Hormones aren’t given a thought in your day to day life, beyond the cliche discussion of premenstrual syndrome. Part of the reason some go unnoticed is they are part of delicate feedback systems that work in the background and aren’t all fully understood.
Hormones: Endocrine Exocrine and FAT
Your endocrine system is traditionally thought of as the specific hormone producing glands, namely the pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, adrenal, and testes/ovaries. These ductless glands release hormones directly into the bloodstream.
Then there is the exocrine system, these are hormones released through a duct like your salivary gland, or the gastric glands in your stomach.
That does not account for the over 80 identified human hormones that have been identified so far. In 1994 a molecular geneticist Jeffrey Friedman discovered that leptin was produced by fat cells. This opened the door to realizing your body fat works as an endocrine organ that ‘controls’ your brain by sending signals on when to eat, and hunger mechanisms.
Presently there are over 80 identified human hormones. Each hormone is targeted and works to affect only one specific type of cell like leptin produced by body fat affecting only leptin receptors in the brain and moving through the rest of the body with no effect.
Four Categories of Hormone
There are four main categories or classifications of hormones. This is largely based on their structure, production, and role within the body.
Steroids: Synthesized from cholesterol in the gonads and adrenal gland, Steroid hormones are lipids that pass through the cell membrane. Steroid hormones help control metabolism, inflammation, immune function, salt and water balance, sexual characteristics. Your big steroid hormones are estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, pregnenolone, cortisol, and Vitamin D (1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D or calcitriol) Steroid hormones end in “-ol” or “-one”
Peptides: These are amino acid based hormones that aren’t quite long enough to be considered a protein and are secreted by the endocrine system. Manufactured in the same way as proteins, mRNA templates are translated to amino acid chains known as pre-prohormones are sent to the endoplasmic reticulum to have their leading sequences, thus becoming prohormones, which are then sent to secretory vesicles or cleaved by enzymes to form mature hormones, and then released into circulation as needed. Major peptides include HCG, HGH, Melatonin, Insulin, Glucagon, Prolactin, ACTH, Leptin, Ghrelin, Parathyroid hormone, Thyrotrophin releasing hormone, and humoral factors for the immune system.
Amino Acid Derivatives: Hormones that are water soluble and derived from tyrosine and tryptophan. Amino acid dervied hormones include epinephrine, norepinephrine, adrenaline and thyroid hormones like triiodothyronine. (Hormones that end in ‘ine’)
Eicosanoids: These are fatty acid derivative hormones. These hormones are metabolized and usually only remain active in your body for a few seconds. This is partly because they typically only affect the local tissues surrounding them, and are produced in nearly every cell of the human body. Prostaglandins have varied purpose from uterine contractions, to inflammation.
Even small amounts of hormone can have huge effects, which is why endocrine disrupting chemicals are dangerous even in small amounts. Chemicals that cause disruption can potentially lead to cancerous tumors, birth defects, and developmental disorders.
Though there is controversy over whether some endocrine disrupting chemicals actually affect humans, it’s important to keep in mind hormonal effects can last seconds or years depending upon the specific mechanism. Some are also part of signalling systems that can degrade little by little over time.
Ultimately the onus is on you to decide what’s safe and is not, just keep in mind even small disruptions could have unknown rippling effects.
Foods and consumer goods are the major source of hormone disrupting chemicals, and many are difficult to avoid. For example the big move recently was to remove bisphenol A or BPA from plastics used for drinking water, while a study in 2011 suggests the alternative “BPA-free” products may release more endocrine active chemicals than before!
Your best bet is to certainly avoid heating any plastics, long term storage of foodstuffs in plastic, avoiding chemicals, preservatives, and cleaning agents as often as possible, and ultimately trying to counterbalance it with good diet, nutrition, and supplements to make sure your body is as healthy as it can be to restore its natural balance.
Hormones and Health
Hormones are active throughout your entire body working as chemical messengers for countless tasks. Obviously exert huge influence on your overall health and an imbalance can be serious.
Obvious issues with hormone imbalance can be excessive premenstrual syndromes or a particularly bad reaction to menopause. For men it could be lack of libido or impotence. For everyone though: sleep, energy, cognitive performance, development, immune health, it’s all related to hormones. Even glutathione is affected as the glutathione S-transferase expression is regulated by thyroid and sex hormones.
Talk to your doctor, keep a balanced nutrient plan, supplement nutrients to fill in the gaps (especially as you leave your 20’s)