What hormones actually do

Hormones are molecules that act as chemical messengers from one part of the body to another.

A hormone is a complex (and rather pretty) molecule that is created in a gland (such as the ovaries, the pancreas, the thyroid, the adrenals), travels in the blood stream, and fits into a receptor site somewhere else in the body, where it then triggers some sort of action. Because these receptors are very specific as to the shape of the molecule that fits them, they are rather like keys: only the right one turns the lock and opens the door.

Putting a wrong key in a lock might jam things up and break the key off, thus keeping anyone else from opening the door. By the same token, the wrong hormone (or an altered molecular form of the hormone, such as a synthetic hormone or phytoestrogen) might “jam” a receptor temporarily and, by keeping it from acting, cause some good or bad effect in the body.

Just to make it even more complex, while you may have receptors for a specific hormone in many parts of the body, the effect the hormone has when it keys the lock in one type of tissue is different from the effect it might have in another. Thus one hormone can have many effects, depending on where in the body it is acting or which specific tissue it is that holds the receptor.

Ovarian hormones act on receptors throughout the body (estrogen alone fits over 300 receptors), so they are busy little chemicals indeed. All of the actions and interactions of these hormones are not fully known, but the major ones have been identified. In the estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone discussions are some of the effects of each hormone that you may consider as you work on maximizing your health in surgical menopause.