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Don't blame the hormones

Understanding the chemical messengers that help run our body.


By Grace Leung


JUNE 2012


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:

• Men have more libido. To use the words of American professor and author Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan, testosterone is the “libido hormone”. The higher the testosterone level, the higher the libido or sex drive. This does not mean however, that males are at the mercy of their libido. Dr. Villa believes that acting upon sexual impulses is largely dictated by personal convictions and principles.


• Men are more aggressive. Dr. Villa calls characteristics such as libido and aggressiveness, as part of “the maleness”. Discovery Channel’s site curiosity.discovery.com notes, though, that studies have shown how removing testosterone doesn't necessarily lead to a drop in aggressive behavior.


• Women suffer more from mood swings. In an interview for webmd.com, Steven Goldstein, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Medical Center in New York City, says women suffer more from the psychological effects than the physical effects of pre-menstrual syndrome. The effects can include depression, anxiety, mood swings, melancholia, sensitivity, even anger and self-hatred.


• Women cry more. This, however, can be attributed not to sexual hormones, but to prolactin, a hormone that causes a person to cry. Discovery’s Curiosity site quotes a study which reveals that a woman's body has 60 percent more prolactin than a man’s.



For more about hormones and how they affect our bodies and our relationships, grab a copy of the June issue of HealthToday magazine, out now in newsstands and bookstores.













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