1. Introduction: What is the hormone cascade?
What’s the hormone cascade?
For a lengthy period, it stood thought that there were just two proper hormones: testosterone and estrogen. The theory went like this: women’s bodies produce both hormones, and men’s bodies produce only one. In other words, if something caused a woman to grow breasts and develop testosterone, it would also be responsible for her having them (because men wouldn’t have those things).
This is not true. Hormones are not binary. Androgens (testosterone) and estrogens are two of many major endocrine systems in human physiology. Testosterone is built in the testes and is answerable for the development of male secondary sex characteristics; estrogens form from cholesterol in the ovaries and circulate throughout the body, affecting female organs and male sexual development; other glands produce both in various ways. Moreover, women have aromatase which converts testosterone into its primary estrogenic metabolite – estradiol – which can also be converted into estrogen via aromatase.
2. What are the different hormones involved in the cascade?
I’ll make it simple if you’re not familiar with the hormone cascade.
Hormones are chemicals in our bodies named for their effects on the body. The immediate effect of hormones is a change in mood and behavior. With puberty, there are changes in your hormones that will cause changes in your mood and behavior. And with menopause, there are changes in your hormones that will cause changes in your mood and behavior.
It’s important to remember that the cascade is a result of both physiological (changes in blood pressure) and psychological (changes in emotions) factors playing together. Sometimes these elements may be more critical than others; hence, the term “hormone cascade” signifies the entire thing: psychological aspects such as anxiety and depression, physiological elements such as increased blood pressure, and physiological factors such as decreased sex drive affected by hormonal changes.
Another reason why hormone cascades are so profound is that they can change how we think about ourselves. If someone has an increase in estrogen levels, they may find themselves feeling more positively; if someone has an increase in cortisol levels, they may find themselves thinking more negatively about themselves; or if someone has an increase in prolactin levels, they may start remembering negative things from their past or think of positive things from their future. These effects on thoughts can have lasting effects on our moods; we become less anxious or optimistic over time due to this cascade occurring quickly enough to influence our lives before society even notices anything happening.
3. How does the cascade work?
The hormone cascade is the process by which a person’s stress levels rise to alertness and physical and behavioral arousal. The effect is an altered form of consciousness that can be, but not always is, experienced as a heightened sense of well-being or euphoria.
As the name suggests, the cascade happens in two stages. First, there is an increase in the release of cortisol (the body’s primary stress hormone) and its subsequent effects on all areas of the brain, including mood and cognition, as well as physical signs such as raised heart speed and blood pressure. Next, there is a release of dopamine which has both calming and euphoric properties. As these hormones continue to circulate throughout the body, other hormones like oxytocin are released from blood vessels in the hypothalamus (a region of the brain that regulates mood) and enter into the second series of reactions that can lead to feelings of joy or happiness.
The cascade works through several regions of your body before ending with an increase in growth hormone secretion within your pituitary gland (also called the “master gland”). This final phase results in a surge in growth hormone production, which releases endorphins into your bloodstream, naturally occurring compounds that produce feelings of well-being without any medication or external intervention.
In addition to releasing their particular set of hormonal response chemicals, each member of this chain also has its purpose: cortisol releases adrenaline which tends to make us feel more focused, while oxytocin helps lull us with soothing feelings like love; dopamine releases opiates which tend to make us feel happy; growth hormone increases muscle mass while testosterone stimulates sexual desire; prolactin increases milk production.
A few possible side effects include:
- Lowered inhibitions/sexual desire (often associated with sexual arousal).
- Increased memory retention/learning ability.
- Improved concentration (also known as “runner’s high”).
4. What are the benefits of the hormone cascade?
The body’s natural stress response is an elaborate series of chemical reactions that prepares the body to deal with potential threats. These reactions are triggered when danger or perceived threats emerge. The body’s natural method of trading with sensed hazards is to take in (or release) a hormone called cortisol.
Hormones are chemicals that affect the nervous system and influence many other bodily functions. Hormones are generally divided into two groups, primary and secondary hormones. Primary hormones are larger molecules (for example, neurotransmitters). In comparison, secondary hormones are smaller molecules such as growth factors and cytokines that play a role in the brain’s response to various situations. When confronted with danger, our bodies discharge cortisol to ready for the threat.
When the body perceives something as threatening, it will release its primary hormones: corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), glucocorticoids, and epinephrine which are also released by the pituitary gland when it senses an imminent threat or danger. As these hormones reach their destination in the bloodstream, they trigger an alarm or alarm clock mechanism within your brain, which tells your brain to start producing more adrenaline and cortisol, which have been released by your adrenal glands earlier in the process. This leads to increased alertness, heart rate, and even muscle tension, which can be very uncomfortable if you experience anxiety symptoms such as anxiety attacks, panic attacks, panic disorder, phobias, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
5. Are there any risks associated with the cascade?
If you were to ask me if I’d ever smoke a cigarette, I would probably say “No.” However, I have found myself smoking cigarettes in the past. A few friends of mine and I would go for a smoke one day and then go back to our respective homes. We would talk about the day, laugh, and watch tv together. It was a harmless way for us to spend some time together and enjoy our lives, which we had very little of then.
Similarly, if you were to ask me if there are any risks associated with the hormone cascade during puberty, my answer might be “No” as well. However, it is not uncommon for people who have never witnessed or experienced this phenomenon to come up with a hypothesis on what may be happening when they say they “grow up” or “turn into adults.” In other words, they haven’t been taught how to recognize how their body reacts when they are undergoing puberty because they aren’t exposed to the actual process of puberty.
The individual who authored this report utilized a metaphor in his writing which is one that many people use when describing the hormonal cascade which happens during puberty: “As boys grow up into adulthood as men and women grow up into adulthood as women (i.e., age 18–25), we enter into a phase called ‘sexual maturity.'”
This article was written as an extension of an article titled “Hormones & Sexual Maturation: A Primer on Hormonal Changes During Pregnancy & Childbirth & Sexual Maturity? The Myth Of Hormone-Free Puberty?” by Dr. Jessica Yu. The original article can be found here.
6. Conclusion: The importance of the hormone cascade
Let’s get back to the subject of the hormone cascade. Historically, many of you may say, “Why is this so special that it deserves a topic all to itself?”
The truth is that the hormone cascade is a type of biological phenomenon that is not easily understood by our conscious processes but somehow becomes noticeable in biological systems such as the nervous system.
One part of the cascade begins with raising levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), which triggers the production of gonadotropins (gonadotropins are hormones responsible for most reproductive functions). Those gonadotropins then stimulate ovulation and sperm production. If a woman has had an egg removed surgically, she does not have ovulation, and her body does not produce any gonadotropins. This leads to hypogonadism, which can cause sexual apathy or low libido.
Glucocorticoids (cortisol) then begin to be released from adrenal glands in response to elevated LH levels — which force insulin into muscle cells and increase glucose uptake into muscles. This causes many metabolic adaptations such as higher glucose utilization and a higher rate of fat burning due to ketone production inside fat cells while in carbohydrate metabolism centers — causing increases in lipid oxidation rates.