How do our hormones work?
Let’s talk hormones.
Our hormones are responsible for the coordination of ALL of our body’s systems. They control things like our emotions, our reproductive systems, when we wake up and go to sleep, how we grow and develop, how we metabolize food, and so much more!
How exactly does our endocrine system work? Our endocrine glands produce hormones that can travel throughout the body to specific target areas, and provide instructions on what to do. Think of hormones like a maestro at a concert… they direct the various tissues in our body to perform certain tasks! For example, an area in our brain produces adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which plays a big role in how we respond to stress.
ACTH travels from the brain, through our bloodstream, to our adrenal glands. Here, it instructs our adrenals to produce and release cortisol, our body’s main stress hormone. Under normal circumstances, our hormones actively communicate to make sure that only necessary amounts of hormones are being released in a controlled way. Check out the diagram below to see how parts of our stress hormone pathway communicate.
Our body systems and our hormones are all interconnected...the endocrine system is very complex! Our hormones function in “pathways”: for example, our body’s main stress pathway is called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis pathway. This word identifies the key structures in our body that release hormones involved in our body’s stress response.
It’s much easier to think of hormone pathways as a relay race: the baton must be “passed” throughout the pathway for hormones to travel to the next organ or structure. Learn about our stress pathway below.
Our hypothalamus (an area in our brain) is the first stop in this pathway. It produces a hormone called Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH), which then travels to our pituitary gland, the next stop in this pathway.
The pituitary gland produces many hormones, including one that plays a role in the stress pathway, called Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Once CRH reaches the pituitary gland, ACTH is released into the bloodstream. The ACTH then “carries the baton” and travels through our circulatory system until it reaches our adrenal glands, where it passes the baton off for the last leg of the race.
The adrenal glands are the last stop in this pathway. Once ACTH reaches this stop, the adrenals produce and release cortisol into our bloodstream, and our body undergoes the changes required to keep us in a heightened state of stress.
The very important final piece of this pathway is that it must turn off once the stressor is no longer there. Otherwise, our body will stay in a chronic state of stress, which is taxing on our adrenals, and causes many other health issues, like high blood pressure and accumulation of visceral fat.
We’ll talk more in future posts about what happens when our hormones are thrown out of whack. I hope you learned something new from this post today and that it’s made you think a bit more about the importance of your hormones.
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