Hormones – Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live Without ‘Em

Hormones have gotten a bad rap. Men and women alike know what “that time of the month” means, and they take cover when necessary. “Raging hormones” is apropos when we think of teenagers socializing in groups. Aggressive males are considered “pumped full of testosterone.” These phrases imply that if people could only get rid of these nasty things called hormones, all would be well.

Here’s something you may not know: if it weren’t for hormones, you would starve! So, I have another phrase for you concerning hormones: Don’t shoot the messenger.

FedEx is a great way to tell you about hormones, although the analogy will need to be stretched a little. Let’s say FedEx knows that the package they have at their distribution center will make Bobby Jones really happy when he gets it, and their role is to make Bobby Jones happy. The FedEx guy hops into his vehicle and drives right to Bobby’s door and delivers the package. Bobby then jumps up and down that his new orange wiffle ball has finally arrived.

Hormones in our bodies are like that. They are just delivery people who are released by one area of our bodies, drive to the place they’re supposed to go via the bloodstream, and cause the people on the other end to react. The reaction they get depends on the “distribution center” they leave from and the specific place they are sent to. Take adrenaline, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland located near the kidney. This hormone, along with another also produced there, gets released and travels through the bloodstream. Adrenaline’s role is to make certain blood vessels get smaller, and other ones to get wider, and the muscles and liver are able to function at their best because of it. If you’re watching the Superbowl and it’s triple overtime and your team needs the field goal to win, you usually notice your heart starts racing, you move forward in your seat, or you jump up and start yelling at the kicker. Adrenaline is the mechanism that is helping the body to perform in that way, working to get less important vessels smaller and making the more in-demand ones bigger so the heart can pump faster and get oxygen to the muscles that are contracting with suspense or helping you jump and yell. Adrenaline is actually being produced all the time, but when the body’s muscles and liver need to act in an extraordinary way, a “surge of adrenaline” is produced.

There are 36 main hormones produced by the endocrine system with a huge spectrum of functions. In digesting food, here’s a surface overview of the four main ones: gastrin, secretin, cholecystokinin (CCK), and gastric inhibitory peptide (GIP). If you take a bite of carrot, chew it, and swallow it, here’s what happens.

  • Gastrin is produced by the stomach and brings the message to the gastric juice producing parts of the stomach to start working on the chewed carrot.
  • Secretin is produced by the   duodenum . The  duodenum  is where the more broken down carrot and gastric juices (chyme) empty into and is considered the top part of the small intestine. When the chyme hits the  duodenum , secretin carries the message to the liver and pancreas to secrete juices that will neutralize the acid from the stomach.
  • CCK is also produced by the  duodenum . It carries the message to the pancreas and gall bladder to secrete enzymes and bile, respectively, into the small intestine so that the carrot can be broken down even further.
  • GIP is yet another hormone produced in the  duodenum . (Busy guy, this  duodenum !) Think of it as the opposite of gastrin, carrying the message that things need to slow down up there. It also plays a part in the pancreas secreting another hormone you are probably very familiar with: insulin.

Without these four hormones, the carrot you ate for lunch would still basically look like chewed carrot when it reached the lower parts of the small intestine. This part of the small intestine needs the carrot to be very broken down so the tiny nutrients can be sent throughout the body.

No hormones, no nourishment–it’s that simple. Who’s up for some wiffle ball?