The Fantastical World of Hormones
When we are feeling good, we tend to credit ourselves.
We think we are healthy because we’ve unlocked the secret to eating well, sleeping well, staying active, and giving up bad habits.
The truth, however, is that good health is often as lucky as it is fleeting. There are aspects of your body that are out of sight, out of mind, and beyond your control.
“The Fantastical World of Hormones” is a surprisingly fun documentary that explains and explores the disturbing power that hormones have over our bodies.
The story begins in Europe hundreds of years ago. I don’t want to know how they figured it out, but opera companies discovered that if they castrated a great singer before puberty, he would continue to sing soprano beautifully for his entire life. They knew that no-testicles equaled no-voice-deepening and no-sex-drive. They had no idea why Castrati also had smaller Adam’s apples, long skinny arms, and a lady’s hairline.
In the late 19th Century, a scientist claimed that he had consumed a beverage made of semen and ground-up testicles and it had given him super-human focus, energy, and vitality. Even though the scientist was as wrong as he was creepy, his elixir sold well. And it had the happy unintended consequence of spurring a revolution in hormone research.
For nearly all of human history, type-1 diabetes was a death sentence. The inability to metabolize sugar left its young victims desperately frail during their short lives.
By experimenting on dogs, a clever American doctor deduced that the pancreas was somehow involved in sugar regulation. One of his colleagues developed the first diabetes treatment when he gave a dying patient a serum made from animal pancreas.
We had conquered diabetes, but people still didn’t understand the science of hormones or how they worked.
My sister has been convinced for years that she is healthy because she is careful not to put chemicals into her body. “The Fantastical World of Hormones” exposes how delightfully absurd it is for a person to be scared of chemicals in their body.
The film’s nerdy and charming narrator explains that the hormones that govern growth, development, digestion, and sexuality are, in fact, chemicals. These chemicals are produced by the glands in our bodies and travel to their intended organs via the blood stream.
But how do these little chemicals know how to find their way from the gland where they were born to the far flung body part they are supposed to effect? The answer is that they don’t.
A testosterone hormone will travel aimlessly around a young man’s body, visiting millions of cells, until it finally happens upon a cell in the Adam’s apple. Then the little chemical opens up the cell, like a key opening a lock, and goes inside and tells it to get to work and grow. Amazing, improbable events like these are going on in your body right now.
If you are feeling healthy right now, that’s great! Savor it. Heck, you can even give yourself a little credit; springing for that organic tofu probably didn’t hurt.
But the truth is that good health has more to do with luck than any of us want to admit. Luck and strange little chemicals.