While we commonly associate hormones with reproductive health, in reality, they play a crucial part in other functions as well. Hormones control everything, from the complex—our personality, our movement, and who we’re attracted to—to the more basic—our metabolism, growth, stress levels, and body temperature. While there are plenty of conversations around hormone imbalances and how they can impact your life, it’s important to also have a foundational understanding of questions like, “what are hormones?” and “how are they working with my metabolism?”
According to John Hopkins Medicine, “the endocrine system uses hormones to control and coordinate your body’s internal metabolism (or homeostasis), energy level, reproduction, growth, and development, and response to injury, stress, and environmental factors.”
Put simply, hormones are released from our glands (such as our pancreas, thyroid, ovaries/testes, adrenal glands, pituitary glands, hypothalamus, and thymus) to the relevant parts of the body and also to our brain. The balance of our hormones is a delicate science, so it is important to understand how they work and the influence they have on our body.
Let’s take a deeper dive into John Hopkins Medicine’s explainer on the important key hormones in our body.
Estrogen: Female Sex
Estrogen is produced by the ovaries in women, and in men, it is secreted by the adrenal glands and can be made from testosterone. In women, estrogen controls the development of the female reproductive system and menstrual cycle. In both sexes, estrogen is important for brain health and emotional regulation.
Testosterone: Male Sex
Testosterone is produced by the testes in men and is secreted by the adrenal glands and ovaries in women. It’s a hormone that is responsible for male puberty and, in both sexes, informs mood and energy levels.
Progesterone is an important part of your menstrual cycle and is secreted by your ovaries. For those who may choose to get pregnant, your progesterone levels play a big role as well. It works in coordination with estrogen to maintain a healthy menstrual cycle.
Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the main effects of cortisol is to speed up our metabolism, balance blood sugar, and reduce inflammation. However, if cortisol is elevated too long from chronic stress, it can have the opposite effect.
Serotonin is produced in the brain and therefore functions both as a neurotransmitter (to transmit signals in the brain), and a hormone (to transmit signals throughout the body). It is also produced by the gut bacteria, which forms the basis of the gut-brain connection. It is important for mental health, regulating mood, and also for appetite. Serotonin converts to melatonin (our sleep hormone), therefore it also plays an important role in healthful rest.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, melatonin is released in the brain to control and regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Our melatonin levels peak in the evening and are responsible for making us feel tired and ready for some shut-eye.
Dopamine: Movement and Feeling Good
Dopamine is also a neurotransmitter and hormone that is released in response to rewarding or pleasurable experiences. Its role is primarily to help control movement. It is also the key hormone responsible for creating feelings of pleasure.
Insulin: Blood Sugar
Insulin is produced in the pancreas and is released in response to high levels of sugar in our blood, which happens naturally after we eat a meal. Its role is to regulate metabolism and maintain blood sugar at a stable level.
Consider this a primer for your understanding of the hormones in your body and the role they play. Irregularities with your hormones are best addressed by a medical professional who can zero in on what part of your metabolism may be contributing to a hormone imbalance.