The word hormone comes from the Greek work, hormaein, meaning to excite or to urge on. Each hormone is a complex chemical substance produced and secreted into the bloodstream by an endocrine gland, or secreted by specialized cells in other organs, such as parts of the gastro-intestinal tract or the heart. Hormones reach every part of the body, and the membrane of every cell has receptors for one or more hormones that stimulate or retard a specific body function.
The hypothalamus, located at the base of the brain, acts as the mastermind that coordinates hormone production, producing regulatory or releasing hormones; these travel a short distance through special blood vessels and nerve endings to the pituitary gland, which is often referred to as the “master gland”. Attached to the hypothalamus by a short stalk, the pea- sized pituitary gland hangs from the base of the brain and is composed of two parts, an anterior and a posterior lobe. Some of its hormones act indirectly by stimulating target glands to release other hormones. Others have a direct effect on the function of target glands tissues.
Hormones can work in astonishingly small concentrations. On the high end, the ratio of hormone molecules to blood molecules is 1 to 5 billion, and on the low end side the ratio is 1 to 5 zillion, (1 in 5,000,000,000,000,000). Hormones are able to influence the activities of the body, but they must first bind with specific tailored protein cells called receptors. There are hundreds of different kinds of receptors, although each one is designed for a specific chemical signal within a cell. There are more than 10,000 different types of receptors, although it takes only a small number to obtain a response. The receptor and its hormone have an intricate and precise fit, like a key and a lock and this hormone receptor complex then binds to specific regions of DNA in the cell nucleus to activate specific gene.
When the body is in a state of homeostasis, the precise amount of hormones are released into the bloodstream and the body functions smoothly; but when the control mechanism malfunctions-either too much or too little of a particular hormone is secreted, or when an organ or tissue does not respond efficiently, the results can be severe and even fatal.
There are symptoms that you may have if you have hormonal imbalances. These include, but are not limited to:
- hot flashes and night sweats
- weight gain
- low libido
- vaginal dryness
- mood swings
- yeast infections
- memory lapses
- inability to focus
- sugar cravings
- rapid or irregular heartbeat
- autoimmune disorders
Some of these symptoms will be discussed in more depth in our next blog post.