Why Hormones are Important
by Benjamin Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert
Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. L2 Strength & Conditioning Coach.
Hormones are small molecules that act as chemical messengers in the body.
They are produced by glands all over the body and are released into the bloodstream, where they travel to other target tissues and organs.
In this article we shall cover the following points:
- Hormones and the body
- How hormones affect the body
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Common hormone related conditions
- Androgens and gender health
Hormones and the Body
Hearing about hormones like insulin, cortisol, and testosterone is quite common.
It is so because hormones are, quite literally, responsible for every function in our body.1
Hormones regulate many vital processes, including growth and development, metabolism, reproduction, and mood.
Imbalances in hormone levels can lead to a variety of health problems.1 For example, too much or too little of the hormone insulin can cause diabetes.
In this article, we will learn how hormones fluctuate in the body and how hormones impact you. So, stay tuned!
How Hormones Affect the Body
Hormones have an extremely wide-spread effect on not just how we look but also on what we feel, think and express.
The human body is an intricate system that is controlled by these hormones. These chemical messengers travel through the bloodstream from glands like the pituitary, adrenal, and pancreas.
One example is of the thyroid. When thyroid hormone levels are low, the body can't produce enough energy, this is knwon as hypothyroidism.
In other words, your metabolism crashes. This occurs due to the under-functioning or inhibition of many enzymes in the body.
These enzymes regulate energy processes, generate heat, and help you maintain your metabolism.
Low thyroid levels, consequently decreases the energy expenditure leading you to gain weight, feel lethargic, and cold, even in the hottest months of the year.
Interestingly, the opposite is quite true as well. Increased thyroid levels boost your energy expenditure processes, causing your metabolism to shoot through the roof; making you lose weight rapidly, feel hot, and tremble. 2
Hormones are not just released as reaction from bodily changes but also as a result of external stimuli.
Such is the case for adrenaline. For example, adrenaline or epinephrine is a hormone that is released in times of stress both physical and mental3.
It binds to receptors in the heart, which causes an increase in heart rate, and many other organs that increase your fight and flight response.
Hormones are also essential for maintaining homeostasis, or balance, in the body. Take anti-diuretic hormone as an example.
Our water intake and urine output are balanced very tightly by this hormone so the amount of water in your body is adequate.
However, at times the hormone levels in our body may not be optimal. Imbalances in hormones can lead to serious health problems.
For example, too much or too little thyroid hormone can cause problems with growth and development, metabolism, and body temperature regulation.
In fact, regarding pre-menstrual syndrome symptoms, women having higher estrogen levels (with low progesterone) experience severe menstrual cramps4.
Therefore, hormones have a great potential to affect the body in hundreds of different ways.
How do Hormones Fluctuate During Our Lives?
Hormone levels can fluctuate throughout life, often in result of changes caused by aging.
For example, during puberty, in our early teens growth hormones will surge in an effort to kickstart the reproductive system maturation.
This can result in changes in mood and body shape, as well as acne and hair growth.
Through every step of life, the hormone levels fluctuate.
During puberty, while working out in the gym, stressing out about a meeting, and when we are aging.
A good example of the latter is when a woman goes through the menopause.
Hormones and Men
On average, boys enter puberty slightly later than girls, usually around age 12. However, there can be a lot of variation from one boy to the next, with some starting as early as age 9 and others not until age 13 or 14.
During puberty, boys will experience a number of changes in their bodies, including a growth spurt, an increase in muscle mass, and the development of facial, body, and pubic hair.
They will also begin to produce sperm and their voices will deepen. Emotionally, boys may start to feel more irritable and moodier during puberty. This is all due to the sudden increase of the hormone testosterone, LH, and FSH.1,5
Coming to testosterone (T), it is the main sex-related hormone in men. While it is present in females as well, in men it is in far greater quantities.
Testosterone has wide implications for the male population. As mentioned above, it has roles in development, strength, and much more.
We will focus on two most important roles of testosterone; Sexual well-being and muscle mass. Arguably, most people get worried about their T-levels in the sexual regard or their physical strength. 6
Testosterone allows men to have healthy reproductive organs, maintain fertility, and promote sexual drive.
Low levels of testosterone can disrupt this balance leading to problems such as erectile dysfunction, loss of sexual desire, and an unhappy sex life.
Similarly, T-levels are extremely important for muscle mass and strength.
