What are hormones?
The human endocrine system is made up of a series of nine glands distributed throughout the body. These glands synthesize and secrete compounds called hormones, which are distributed throughout the body and act as chemical messengers between cells. The human nervous system also synthesizes and secretes chemical messengers which are referred to as neurotransmitters. Every cell in the body communicates through some combination of hormones from the endocrine system and neurotransmitters from the nervous system. Once secreted hormones are transported by the blood, bind to receptor sites on individual cells, and send a signal for the cell to carry out a particular function. Therefore, every biochemical processes in our body is heavily governed by molecular signals from the endocrine system. These processes determine cellular function, physiological responses and human behavior.
What are the major hormones?
The Stress Hormone: Cortisol
When the brain perceives a threat such as a dangerous situation or a stressful meeting, the stress response is initiated. This response evolved to help increase the chances of survival when faced with an environmental threat. During this response, cortisol is released from the adrenal glands and has a systemic impact on the body. When cortisol is present in the blood a series of reactions are triggered which leads to sudden physiological changes such as an increase blood sugar, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, enhanced brain function, and decreased immune system function.
The Sex Hormones: Estrogen and testosterone
In women, estrogen is produced in the ovaries and its function is to regulate the menstrual cycle and mood and also plays a significant role in determining secondary sexual characteristics such as breast development, body hair and sex drive. With over 400 functions in the body, estrogen also plays a role in mood, energy levels, and brain function.
In men, testosterone is produced in the testes and is considered to be the key to male vitality. This hormone determines secondary sexual characteristics in men such as muscle mass, body hair, voice, sexual stimulation and sex drive. Testosterone also plays a role in aggression and dominance of a male which can have a positive effect on self-esteem. Females naturally have a small amount of testosterone which heightens sex drive and improves vitality.
The Thyroid Hormones
The hormones secreted from the thyroid gland are primarily responsible for metabolism of every single cell in the body. These hormones keep energy levels up, regulate heart rate and body temperature, keep body weight and appetite normal, and help to regulate mood. Essentially these hormones determine how fast calories are burned, how effectively nutrients are absorbed, and the aging rate of cells.
Common Hormone Imbalances in 40+ Men and Women
The physiological changes associated with the stress response are meant to be short-lived where the body returns to back to its balanced state once the threat has passed. In modern society, however, the threat appears to be constant and therefore the stress response is always engaged. The daily stress of modern life can cause cortisol to be continuously released from the adrenal glands. When high levels of cortisol are present over a long period of time, this can increase risk of heart disease, immune system suppression, chronic fatigue, weight gain, gastrointestinal problems, decreased brain function and more.
Estrogen Deficiency in Women
Women in their late 30s and early 40s normally begin to experience a decrease in the amount of estrogen that is released from the ovaries. This condition is referred to as perimenopause. As women continue to age into their 40s and 50s, they will ultimately experience a dramatic decline in their estrogen levels. This dramatic decline of estrogen is indicative of menopause and often bears plenty of changes throughout the body. These changes include: weight gain – particularly around the mid-section, changes in appetite, increases in cortisol, memory loss, insomnia or sleep disturbances, and decreased energy levels. These changes make it difficult to lose weight, to stay active, and to remember things they used to.
Estrogen Dominance in Women
Progesterone is another hormone secreted by the ovaries which not only plays a significant role in ovulation and pregnancy, but also helps to balance out estrogen. When there is not enough progesterone secreted to balance out the estrogen that is secreted, this results in estrogen dominance. Between the ages of 35 and 50, women will see a significant reduction in progesterone in the body. By the time menopause hits, a small amount of estrogen is still circulating in the body while progesterone is extremely low. This common hormone imbalance often leads to endometriosis, elevated blood pressure, irregular menstrual flow in pre-menopausal women, weight gain, bloating, mood swings, depression and fatigue.
Low Testosterone in Men
The level of testosterone released from the testes peaks during a male’s teen and young adult years and then decreases at a rate of about 1 percent per year after the age of 30. By the time a man reaches his middle age years, various symptoms start to show as a result of their low levels of testosterone. These symptoms include: erectile dysfunction, low libido, depression, hair loss, lack of energy, decreased muscle mass and decreased bone density.
Over- and Under-active Thyroid
There are two common hormone imbalances associated with thyroid. The first is when the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones which is called hypothyroidism. When there aren’t enough thyroid hormones in the body metabolic functions are slowed down. This results in symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, dry and brittle hair, hair loss, depression, memory loss, decreased libido and irritability. The second hormone imbalance associated with the thyroid is when too much thyroid hormones are produced (also known as hyperthyroidism). Contrary to hypothyroidism which slows metabolism down, hypothyroidism speeds up metabolic processes. This can lead to symptoms such as: sudden weight loss, rapid heartbeat, more frequent bowel movements, fatigue, nervousness or anxiety, sleep disorders, and thinning hair and skin.
Correcting Hormone Imbalances
The human endocrine system is extremely complex and sensitive to changes in the environment. For those that are experiencing hormonal symptoms, it’s important to realize that there are ways to address these symptoms and restore youthful energy levels and appearance in the process. Factors such as lifestyle, diet, age and gender can cause a hormonal imbalance to develop. Increasing the amount and intensity of physical activity, reducing stress levels and getting enough good quality sleep can help to reduce some symptoms of hormone imbalance. Implementing a whole-foods based diet with plenty of fiber in combination with regular physical activity can also help.
Aside from diet and exercise, another safe and effective solution to hormone imbalance is bio-identical hormone treatment. During this type of treatment, all-natural hormones are used to replace those that your body is no longer producing on its own instead of synthetic versions. Bio-identical hormones match their natural hormone counterparts exactly, so they behave in the same way that a hormone produced by the body would. Synthetic hormones, on the other hand, tend to stay locked to the receptor sites longer than necessary and cause damage to the cell. Bio-identical hormones are naturally released from the cell binding sites and are excreted safely through the excretory system. Unlike synthetic versions, bio-identical compounds have minimal side effects.
In addition, the compounds used in bio-identical hormone treatment have been found to effectively lower the risk of disease associated with hormone imbalance, slow the aging rate, increase energy levels, and restore vitality in men and women of any age.