bursts, and high-intensity interval training can increase production. Avoiding sugary foods and drinks as well as eating small meals can also help because high blood sugar inhibits HGH release. Don’t expect a fountain of youth, however, boosting muscle tone certainly has the anti-aging effect of making you look and feel more youthful.
While all the hormones in your body are important and have specific functions, supporting these super seven hormones with a proper diet and supplements will help ensure your overall health throughout your life.
- Xenoestrogens: mechanisms of action and some detection studies. M Słomczyńska. NCBI. 2008.
- 18.1 Types of Hormones. Charles Molnar and Jane Gair. Concepts of Biology - 1st Canadian Addition.
- What is Adrenaline?. Hormone Health Network. 2018.
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