I’m so glad hormones are getting a better reputation these days. When I was growing up, even mentioning the “h” word seemed to be a reason to immediately discredit someone’s behavior as irrational. Harsh, I know. Especially when — in all reality — we should really love our hormones.
Now if you’re like me, I didn’t give my hormones any thought until recently.
Let’s hit the basics: What are hormones and why do we need them?
A hormone is defined by Merriam Webster as:
any of various chemical substances produced by body cells and released especially into the blood and having a specific effect on cells or organs of the body usually at a distance from the place of origin.
Okay, easy enough to grasp. These chemical substances are produced by our endocrine system — which is a collection of thirteen organs throughout the body.
So why exactly do we need hormones?
To keep our basic bodily functions on track. Take for example being hungry or feeling full; those are regulated by the twins leptin and ghrelin. What about sleep? Yeah, most of us are familiar with Melatonin. Other big ones are cortisol, epinephrine, testosterone, estrogen, Insulinlike-growth-factor-I (growth hormone), Antidiuretic hormone (ADH)…the list goes on.
And what about when the endocrine system isn’t functioning normally?
One internet search — if not personal experience — can give you the idea of what happens. It’s ugly when things aren’t running how they should, given both the physical toll and the effect on your emotions. Improper hormone levels can occur at any age for a slew of reasons, and it doesn’t take a catastrophic event to trigger changes. Which is one reason why it’s important for us adults to love our hormones even when there aren’t any problems.
What causes the malfunction, anyway? Again, the list is long: genetic disorders, disease, a malfunction of the endocrine response system… Some of these situations you can’t control, but some you can. In recent years, there has been increased awareness of the effects of synthetic hormones and chemical exposure. These are two areas anyone can put up safeguards to minimize risk.
Let’s chat about synthetics.
Synthetic hormones can be a popular choice in conventional medicine because of availability. Created in a lab with fake chemical compounds, doy, it makes sense why they would be cheap and easy to get. But synthetic hormones also tend to have a warning list as long as your arm.
Take for example Premarin. It was first marketed for menopause in the early ’40’s and certified by the FDA in the early 70’s. By 2002, a study publicized by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) “found that women taking synthetic hormones had a higher risk for several diseases, including breast cancer, blood clots, stroke, and dementia.” According to
Navacenter, among the more serious side effects listed for Premarin, as it’s currently marketed, are mental or mood changes such as depression or memory loss, and breast lumps. Even the TV ad offers a disclaimer that “estrogens may increase your chance of getting cancer of the uterus, strokes, blood clots, or dementia.”
What about chemical exposure?
Now, we’re not talking nasty-lab-grade chemicals. We’re talking about the household stuff — cleaners, soaps, even makeup and deodorant. That’s right, there are over 100,000 chemicals allowed on the US market, most of which haven’t had any safety testing for potential health hazards.
And it doesn’t stop at our products; chemical exposure is a serious issue when it comes to what we eat and cook with. For a nutshell look, check out the EWG’s Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors.
Okay, that was horrific. Don’t worry, there’s a “but…” here.
When I first started looking into this, I felt paralyzed. It seemed like every direction I turned were more hazards than solutions. That was when I realized — like any area of health — loving my hormones would take mindfulness, not perfection. It was about taking little steps and building my arsenal of safeguards to protect myself and my family.
We can’t control every area we’re exposed. But we can protect what’s most important — our homes. (If you haven’t read it yet, check out my story in
A Skeptic’s Review on Chemical Free Living)
When it comes to loving our hormones, start small. Pick the areas that seem to contain the biggest offenders like household cleaners. Then look into diet. Then work with your doctor if synthetic hormones are in the picture (there are natural hormone-supporting options out there, like herbal medicinals or essential oils).
As always, keep it simple and straight-forward. Your endocrine system — among other body systems — will thank you.