Lowered T-levels (andropause or hypogonadism) can lead to a decrease in muscle mass.
Reduced T levels impair the ability to gain muscles and reduce fat. So, no matter how much effort you put in the gym, the results will likely be disappointing.7
On the flip-side, excess testosterone is detrimental as well.
While high levels of testosterone are likely to promote muscle growth and a lean physique, they potentially cause serious side-effects.
The most dramatic one is testicular atrophy or reduced testes size. This leads to infertility and testosterone dependency.
Other adverse effects include, serious cystic acne, high levels of bad cholesterol, mood swings.
High androgen or testosterone levels are, sadly, the reason why many bodybuilders experience a sudden, fatal heart attack.8
In a man’s later years, men experience a wide range of hormone changes.
Testosterone levels typically peak in a man's early 20s, and then they slowly decline over the next several decades.
This gradual decrease in testosterone as a man ages can lead to a number of changes in a man's body, as already discussed.
In addition to lower T levels, men also experience an increase in stress hormone or cortisol.
An increase in stress hormones further worsens the situation by adding excess weight gain, sleep problems, and depression to your plate. 7
Hormones and Women's Health
For girls, puberty usually begins between the ages of 10 and 14, although it can start as early as age 8 or as late as age 16.
Girls experience a great increase in estrogen, progesterone, LH, and FSH. The first signs of puberty in girls are typically a change in body odor, the development of breasts, and the appearance of pubic hair. The increase of androgens during puberty can also affect libido levels.
However, every girl experiences puberty differently, and some may not show any signs until much later.
As girls go through puberty, they will also experience a number of other changes, such as an increase in body fat, the widening of the hips, and the onset of menstruation which allows for ovulation.4,5
Similarly, during pregnancy, hormone levels fluctuate dramatically in order to support the developing fetus.
The levels of progesterone and estrogen sky rockets along with hormones like HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin hormone).
This surge in hormones causes fatigue, nausea, and emotional mood; the typical morning sicknesses and food aversions. Hormones are not just necessary for the developing fetus.
They also play a role in delivering the baby and breast-feeding. Oxytocin surge is important for normal childbirth and prolactin is essential for breast milk production.9
Finally, menopause occurs when the ovaries stop producing hormones. The menopause marks a significant drop in the female sex hormone levels, especially estrogen.
The decrease in estrogen is responsible for hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Another serious complication that may arise due to decreased estrogen, post-menopause, is cardiovascular diseases.
The protective effect of estrogen on the cardiovascular system is reduced which may lead to heart problems.
While these fluctuations can be difficult to deal with, it's important to remember that they are a natural part of latter life.10
Common Hormone-Related Conditions
Some common hormone-related conditions include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hypogonadism, and gynecomastia.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that can affect women of childbearing age.
The main features of PCOS are irregular periods, excess androgen (male hormone) levels, and cysts in your ovaries.
PCOS can also cause fertility problems, as well as an increased risk for certain types of cancer. While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.11
Though we typically think of hormone-related conditions as being afflictions that only impact women, the truth is that men can suffer from hormone imbalances, too.
In fact, some estimates suggest that as many as one in every four men over the age of 30 have low levels of testosterone, the so-called "male hormone."7
Low testosterone can lead to a host of problems, including fatigue, muscle weakness, weight gain, and depressed mood.
A common concern among men is the development of breasts, a condition formally known as gynecomastia.
This can be an embarrassing issue for many men, but it is important to remember that it is a completely normal and relatively common condition. In most cases, gynecomastia is the result of a hormone imbalance.
This can be due to either an excess of estrogen or a deficiency of testosterone.
Androgens are hormones that are produced in both men and women. In men, androgens are responsible for the development of male characteristics, such as facial hair and a deep voice.
Moreover, androgens are responsible for the development of masculinized features, such as a deeper voice and increased muscle mass. 12
In women, androgens are involved in the regulation of ovulation and the growth of body hair.
They also maintain the sexual drive and muscle mass in women. Excess androgens, however, frequently causes trouble in women like the development of PCOS.
Whereas too much estrogen in men can cause erectile dysfunction.
How do Androgens Benefit Male and Female Health?
We all have hormone androgens coursing through our bodies. Oftentimes, we think of testosterone as being a hormone that is beneficial only to males. However, both males and females require androgens for good health.
Testosterone helps to regulate both metabolism and energy levels in the body. It also helps to maintain muscle mass, strengthen bones, and promote cognitive function.
