Hormones are signaling molecules that are transported throughout different organs in the body to help regulate development, physiology and behavior. Each hormone contributes to your health in a different way, from monitoring your metabolism to managing your mood.
There are three primary classes of hormones: protein (peptide-derived) hormones, steroid (lipid-derived) hormones and amine (amino acid-derived) hormones. While the human body secretes approximately 50 different hormones, there are a handful that are essential for measuring and tracking your health.
A few of these key hormones include:
Your adrenal glands secrete adrenaline as a response to stress or a supposed threat, allowing you to react quickly by increasing your metabolic rate and encouraging visceral functions. Activities such as bungee jumping or watching a scary movie might trigger this familiar response, otherwise known as an “adrenaline rush.”
Considered to be your body’s primary stress hormone, cortisol is produced by your adrenal glands and plays a role in managing inflammation, regulating blood pressure and controlling your sleep cycle. A spike in cortisol will increase your heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, resulting in what’s commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” response. Imbalanced cortisol levels can result in anxiety, depression, insomnia and other symptoms of unnecessary stress.
DHEA is a steroid produced by your adrenal gland that peaks in adulthood and gradually decreases with age. The primary role of DHEA is to help produce other hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. However, it’s suggested that it may have alternative benefits such as slowing the aging process and lessening depressive symptoms.
Also known as the female sex hormone, estrogen plays a role in breast development, fat storage and stimulating reproductive functions. Found in both men and women, it’s also responsible for managing cholesterol, maintaining bone health and regulating mood.
Human growth hormone (HGH)
HGH is a key hormone secreted by a small pituitary gland at the base of the brain and plays a critical role in development. In addition to regulating growth and metabolism, HGH can help increase strength, maintain bone density and aid injury recovery. That said, too much HGH can result in acromegaly and other growth disorders.
Released by your pancreas, insulin plays a critical role in managing blood sugar levels by converting carbohydrates to glucose and is most well-known as a treatment for diabetes. Those with Type 1 diabetes have a pancreas that no longer produces insulin while those with type 2 diabetes don't respond well to the insulin their body is producing.
Primarily associated with your circadian rhythm, melatonin is released by the pineal gland and acts on your body’s receptors to encourage sleep. Light exposure, stress and poor nutrition can all disrupt melatonin production, which is why many decide to take melatonin supplements as a treatment for insomnia.
This steroid hormone is produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands and (in pregnant individuals) the placenta. In addition to regulating the menstrual cycle, progesterone has a crucial role in preparing the body for conception and helping maintain pregnancy.
Primarily found in the gut, the main role of this neurotransmitter is mood regulation. While high levels of serotonin are uncommon, low levels can be supplemented by regular exercise, sun exposure and stress-relieving activities such as meditation. In addition to mood, serotonin also plays a key role in memory, sleep regulation, digestion and appetite.
Also known as the male sex hormone, this natural, anabolic steroid is found in all individuals, regardless of sex. Its primary functions include building muscle, supporting bone growth and developing reproductive organs. Low levels of testosterone in men can result in a low sex drive, hair loss, decreased muscle mass and more.
The two primary thyroid hormones — triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) — are produced by your thyroid gland and play an essential role in your overall health. T4 is considered the “thyroid stimulating hormone,” which helps trigger the production of T3, the hormone responsible for managing brain, heart and digestive functions. These hormones also play role in regulating bone health, energy levels and metabolism.
As with many other aspects of health, achieving the right hormone levels is a fine balance. Our bodies may be full of hormones with differing functions, but each plays an important role in achieving homeostasis.