Last week in Part 1 we looked at hormone basic and key players involved in these functions. This week we will dive further into specific hormones and how they work in the body.

SEX HORMONES-> Women and men both produce estrogen and testosterone. In men, the adrenals are the main source of estrogen. In women, hormones are predominantly produced in the adrenals, ovaries and fat cells. Women who have had their ovaries removed, or who have undergone menopause, rely on the adrenal glands for the majority of hormone production.

  1. Estrogens: A group of hormones that play a role in normal sexual and reproductive development. The main estrogens are Estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2), Estriol (E3). Each has different degree of interaction with estrogen receptors making them either weak or strong. Estradiol is the most potent and estriol has the lowest potency. Both estrone and estriol are made from estradiol.

According to women’s health expert, Lorna Vanderhaeghe, estrogens can stay in their original form, convert to another estrogen, or convert to cancer-preventative or cancer-promoting estrogen metabolites/breakdown products. For example, 2-hydroxyestrone is a breakdown product of estrogens and is thought to be breast cancer protective. However, having high levels of 4-hydroxyestrone and 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone metabolites are said to be cancer-promoting.  Estriol is the safer form that rarely converts to metabolites. Harmful conversions take place when liver health is compromised by drugs and toxins, when we are exposed to high amounts of “xeno estrogens” found in plastics, cosmetics, pesticides, animal products, etc. or when taking high doses of estrogens. Estrogen metabolism is affected by other hormones, as we will see in Part 3.

  1. Progesterone: Progesterone is a precursor hormone that the body uses to make other steroid hormones. It is produced in the “corpus luteum” of the ovaries. Progesterone can be used to make cortisol in the adrenal glands and it can also convert to estrogen through a series of reactions. During pregnancy, progesterone produced by the placenta is essential to maintain a pregnancy to term as it keeps the uterus from contracting until labor begins. These levels naturally decrease at menopause when the ovaries stop producing eggs, although the adrenals continue to produce it in smaller amounts.

Note that estrogen and progesterone work together to create harmony. If estrogen levels are too low, progesterone converts to estrogens to maintain these levels. However, when you have too much estrogen, you need more progesterone to maintain the balance.

  1. Testosterone: Testosterone is an androgen – a masculinizing hormone, although it plays a role in both male and female health. In women, it is produced mainly in the ovaries, but most is converted to estrogen. It is also produced in the testes in men and the adrenal glands in both men and women. It enhances libido, bone density, muscle mass, strength, motivation, memory, fat burning and skin tone. These levels tend to taper off with aging, obesity and stress. Exposure to pesticides and toxins also negatively impact production of testosterone in the testes.

CORTISOL -> Cortisol is known as our “chronic stress” hormone. It is secreted from the adrenal glands in response to long-term stressors. It results in increased blood sugar levels, breathing rate, cardiac output and blood flow (to muscles, lungs, brain) in order to help the body cope with stress. Our ability to adapt to long term stressors depends on the optimal function of the adrenal glands and regulation of cortisol secretion. Therefore, we need cortisol in the right amounts to survive and adapt to stress. It also helps to maintain blood pressure, body temperature and control inflammation. Cortisol has a natural rhythm throughout the day, so the body should produce more in the morning than in the evening, when levels should drop by 90%. As mentioned, those who have stressful lives tend to have elevated evening levels. If adrenals are weak, sleep suffers and poor sleep leads to exhausted adrenals, creating a vicious cycle. Stress and aging can both lead to high cortisol levels, especially during transitional hormone years of perimenopause.

THYROID HORMONES-> Thyroid hormones regulate heart rate, cholesterol levels, body weight, energy, muscle contraction and relaxation, skin and hair texture, bowel function, fertility, menstrual regularity, memory, mood and other processes. Thyroid stimulating hormone, or “TSH”, is secreted by the pituitary gland and prompts the thyroid to produce hormones (T4 & T3). Calcitonin is another thyroid hormone and it is involved in the balance of blood calcium levels.  Thyroid hormones are made up of tyrosine and iodine. T4 is the most abundant thyroid hormone and T3 is the most active thyroid hormone, having up to 10x the activity of T4. T3 is the thyroid hormone that directly influences the metabolism of every cell, tissue and organ in the body. Up to 80% of T4 is converted to T3 in multiple tissues and organs (i.e. liver, gut, muscle, brain and thyroid). Therefore T4 is a precursor to T3. Note that under periods of stress or selenium deficiency, the body may produce increased levels of “reverse T3”, which generally indicates an underactive thyroid.

INSULIN & GLUCAGON -> When sugar from the diet enters the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin to process blood sugar (glucose) and carry it into the cells to be used. The more sugar in the bloodstream, the more insulin is released. Once insulin is released, the sugar can be used immediately as a fuel source for the brain or kidneys, stored as glycogen in the liver or muscles for later use as an energy source, or it can be stored as fat once the glycogen sites are full and if it cannot be used right away. Glucagon works directly opposite to insulin in that it raises our blood sugar. When we need fuel, glucagon instructs our body to use stored fat and sugars for energy. However, release is inhibited when high amounts of sugar and insulin are present in the bloodstream.

LEPTIN & GREHLIN -> A proper balance of these hormones is ideal to help lower body weight, body fat percentage, control food intake, blood sugar and insulin levels as well as regulate metabolism. Leptin is secreted by the fat cells and considered the main “satiety hormone” because it helps control appetite. Ghrelin is secreted primarily in the lining of the stomach and is considered the main “hunger hormone” because it increases the desire to eat. However, these signals can be disrupted due to obesity and the ability to eat when we are truly hungry and stop when we are full becomes compromised.

-This column is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach –

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