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What is a Hormone Anyway?

All animals, including humans and cows, have naturally occurring hormones.  Hormones are the chemical messengers in the body – they signal cells to act in certain ways, including regulating growth, metabolism, reproduction or the immune system in the body.  Estrogen, testosterone, and insulin are all examples of hormones with which most people are readily familiar.  The body’s system works to maintain a proper balance of hormones at all times.  Too much—or too little—of a hormone leads to an imbalance that can impact animal or human health or well-being.

As the study of hormones developed in the early 20th century, scientists and physicians became more and more aware of the importance of these chemicals in the body, and the severe effects an imbalance could cause, including diabetes, growth deficiencies, and hyper or hypo-thyroidism.  These scientists began to consider how the hormones could be controlled.  Supplementing a missing hormone was particularly difficult, because there was no means at that time for manufacturing hormones, and harvesting natural hormones was also difficult.  

In the early 1970s and 80s, technology changed dramatically.  Through research and development, scientists were able to begin synthetically producing hormones in the laboratory.  By inserting the proteins and amino acids comprising the hormones into bacteria, and allowing the bacteria to grow and reproduce, scientists were able to then harvest the additional hormones in a purification process.  These “synthetic” hormones can then be used in medical circumstances, to help replace or supplement missing hormones in patients’ bodies, returning the natural balance, to the system.  Countless people have benefited from this process, including those whose diabetes require insulin injections, or others who suffer from hormonal imbalances.

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