Hormones get a bad rap when someone—usually female—is unexplainably cranky or weepy. Or when teenagers get caught making out, someone inevitably says: “It must be hormones.” But most of us only have a very vague idea of what hormones really are and how they impact on behavior.
It’s all chemical
Hormones are chemicals manufactured by our glands and referred to as “chemical messengers” because they travel in our bloodstream, carrying signals or instructions from one set of cells to another. These messages result in chemical changes in our body. Thus, we can say hormones are also catalysts for change.
According to the website of the U.S. National Library of Medicine-National Institutes of Health, hormones “work slowly, over time, and affect many different processes, including growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction (and) mood.” The site also underscores the importance of hormones: “Hormones are powerful. It takes only a tiny amount to cause big changes in cells or even your whole body. That is why too much or too little of a certain hormone can be serious.”
Hormones are so impactful that an imbalance not only affects our body, but our moods and behavior as well.
Impact on moods and behavior
Michael Villa, M.D., head of the endocrinology section of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Global City, notes that while many of our hormones do affect behavior, some of these psychological effects may be the indirect consequences of disorders. For example, if certain hormonal conditions cause discomfort, the patient naturally becomes irritable. Conversely, Dr. Villa points out: “A well-balanced set of hormones can give a good sense of well-being.” This, he says, results in a more stable mental and emotional state.
Ducky Villanueva, a professional counselor and an instructor at John Robert Powers, also points out that significant hormonal changes that occur during menopause and andropause often coincide with midlife crises. The angst that comes with midlife crisis may intensify or trigger the psychological effects of hormonal imbalance.
Testosterone vs. estrogen
In any discussion about hormones and behavior, nothing arouses more interest than sexual hormones. Many believe that our sexual hormones—testosterone for men, estrogen and progesterone for women—make us behave in ways that are “typical” of our gender.
Medically speaking, there is truth in behavioral differences resulting from different hormones: