7 Ways Hormones Affect Your Health And Fertility
These tiny chemicals control almost everything we do and feel
1 November 2020
You might think you control your own behaviour. Actually, much of the time, your hormones do.
Even the tiniest swing in hormones, down to a billionth of a gram, can have a dramatic impact on the body.
It can affect your behaviour, metabolism, sleep, mood, immune system, puberty, sexual experience, and how you eat, grow, hate, love, and think – to name but a few.
But what are these powerful chemicals that control our lives?
Hormones are “loopy chains of amino acids” produced in the nine key endocrine glands.
These are the hypothalamus, pineal and pituitary in the brain, the thyroid and parathyroids in the throat, adrenals in the kidneys, pancreas in the abdomen, and the ovaries and testes in the pelvis.
Every cell has markers that direct hormone signals to precisely where they need to go.
But hormones rarely work alone, and a dip in the amount of one hormone interferes with other hormones, in a domino effect that can throw a host of bodily functions off-kilter.
Here are 7 ways hormones affect our health, well-being and fertility...
1. ‘I-feel-full’ hormone affects fertility
The world was wowed with the discovery of leptin, the ‘I-feel-full’ hormone.
New evidence suggests it not only controls appetite but may be linked to infertility.
Leptin increases after meals, and chronic low levels of the hormone due to severe starvation alters other brain hormones that, in turn, dampen hormones necessary for conception.
So, people who eat very little and have lower leptin levels may also be less likely to conceive.
This may help explain why women who have anorexia or other eating disorders often have trouble getting pregnant.
2. Hormones produced by being overweight, make you eat more
You think the fat cell is just a blob of fat? Think again; it secretes hormones too, altering your drive to eat.
The fatter you get, the more your hormones will lure you to the kitchen.
3. Growth hormone isn’t just for growing
As well as stimulating growth, cell reproduction and cell regeneration, human growth hormone (HGH) helps balance sugar, metabolise proteins and fats, maintain heart and kidney health and stimulate the immune system.
4. Childbirth hormone promotes love and trust
Oxytocin, the hormone that ‘squeezes’ the womb to help in childbirth and gets the breast milk flowing, also influences feelings of love, trust and empathy.
Brain research is revealing the ways oxytocin is tied to social behaviour.
But buyer beware of the oxytocin-filled supplements touted to help you lure a lover.
These supplements haven’t been shown to get into the brain and have an impact, nor are there studies to show that oxytocin boosts bonds between two adults.
Also, many of these supplements haven’t gone through any kind of quality control, so you have no idea what you’re getting.
5. Lower menopausal estrogen levels affect much more than periods
As well a woman’s periods stopping at the menopause, lower oestrogen levels can lead to changes in the brain and nervous system.
This leads to things like mood swings, memory loss, problems focusing, irritability, fatigue, hot flushes, night sweats, stress and anxiety and vaginal dryness, triggering painful intimacy.
The link between oestrogen and hot flushes has something to do with a brain cell receptor that controls temperature.
In other words,low oestrogen cobbles your internal temperature control mechanism. It’s also tied to fluctuations in adrenaline, the fight or flight hormone, making some women feel anxious for the first time.
6. Embryos all look alike until hormones kick in
Around six to eight weeks after conception, the human foetus has two sets of ducts, one of which can develop into the male reproductive organs (scrotum and testes) and the other into the female reproductive organs (ovaries and uterus).
If the foetus is genetically male (XY chromosomes), the embryonic testes will produce anti-Müllerian hormone causing the Müllerian (female) ducts to disappear.
7. Progesterone can make you sad
Changing progesterone levels can contribute to abnormal menstrual periods and menopausal symptoms, and the hormone is also necessary for implantation of the fertilised egg in the uterus and for maintaining pregnancy.
But, in addition, Epstein says progesterone can trigger moodiness and sadness among some susceptible women.
That’s why some women, but not all, may feel glum on the birth control pill, which is a mix of oestrogen and progesterone.
For some women, progesterone can trigger depression, others get moody, and some don’t seem bothered.
The point is that if you go on birth control or hormone replacement therapy and start to feel emotionally different (depressed, sad), you should let your doctor know. There’s a link between hormones and moods.