What Are Hormones? A Beginners Guide to Hormone Health Basics

What Are Hormones

What are hormones? Chances are you’ve heard a lot about hormones when it comes to certain areas of your health. But not a lot of people really understand the profound influence they have on every aspect of your health and what happens when they are out of sync.

As a functional medicine practitioner, it is my job to empower people with education so that you can make the decisions that are right for you and your healing journey - not the cookie cutter treatment plan that is offered to most people. So read on for your complete guide to what hormones are, the importance of maintaining balance, and the different types of hormones in your body so you can reclaim control over this important area of your health.

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What exactly do hormones do in the body?

Hormones play a vital role in our overall health and well-being. But what are hormones? By acting as chemical messengers, hormones are responsible for sending directions between the different systems in your body to ensure various physiological processes run optimally. Working together, your hormones are responsible for maintaining healthy:

  • Metabolism
  • Libido
  • Reproduction
  • Mood
  • Homeostasis
  • Sleep-wake cycles
  • Growth + development

Your hormones are produced and secreted by a number of glands that are part of your larger endocrine system located throughout your body including:

  • Thyroid
  • Parathyroid gland
  • Pituitary gland
  • Hypothalamus
  • Pineal gland
  • Adrenal glands
  • Ovaries
  • Testes
  • Pancreas

But interestingly enough, other areas of your body outside of your endocrine system also release hormones. This is especially important to be aware of in order to identify and overcome any hormone imbalances that may happen as a result of dysfunction within these systems.

  • Liver
  • Gut
  • Kidneys
  • Adipose (fat) tissue

Once released into your bloodstream, your hormones travel to their target tissues and cells through the circulatory system. These chemical messengers rely on intricate feedback loops and signaling pathways to reach their intended destinations. 

Hormones bind to specific receptors on target cells, initiating a cascade of events that regulate gene expression, enzyme activity, and cellular responses. This intricate network allows hormones to exert their profound influence on every aspect of your health.

Types of hormones

Currently, there are over 50 identified (1) types of hormones that your body produces. Each gland in your endocrine system has a specific responsibility to produce different hormones. This can be helpful when looking for the root cause behind your symptoms or chronic health problem.

Adrenal glands

  • Cortisol
  • Adrenaline (epinephrine)
  • Noradrenaline (norepinephrine)
  • DHEA
  • Aldosterone

Hypothalamus

  • Oxytocin
  • Dopamine
  • Corticotrophin-releasing hormone
  • Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone
  • Thyrotropin-releasing hormone
  • Growth hormone-releasing hormone

Ovaries

  • Estrogen
  • Progesterone
  • Testosterone

Pancreas

  • Glucagon
  • Insulin

Pineal gland

  • Melatonin

Pituitary gland

  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
  • Growth hormone (GH)
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
  • Prolactin

Testes

  • Testosterone

Thyroid

  • Thyroxine (T4).
  • Triiodothyronine (T3)

Outside of the endocrine system, your body produces the following hormones in these systems:

Gut

  • Ghrelin

Adipose tissue

Kidneys

Liver

  • Insulin-like growth factor 1
  • Angiotensinogen

What is hormonal imbalance

A hormone imbalance occurs when there is a dysfunction in the production, secretion, or signaling of one or more types of hormones in your body. While your body is designed to operate a certain way, numerous factors can disrupt this delicate balance, including chronic stress, poor diet, toxin exposure, underlying health problems, genetic predispositions, and more. 

A hormone imbalance can manifest in various ways, depending on the specific hormones involved and the affected body systems. Common symptoms of hormone imbalances may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss resistance
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Hair loss
  • Low libido
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Acne
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive distress (bloating, gas, constipation, leaky gut syndrome) 

If left untreated, symptoms can lead to more severe hormone problems such as:

To learn more about the most common types of hormone imbalances and what you can do to facilitate healing, check out my article here.

Factors that affect hormone health

Your hormones are influenced by multiple different factors that are, thankfully, mostly controllable. Even if you have a genetic predisposition to a particular hormone imbalance, it is your lifestyle choices that more often than not determine if your genes are ever expressed. 

  • Poor diet
  • Chronic stress
  • Environmental toxins
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Gut dysfunctions

Tips to maintain hormone health

Thankfully, there are many ways you can naturally support hormone health to maintain or restore hormone balance. This includes managing your stress levels, eating more hormone-supporting superfoods, and daily supplements designed to target various hormones. For a full guide to restoring your hormones naturally, check out my article here and learn more about my favorite hormone-balancing supplements here.

Do you have a hormone imbalance?

If you are experiencing ongoing symptoms like fatigue, trouble losing or gaining weight, mood swings, insomnia, low libido, or irregular menstrual cycles, it may be worth pursuing hormone testing to determine whether or not a hormone imbalance is at play. After all, recognizing the signs of a potential hormone imbalance as soon as possible is crucial to proactively address your health.

If you are ready to take the next step in your health journey, check out my recent article here where I dive into the different types of hormone tests available and the exact steps you can take to get your hormones tested. 

Seeking help from a functional medicine doctor

With so many different hormones in your body, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to hormone health. Since everyone’s biochemistry and lifestyle is unique, hormone imbalances can manifest differently in you versus someone else. That is why a personalized approach is so important when looking to heal your hormones.

In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, we specialize in identifying the root cause of your symptoms by identifying the specific hormone imbalances that are happening underneath the surface. By taking a whole-health approach, we are able to couple our findings from lab work with an analysis of any outside triggers - such as diet, toxin exposure, and your stress levels - to put together an action plan to restore your hormones to optimal function.

If you are ready to take the next step in your hormone health journey, schedule a telehealth functional medicine consultation today.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.

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References:

  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency "Overview of the Endocrine System" https://www.epa.gov/endocrine-disruption/overview-endocrine-system Accessed June 2023.

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The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

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BY DR. WILL COLE

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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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