In females, testosterone plays an important role in regulating the menstrual cycle and promoting sexual health.
Androgens play a role in a number of different processes, including the development of muscles.
Research has shown that androgens can help to promote muscle growth. In one study, participants who were given androgens experienced an increase in muscle mass.
Androgens work by stimulating the production of proteins, which are the building blocks of muscles. They also help to reduce the amount of fat tissue in the body, which can lead to an increase in muscle definition.
As a result, androgens can be beneficial for those who are looking to build muscle mass.13
Androgens or testosterone therapy is especially useful for people experiencing chronic disease or recent trauma like surgery.
The use of androgens stimulates muscle growth and sustains muscle mass during these times of stress, such as surgery.
Hormonal replacement therapy (TRT) via testosterone is also quite useful in older males that are experiencing muscle loss due to age-related in changes.
Overall, men can gain a good physique, mental health, and self-esteem by using testosterone replacement therapy, but it isn't without risk.
Bone Density and Blood synthesis
Androgens play an important role in bone health and density. Studies have shown that androgens help to maintain and improve bone density, and they may also help to prevent bone loss.
Androgens work by stimulating the production of osteoblasts, which are cells that help to build and repair bones.
In addition, androgens help to regulate the body's calcium levels, which are essential for healthy bones.14
As testosterone is an anabolic (growth promoting) hormone, it also stimulates the production of red blood cells in men and women.
Adequate red blood cell number is essential for normal functioning and growth in both men and women.
How to Naturally Fix your Testosterone Levels
Naturally, you can induce your testosterone production in several ways. Some common examples are:
- Exercising regularly, especially weight training
- Eating a balanced diet containing protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fibers
- Enjoy adequate sleep
- Reduce a stressful lifestyle
- Spend more time doing what you like
- Have a good sexual life
- Use a natural supplement with clincially proven ingredients
Summing up, hormones are vital for a person’s health. Whether you’re aiming for a good sleep or trying to lift a 100 kilos in the gym, hormones are needed for everything.
They help you grow, have a personality, improve cognition, reproduce, and have fun throughout your life.
Hormones like testosterone and other androgens, for instance, are responsible for muscle growth, bone density, masculinity, and sexual drive.
Finally, it is important to be aware of the effects that hormones can have on the body so that you can take steps, like eating healthy, to maintain optimal well-being.
- Campbell M, Jialal I. Physiology, Endocrine Hormones. StatPearls. Published online October 1, 2021. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538498/
- Shahid MA, Ashraf MA, Sharma S. Physiology, Thyroid Hormone. StatPearls. Published online May 8, 2022. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500006/
- Dutt M, Wehrle CJ, Jialal I. Physiology, Adrenal Gland. StatPearls. Published online May 8, 2022. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537260/
- Miller SB, Neumark E, Sita A. Estrogen. Encyclopedia of Stress. Published online December 20, 2021:951-954. doi:10.1016/B978-012373947-6.00148-3
- Breehl L, Caban O. Physiology, Puberty. StatPearls. Published online April 5, 2022. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534827/
- Nassar GN, Leslie SW. Physiology, Testosterone. StatPearls. Published online January 4, 2022. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526128/
- Halpern JA, Brannigan RE. Testosterone Deficiency. JAMA. 2019;322(11):1116-1116. doi:10.1001/JAMA.2019.9290
- Androgen Excess: Practice Essentials, Pathophysiology, Epidemiology. Accessed April 5, 2022. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/273153-overview
- Pascual ZN, Langaker MD. Physiology, Pregnancy. StatPearls. Published online May 8, 2022. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559304/
- Peacock K, Ketvertis KM. Menopause. StatPearls. Published online February 2, 2022. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507826/
- Ndefo UA, Eaton A, Green MR. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Review of Treatment Options With a Focus on Pharmacological Approaches. Pharmacy and Therapeutics. 2013;38(6):336. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23946629/
- Davison SL, Bell R. Androgen physiology. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine. 2006;24(2):71-77. doi:10.1055/S-2006-939565
- McCarthy JJ, Esser KA. Anabolic and catabolic pathways regulating skeletal muscle mass. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2010;13(3):230. doi:10.1097/MCO.0B013E32833781B5
- Sayed SA el, Nezwek TA, Varacallo M. Physiology, Bone. StatPearls. Published online October 9, 2021. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441968/