We’ve all heard of hormones, but understanding them is much more of a mystery. At pip, we’re focused on helping you understand what we call ‘the hormone gap’ - the lack of knowledge that most of us have about our hormones and it turns out the key to understanding our bodies and ourselves better.
Hormones affect everyone. Despite controlling our passions, our appetites and even turning us from children to adults, we’re still clueless about hormones. They are fundamental to every plant and animal on the earth, from the smallest ant to killer whales. They control everything in your body and they’re fundamental to making us who we are. They are one of the most important factors for regulating and running our bodies. Our bodies seek balance (homeostasis), just as we strive for a balanced lifestyle.
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers or signals which control bodily functions and systems. In simple terms, hormones are substances made by our body which can travel in our blood to other parts of our body to control how our bodies function such as reproduction, metabolism and growth. Hormones tell each part of your body what to do, when to do it and for how long - almost like sending instructions to your organs on what they should be up to.
Where are hormones secreted from?
Hormones are released from endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, ovaries or pituitary, and enter into the bloodstream where they are then carried to specific organs and cells to perform a function unique to them. Example endocrine glands include the pituitary gland; thyroid, ovaries, testes, pancreas. So hormones travel through the body via the bloodstream until they find their target cells. Every hormone is aimed at particular cells and they bypass lots of other cells on their journey to find a target cell which matches with their specific cell structure and the hormone binds with the receptor. Once hormones find their target cell, they bind with specific protein receptors of the cell and influence the behaviour of the cell. The target cells respond in what is known as a ‘feedback loop’ by sending messages back to the gland to inform if more or less hormones are needed.
A common way to imagine how hormones work, is to imagine you have a large bunch of keys and a locked door in front of you, but only one key will unlock the door. Hormones work in the same way with their receptors, they need to have a compatible receptor or lock in order to work.
One example would be insulin. Insulin is a hormone which is made in the pancreas, and when it is released into the blood, insulin helps to regulate how the cells of the body use glucose (sugar) for energy.
What are the different types of hormones?
There are 80 different types of hormones in humans alone. Although there are lots of different hormones in every one of us, there are three basic types of hormones based on their chemical composition. These are lipid-derived, amino acid-derived, and peptide-derived hormones.
Common hormones you might be familiar with include Cortisol, the stress hormone; Adrenaline, closely connected to exercise; and Oxytocin, the famous ‘love’ hormone which helps us bond with others. These hormones trigger how cells work and make them perform specific tasks. Some are immediate or fast-acting such as adrenaline which has a quick effect, making your heart beat faster or making your palms sweaty, and others are slower such as estrogen which can have an impact over many years such as during puberty for example.
What are hormone disruptors?
Hormone disruptors, or endocrine disruptors (EDCs), are chemicals which can interrupt and bind to hormone receptors, interfering with the normal function of our body’s hormone signalling pathways from glands to target cells. They can be found in the environment, food, personal care products.
They can work in different ways to interfere with our normal bodily functions. Some hormone disruptors bind to the receptor and send incorrect signals, others block the release of hormones which also stops it from binding to the receptor and have the normal action, some can alter the way the target cell responds or how quickly it reacts.
Our bodies are incredibly resilient and in general we find ways to remove these from the body. Some chemicals have been studied and we know that they impact our health, for example pesticides (DDT), plastics (phthalates), personal care products (triclosan). However, with many newer chemicals, we don’t yet know the impact or possible long-term effects.
Hormone disruptors can impact all the different hormones in our bodies, creating a wide range of possible symptoms. They have been connected to multiple issues such as reproductive health, early puberty, our ability to handle stress and certain cancers.