How Emotions Make Us Ill, Part two

Emotions = Hormones

This is the second part of a series of articles on ‘How Emotions Make Us Ill’. The first one (Part One) is available here.

Accumulation is crucial in nature’s processes. Also the line between ‘living’ and ‘non-living’ can be somewhat fuzzy. In order to emerge, a cell requires a certain amount and type of proteins; proteins, in their turn, would require a certain amount and type of amino acids. The latter result from the combination of chemical elements and particular conditions of the environment. It all depends on the environment and the availability of all the elements for amino acids to form, then build protein, and in the end – a cell. While a cell is clearly living, one can hardly argue the same about proteins and amino acids. Even for viruses we cannot say whether they are living or non-living. We fight them, as we would a mighty living adversary, but science has not yet been definitive on that.


In our bodies again it takes accumulation for things to happen. For illnesses too. Small ordinary infections may not seem serious yet they could cause a severe disease that can be a challenge for many hospitals. Accumulated negative and positive emotions inside us work in a similar way. The latter are wholesome, while the former physically harm us.

What happens with us when we emotionalize?

Emoticons – substitutes for real emotions
Emoticons – substitutes for real emotions

Emotions are biological states connected with the nervous system, caused by neuro-physiological changes different from thoughts, feelings, behavioral responses and degree of pleasure or displeasure. Еmotions define the neurological changes that follow them. Emotions rule. They command the brain what to do. The emotion that can arise from imagined or non-real events is identical with the one arising from actual serious events. Our brains do not differentiate between emotionalizing about something real and something we perceive as such. Our brains also make no difference between emotions while we are dreaming and while we are awake. The point is that we emotionalize. This is the trigger that makes the brain release the relevant hormone which in turn characterizes this particular emotion. The emotion is like a lightning that sets in motion the mechanism of release of hormones by the respective glands, e.g. the hypothalamus.

The Brain as a Bar

The complexity of our organism, in terms of endocrinology, is baffling. Not only because unforeseeable events (or their absence) can define our emotional state that can lead to release of undesired hormones but also every time our body produces a given hormone, this hormone interacts with another hormone. In other words, our body always produces a cocktail of hormones. A cocktail of hormones that strictly corresponds to our evolutionary development and our development as individuals.

For example, when we feel fear, our central nervous system neurons release a small amount of adrenaline that is immediately assimilated by the body and signals the thyroid and the adrenal glands that it is time to release more adrenaline, also called epinephrine (adrenal glands), in a strict proportion and accompanied by small amounts of other hormones. We cannot say what exactly the fear cocktail is, as it is absorbed very quickly, yet these are the same key hormones that are at play when we are angry or having great time. Still, there is a major difference between fear and anger or intense enjoyment. Our brain tends to differentiate between these states too and makes sure to provide all the necessary hormones that define these emotional moments. Every moment, every second we produce a certain cocktail of hormones.

Out of the frying pan into the fire

Many people do not associate the word ‘hormone’ with a specific notion. Others may think of something fluid and complex, but the big majority do not necessarily know that hormones can be complex fatty molecules. The ‘slimness’ hormones are good for us and our body prefers them. But! But we cannot take them as candy. Because we are biological creatures that are products of complex evolution. Humans are the most sophisticated result of evolution on this planet. Our endocrine system is not cherry-picking only the tastiest candy but instead, like a fanatic mathematician, goes after all the unknowns in the system. If it fails to get them, it does not grab for the tasty candy but starts accumulating the produced hormones in our body, and in doing so, these hormones change the tissues that store them.

For example the estrogen that comes from the ovaries and is not absorbed gets accumulated instead in the endometrial tissues, enlarging them and causing endometriosis. What is the reason for that? The reason is that each hormone in our body has a role to improve the functioning of a process or tissue. By design, we are supposed to produce estrogen together with dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. When we failed to do that, as this was ‘yet another day we felt down’, our brain interpreted this as an actual event, that triggered it to produce cortisol, somatropin (growth hormone),  gonadotropin, catecholamines or to reduce the production of insulin, Т3 and Т4. Thus our body, instead of assimilating properly the released estrogen, gets a cocktail of hormones along with the tricky task of managing and putting them in the right place. There is not right place, however, and the hormones only further complicate the matter.

An example showing how emotions make us ill

Here is an example of undesired effects of hormone use. It happens so that bodybuilders may experience one problem – their breast tissues may produce milk. The reason is the intake of excessive testosterone. In addition to synthetic testosterone, animal-derived testosterone is also used – for example from bulls. Bodybuilders have their limits too, due to genetic factors. No matter how intense the workout, nature cannot be tricked. The organisms of bodybuilders often may not recognize the testosterone they take as such, since naturally occurring large amounts of testosterone come with the corresponding elevated levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. The latter two are an absolute must, as in nature the efficient and brave hunter usually is with big muscles. The testosterone is the prize, once the adrenaline and noradrenaline are assimilated; it is not an end in itself. Therefore the body misinterprets testosterone as estrogen, and since estrogen cannot be readily metabolized in this way, it accumulates and produces the complex fatty molecule of prolactin – the hormone responsible for lactation.

Part Three of ‘How Our Emotions Can Make Us Ill’ will be out soon – ‘What do the main hormones in our bodies look like and what is their role?’

Back to Part One.

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