Take a moment to ponder this: Who is running all your bodily functions, all day, every day? It certainly isn’t you. Your body somehow magically regulates hunger, prepares you for reproduction, and even controls your emotions and mood. The master minds behind these processes are the hormones in our bodies. Let’s take a moment to understand these unsung heroes so we all can have more awareness and better control over our health.
Super Hormones #1: Oxytocin
A hormone hugely responsible for the reproductive process and breast milk production, oxytocin does more than meets the eye. A recent study found that it is an important chemical messenger that controls some human behaviours and social interaction. It is oxytocin that triggers the bond between a mother and an infant, and it may also play a role in recognition, trust, anxiety, addiction and even sexual arousal and orgasms.
Super Hormones #2: Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone
Our body’s producer of melanocytes, this hormone gives us the colour of our skin and hair. Melanocytes are skin cells that contain the black pigment, melanin. They are responsible for moles, freckles, and sun tan (and, if they turn cancerous, melanoma). An increase in MSH will cause darker skin in humans, and these different levels of MSH gives us our beautifully divergent plethora of skin colours.
Super Hormones #3: Leptin
Often referred to as the “satiety hormone” or the “starvation hormone”, it’s main role is regulating how many calories we eat and burn, as well as how much fat we carry on our bodies. It’s leptin’s job to tell our brains that we have enough fat stored, that we should stop eating, and that we can return to burning calories at a normal rate. So an absence of it can lead to uncontrolled feeding and weight gain. If you have severe problems with bingeing, that may be a sign of low leptin levels.
Super Hormones #4: Ghrelin
The opposite of leptin, ghrelin is the hormone that urges you to eat. Ghrelin levels rise just before eating and when fasting, giving us those familiar hunger pangs. Once you do get food into the body, concentrations of ghrelin decrease. Different nutrients slow down ghrelin release to varying degrees; carbohydrates and proteins restrict the production and release of ghrelin to a greater extent than fats. Also, ghrelin levels increase after dieting, which may explain why diet-induced weight loss can be difficult to maintain.
Super Hormones #5: Dopamine
Dopamine is a well-rounded hormone in our bodies. It plays a role in addiction, whether to cupcakes or cocaine. It has to do with lust and love. It has to do with milk. It has to do with movement, motivation, attention, psychosis. It’s the central chemical in your brain that regulates how you perceive and experience pleasure. During pleasurable moments or situations, this neurotransmitter is released, which causes a person to seek out a desirable activity over and over again. Eating (especially foods with high levels of sugar) and having sexual intercourse are stimulants of dopamine. This is the reason why these activities are usually enjoyable and why people continuously engage in them.
Super Hormones #6: Norepinephrine
This is the hormone released to prepare your brain and body to deal with life-threatening physical emergencies. Unfortunately, the body’s arousal system can’t distinguish being chased by a wild animal from the continual barrage of modern stressors like road traffic, crowds, noise, 60-hour work weeks, and the constant demand for attention from our electronic devices. So most of us are under constant pressure, your adrenals never stop pumping out this stress hormone. Chronic stress can cause your adrenal glands to eventually burn out from fatigue leading to a plethora of symptoms. So turn off all distractions once in a while and let your mind be at absolute ease.
Super Hormones #7: Epinephrine
Also called adrenaline, this is the hero of our “fight or flight” response. Preparing our brains and bodies to deal with life-threatening physical emergencies by dilating our pupils, increasing heart rate, and tensing the muscles, this is the hormone sidekick that helps extricate us from terrible situations.
Super Hormones #7: Melatonin
Our biological clock. This hormone is responsible for the way you feel throughout the day as far as alertness is concerned. All those drowsy feelings? Blame the melatonin. It helps regulate other hormones and maintains the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is an internal 24-hour “clock” that plays a critical role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up. When it is dark, your body produces more melatonin. When it is light, the production of melatonin drops. Being exposed to bright lights in the evening, or too little light during the day, can disrupt the body’s normal melatonin cycles. One tip is to make sure your lights are turned off before you fall asleep, for healthy melatonin production.