Hormones make the world go ‘round. Women have always known that, but some of the guys are just catching on. Or so it would seem by the hormonal firestorm that’s burning up headlines about men, testosterone and fatherhood. A study released this week says men’s testosterone levels go down after they become fathers and stay down for a while if they’re hands-on dads who nurture and care for their children.
Testosterone is the hormone responsible for (among many other functions) ramping up men’s (and women’s) sex-drive and aggression levels. The study says that testosterone drops after marriage from a man’s peek level in his mid-20s, then drops further post-fatherhood. This totally makes sense to me. Just as women’s hormones rock and roll in response to reproduction and parenthood, it only seems sensible that guys’ hormones do too. This drop in testosterone apparently affects guys by making them less wild and crazy and more focused on raising their children. From an evolutionary standpoint, it stands to reason that once a man has successfully produced an heir, he doesn’t need to sew as many wild oats.
Most experts say this study is proof that raising babies isn’t just woman’s work (I know, duh, right?), but some guys are shocked by the news that their hormones don’t blast full stream out of the faucet all the time. I guess they thought only women were at the mercy of fluctuating hormones.
Most people know a thing or two about reproductive hormones (among them: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone), but those headline grabbing attention-hogs are far less important than a couple dozen other non-gender-specific hormones responsible for just about everything that goes on in our bodies.
What exactly are hormones? They’re your body’s chemical messengers.
They travel in your bloodstream to tissues and organs and affect countless body processes, including:
• Cardiac processes
• Growth and development
• Metabolism - how your body gets energy from the foods you eat
• Sexual function
• Nerve function
• Brain function
• Stress responses
• Heat and cold tolerance
• Skin and bone health
I could fill up the rest of this blog with all the things hormones do, but you get the idea: Hormones are king. They’re produced by endocrine glands located all over both men’s and women’s bodies. In addition, men have testes, which primarily produce testosterone and women have ovaries, which primarily produce estrogen and progesterone, though men and women each have testosterone and estrogen in their blood streams.
Hormones operate behind the scenes to make our bodies do what they do — everything from beating our hearts to making our babies. They fluctuate hour-to-hour, day-to-day and as is the case with reproductive hormones to correspond with different cycles and stages of life. Nobody pays much attention when they behave properly. It’s when they go out of whack that people understand we’re all at the mercy of fluctuating hormones, especially with hormonal imbalances like diabetes or hyperthyroid disease.
Here are a few hormones surging through your pregnant blood stream that are also pumping through your partner:
Thyroid hormones – The thyroid gland is located in your throat where it produces hormones responsible for metabolism (getting energy from food). If you don’t produce enough thyroid (hypothyroid) – you’ll gain weight and feel tired, sluggish, cold and crummy. Produce too much (hyperthyroid) — you’ll feel jittery, your heart will be jumpy and you might lose weight unexpectedly. Even a minor imbalance in thyroid hormones can change the way your body works, feels and looks. It’s far more common for women than men to develop thyroid disorders, but guys get them too. If they gain a bunch of weight right along with you during pregnancy, however, it’s probably the ice cream, not their thyroid.
Insulin - is a naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pancreas. It helps remove glucose from your blood to supply energy to every cell in your body. If you don’t produce enough insulin (a condition called diabetes), your cells starve and your body breaks down other body tissues to supply itself with energy. Too much sugar collects and wreaks havoc on vital organs. Your healthcare providers will watch you closely for signs of gestational diabetes, but you might want to keep an eye on your partner. Guys who gain too much “pregnancy weight,” are at increased risk for developing diabetes down the road.
Oxytocin - It’s not just a drug used to induce labor (Pitocin is the synthetic version of oxytocin). Oxytocin (sometimes called the “love” hormone) has several functions in both men and women. It lowers blood pressure and physical stress responses and increases positive social behaviors. In women it also causes contractions and stimulates milk production. Oxytocin secretion is stimulated by touch, sex and nipple stimulation. Both men and women experience an upsurge in Oxytocin after nuzzling with a lover, a child, a pet and during periods of emotional intimacy like Sunday mornings in bed gazing at your newborn.
Cortisol is nicknamed the “stress hormone” because it impacts how we deal with stress. It affects blood pressure and cardiovascular function, our immune system’s inflammatory response, helps maintain glucose levels and regulates metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Too much cortisol over too long a period of time is linked to serious health conditions, including heart disease, cancer, obesity and mental health problems. This one’s a biggie for men and women, especially during times of life that are particularly stressful, like pregnancy or when a new baby is crying all night.
To you guys who were stunned by the news that you’re just a big bundle of hormones, we say, “Welcome to the club. We’ve been expecting you.”
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post. More about Jeanne.
This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.