Oestrogen, progesterone, insulin and adrenaline – these are just some of the hormones that influence us on a daily basis. The hormone system is one of the communication systems in our body. Besides the nervous system and immune system, our hormone system is probably one of the systems that has the biggest impact on us. Hormones influence a vast range of different areas and have a number of effects. In this article, we reveal what they are and how hormones affect us.
How are hormones produced and how do they work?
The hormones that influence us are produced in the pituitary gland, among other places. The pituitary gland receives signals from the diencephalon and subsequently stimulates our organs to secrete hormones – for example, when we are stressed or happy. The hormones then enter the blood stream and travel to the place where they are required. Besides the pituitary gland, hormones are also produced in the following places:
- Thyroid gland and parathyroid gland: Thyroxine and triiodothyronine are produced in the thyroid gland. These hormones affect our metabolism and the function of nearly all our organs.
- Thymus: The thymus is a lymphatic organ located behind the sternum and it is here that the hormones thymosin and thymic factor are produced. They control the maturation of the immune system in the lymph nodes. They are most influential in newborn babies and children until they reach puberty.
- Pancreas: The pancreas regulates energy metabolism and blood sugar levels in the body. It does this by secreting the hormones insulin, glucagon and somatostatin.
- Adrenal glands: The adrenal glands secrete the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol in stressful situations. They also produce aldosterone to regulate the salt and water levels in the body.
- Placenta: During pregnancy, the placenta is responsible for producing the female hormones gestagen and oestrogen, as well as the hormone HCG, which is specific to pregnancy.
- Ovaries: Both oestrogen and gestagen are produced in the ovaries. They also secrete small amounts of the male sex hormone testosterone.
- Testicles: Men produce testosterone in their testicles, as well as a small amount of the oestrogen oestradiol.
It’s not just our emotions that are influenced by hormones then. Hormones are also responsible for feelings of hunger and satiety, our mating behaviour, body temperature and sleep. The effects of hormones are particularly pronounced in people with an underactive or overactive thyroid, for example, or in women who experience hormone fluctuations during their menstrual cycle.
Hormones during the menstrual cycle
Women experience quite a fluctuation in hormone levels over the course of a month, which is brought about by the different hormones. In the second half of their cycle, for example, women are influenced by the hormone progesterone. Not only does it lead to food cravings but it is responsible also for violent mood swings. Many women become irritable, prone to tears or even mildly depressed. Together with oestrogen, progesterone is also responsible for making women feel particularly tired before their period starts. To counteract this tiredness, the body needs energy – preferably in the form of carbohydrates, which results in a voracious appetite. Higher levels of the male hormone testosterone are also found in a woman’s body before her period, which can cause bad skin. Motivation levels in women are also heavily dependent on hormones. At the beginning of their cycle, for example, oestrogen and progesterone levels are very low, causing many women to feel worn out and unmotivated. However, women aren’t just plagued by fluctuating hormones month after month – they also suffer particularly strong hormone fluctuations during the menopause.
Hormones during the menopause
Whereas a woman’s ovaries produce oestrogens and progesterone every month to prepare the body for a potential pregnancy, this production tapers off as a woman gets older. The result is that a woman at some point then has her final menstrual period. This is known as the menopause. The female body is unaccustomed to this new hormonal balance, which can result in hot flushes and outbreaks of sweating, for example. It takes a little while for a woman’s body to adjust to the new situation.
What hormones there are and how they affect us
In addition to the hormones already mentioned, there are also many others that influence us:
Oestrogen: Oestrone, oestradiol and oestriol are produced primarily in the ovaries and collectively known as oestrogens. They influence female sexual desire, for example, and are responsible for water retention, which makes the skin firmer and keeps the mucous membranes in the intimate area moist.
Melatonin: Melatonin controls the circadian rhythm and is therefore responsible for making sure we sleep well at night. The older we get, the less melatonin is secreted, which can lead to sleep disorders.
Progesterone: This hormone is present in both men and women and is produced in the adrenal cortex. Its main job is to regulate the effects of the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone.
DHEA: Very little research has been done into the hormone DHEA, but what we do know is that it is an important male hormone and is also found in the female body. Levels of this hormone appear to decrease in the female body from the age of 30.
Testosterone: Testosterone is the counterpart to oestrogens and is generally considered the male hormone. It plays a crucial role in male sexuality and fertility and is present in virtually all organs in a man’s body. Yet it isn’t just found in the male body. Testosterone is also produced in a woman’s ovaries and adrenal gland. It is responsible for sexual desire in women, too, as women with low testosterone levels can have a lower sex drive.
Ghrelin: Ghrelin is secreted in our stomach and tells the body that we’re hungry.
Leptin: The hormone leptin is also found in our stomach. However, this hormone is responsible for telling our brain when we are full.
Thyroid hormones: The hormones triiodothyronine and thyroxine are produced in our thyroid gland. They are responsible for our metabolic processes and can impact our psychological wellbeing.
Cortisol: The hormone cortisol is produced in the adrenal gland and is classed as a stress hormone. It triggers our metabolic processes and is also responsible for ensuring the body has sufficient energy.
Dopamine: Dopamine is also known as the ‘happy hormone’. This is because it is responsible for transmitting emotions and sensations throughout the body. Dopamine also controls blood flow to our organs and ensures that the appropriate nerve impulses are sent to our muscles.
Throughout our lives, hormones influence our body and the way we perceive the world. Many of our perceptions, mental states and emotions are controlled by hormones. We think that’s useful to know when we’re hijacked by hunger cravings again or find ourselves inexplicably feeling down 😉