What are hormones?
It is impossible to understand anything, and I mean anything, if we don't relate it to evolution.
To understand how our body functions and which role hormones play, it is essential to see it in the context of the great history of our planet.
Hormones are chemical substances (molecules) made at one site, transported, and produce a specific effect somewhere else. You could describe them as particular messenger molecules.
Our body is built up of very different systems, like circulation, reproduction, digestion, metabolism, sensing, movement, etc. All these systems need to communicate with each other in a very subtle and precise way to make life possible. Billions of years of evolution have led to the development of these incredible networks of information transmission and action-taking. There are two main pathways, the neurological pathway and the hormonal. Both paths are tremendously entangled.
We will find these pathways in multicellular organisms composed of more than one cell, with groups of cells differentiating to take on specialised functions. And I mean any organisms, even plants. Yes, plants have something similar to a nervous and hormonal system. The hormones we find in plants are defined as Phytohormones.
17-beta-estradiol is often called the "female hormone" because of its essential role in female reproduction.
Now, scallops produce the same 17-beta-estradiol as women do. They were found in the Triassic period, over 200 million years ago! In comparison, human beings as we are now, "homo sapiens", have been around for about 300.000 years.
Hormones, as we find them in nature, without modifying them biochemically, are so-called Natural Hormones.
As scientists wanted to study hormones in detail and investigate their use as medicaments, they needed to find enormous amounts of the substances, more than they could isolate from blood, urine or ovaries.
One way was to isolate the hormones from the urine of pregnant women or pregnant mares. The latter gave rise to an enormous hormone industry in North America and Canada. These hormones are natural, as they are produced naturally and are not modified.
Another way was looking for similar substances from plants that could be grown in abundant amounts and with minimal chemical changes would give chemically exactly the same hormones. Identical to the originals, these are so-called bio-identical hormones made in the laboratory.
In modifying the substances, scientists would find many hormone-like substances, which in their unique chemical composition will not be found in nature, but would have a specific hormonal action.
These are synthetic hormones.
Which is best?
I want to emphasise that scientists (like myself) have no prejudices about whether hormones are natural, bio-identical or synthetic. Natural does not mean better, less harmful or completely safe. And bio-identical, you can imagine: exactly the same as these substances are identical. Some synthetic hormones, for example, Tamoxifen, have saved the lives of many breast cancer patients.
Some patients would ask me if I had heard about bio-identical HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy).
I have used bio-identical hormones for over 40 years now … so I guess I have some experience. :-)
And hormone pellets?
They have been on the market since the 1940s, and not only for human use; there is another industry very interested in hormone use everybody should be aware of: The food industry.
The worldwide production of steroid drugs has passed one megaton per year, and the global market is around $ 10 billion.
I want to end my brief discourse on bio-identical hormones by mentioning two of the most important pioneers in the field.
Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975)
Julian had to overcome racial barriers to become successful, both as a biochemist and as an entrepreneur. As a scientist, he specialised in steroid biology. Percy Julian has ingeniously figured out how to synthesise important medicinal compounds from abundant plant sources so that they can be produced more affordably and in large quantities.
In 1936 Julian asked the Glidden Company in Chicago for soybean oil samples.
Through a series of events, he was hired by Glidden as a research manager in the soybean department, where he set out to find new ways to make new products from soybeans.
He observed that if water leaked into a tank of purified soybean oil, it would make a solid white mass. He identified the substance as stigmasterol, which he could use to synthesise progesterone. Soon after, various steroid bio-identical hormones were in mass production.
Russell Earl Marker (1902-1995)
Russel was a passionate biochemical researcher.
Isolating pregnanediol from bull’s urine would be his first significant achievement. This substance he used to synthesise progesterone.
He changed his focus to diosgenin to meet the growing demand for cheap raw products.
This steroid was extracted from Dioscorea plants as the yams, which he converted into progesterone.
His search for mass production eventually brought him to Mexico, where in 1942, he found the "Cabeza de negro", a yam with enormous roots.
Back to his home in Pennsylvania with a big specimen, he cut off one half, crushed it and extracted the chemical compound diosgenin, which he, in turn, used to repeat a process he meticulously specialised years before with minimal quantities. Finally, with fascination, he observed the crystalline powder he had just synthesised—pure progesterone.
He created the way to produce steroids in enormous amounts, such as progesterone, oestrogen, testosterone, cortisone, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), used for further research and medical purposes as the treatment of menopause symptoms (HRT) or inflammation as in rheumatism.
Dr. Paul Raas
21 Aug. 2022