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date: 26 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter on endocrinology aims to shed light on the biology of hormones within the context of human life history evolution. An evolutionary perspective contributes to not only our understanding of human evolution, but also to the contemporary and emerging health challenges across the spectrum of ecologies and environments. Evolutionary endocrinology extends our understanding of human biology and health through the engagement of gene–environment interactions, social dynamics, human variation, and how hormones regulate life history traits such as growth, immune function, metabolism, and ageing. This chapter describes key aspects of endocrinology that are specific to men and women, while also being mindful of the importance of human variation. For example, men and women exhibit reproductive states that deploy specific functions. In women, these are menstruation, gestation, and lactation. These processes are governed largely by the hypothalamic–pituitary–ovarian axis and how it responds to environmental challenges such as nutritional demands, activity, and social stresses. Men also exhibit reproductive states, although they are mostly in the form of investment in sexually dimorphic tissue and behavioural variation. These states are governed by hormones which allocate resources between tissues that are indicative of different forms of reproductive effort. These include sexually dimorphic muscle tissue and adiposity. Spermatogenesis is obviously key but has differential effects on fertility compared to gametogenesis in women. Additional aspects of human evolutionary endocrinology include stress homoeostasis and metabolism, which involve the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis as well as the thyroid and other metabolic hormones.

Keywords: evolutionary medicine, evolution, hormones, health, adaptation, life history, primates, comparative

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