Endocrine System and Glands of the Human Body

What is the Endocrine System?

It is the network of glands in the body. The endocrine system makes the hormones that aid cells talk to each other. They are responsible for every cell, organ, and function in the body.

If the endocrine system is not working properly, a person can have problems:

  • during puberty
  • getting pregnant
  • managing stress

A person may also:

  • gain weight easily
  • have weak bones
  • lack energy. As excess glucose stays in the blood rather than moving into the cells for energy.

endocrine system

What is a Gland?

A gland is an organ that produces and puts out hormones. Hormones are responsible for a specific job in the body. Endocrine and exocrine glands release chemicals reaching the bloodstream.

Functions of Endocrine System

Endocrine system:

  • produces hormones. They regulate moods, growth and development, organs, metabolism, and reproduction.
  • regulate the release of hormones.
  • transfer those hormones into the bloodstream. Hence, they can travel to other body parts.

The endocrine system constantly monitors the hormones in the blood. Hormones transmit their messages. They do so by locking into the target cells. And, thus they may relay the message.

The pituitary gland senses raised hormonal levels. Also, informs other glands to stop producing and releasing hormones. When hormones fall below a certain point, the pituitary gland guides other glands to form and release more. This process is known as homeostasis. And, it functions similarly to the thermostat of a house. Hormones influence roughly every body process such as:

  • Metabolism (the way food gets broken down and energy is derived from nutrients).
  • Growth and development.
  • Blood pressure.
  • Fertility and sexual function.
  • Sleep.
  • Emotions and mood.

At times, glands produce an excess or not enough of a hormone. This unevenness may lead to health problems like:

  • weight gain
  • high blood pressure
  • changes in sleep, mood and behaviour.

Many things may also influence how the body produces and releases hormones. Disease, stress and certain medicines may give rise to a hormone imbalance.

Parts of the Endocrine System

Many glands constitute the endocrine system. The hypothalamus, pineal gland, and pituitary gland are present in the brain. The thyroid and parathyroid glands are present in the neck. The thymus is present between the lungs. The adrenals are present on the top of the kidneys. And, the pancreas is behind the stomach. The ovaries (in females) or testes (in males) are present in the pelvic area.

  • Hypothalamus. This organ connects the endocrine system with the nervous system. Its major role is to inform the pituitary to begin or stop producing hormones.
  • Pituitary gland. This is the master gland of the endocrine system. It utilizes the information it receives from the brain to inform the roles of other glands. It produces many important hormones such as:
    • Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) – vasopressin: it regulates blood pressure. Also, assists in controlling body water balance. It exerts an effect on the kidney.
    • growth hormone – prolactin: it helps lactating moms produce milk
    • corticotropin /ACTH – Adrenocorticotrophic hormone: It stimulates the adrenal gland to produce certain hormones:
    • thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) – stimulates the production and secretion of thyroid hormones
    • oxytocin – helps in milk ejection during lactation
    • luteinizing hormone: manages estrogen in females and testosterone in males.
  • Pineal gland. It produces a chemical known as melatonin. It assists the body get prepared for sleep.
  • Thyroid gland. This gland produces thyroid hormone. It regulates growth and metabolism. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough. The heart rate may slow down. A person can even get constipation. And a person may gain weight. If it produces an excess (hyperthyroidism), everything accelerates. The heart may race. A person may have diarrhoea. And, he or she may lose weight without trying. The thyroid gland also makes the hormone calcitonin. It contributes to bone strength by assisting calcium to get added into bone.
  • Parathyroid. It is a set of 4 small glands present behind the thyroid. They play a major role in bone health. The glands regulate the calcium and phosphorus levels.
  • Thymus. This gland produces WBCs known as T-lymphocytes. They fight infection and are critical as a child’s immunity develops. The thymus begins shrinking after puberty.
  • Adrenals. They make the “fight or flight” hormone adrenaline. It is also known as epinephrine. These 2 glands also produce hormones named corticosteroids. They influence:
    • metabolism
    • heart rate
    • oxygen consumption
    • blood flow
    • sexual functioning
  • Pancreas. This organ forms a part of the digestive and endocrine systems. It produces digestive enzymes that break down food. Also, it produces the hormones insulin and glucagon. These make sure that a person has the correct amount of sugar in the cells and blood. If a person fails to make insulin, blood glucose levels may rise. This is the case for people with type 1 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas generally produces some insulin but not enough.
  • Ovaries. In females, these organs produce estrogen and progesterone. These hormones assist in:
    • developing breasts at puberty
    • controlling the menstrual cycle
    • supporting a pregnancy.
  • Testes. In males, the testes produce testosterone. It assists them to grow facial and body hair at puberty. Also, it informs the male organ to grow larger. It plays a role in producing sperm.

Health Problems 

With age, it’s natural to observe some changes associated with the endocrine system. The metabolism may slow down. So, a person may gain weight. Hormonal shifts also explain why a person tends to have:

  • cardiovascular problems
  • osteoporosis
  • type 2 diabetes

Regardless of a person’s age, stress, infections, and chemicals may also obstruct the endocrine system. And genetics or lifestyle habits may enhance the chances of an endocrine disorder. These can be hypothyroidism, diabetes, or osteoporosis.

What Conditions and Disorders Influence Endocrine System?

Many conditions may cause problems in the endocrine system. These conditions may cause health problems all over the body. A few of these most common disorders are:

  • Diabetes: It affects the way the body uses the energy from the food a person eats. Diabetes develops when the pancreas fails to make enough insulin, or insulin stops working.
  • Thyroid disorders: Several conditions may also influence the thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid fails to produce hormones. Hyperthyroidism happens when it produces an excess of hormones.
  • Hypogonadism (low testosterone): In males, hypogonadism may lead to erectile dysfunction. It occurs when the testes fail to make enough of testosterone. It may also lead to:
    • memory and concentration problems
    • changes in muscle strength
    • low sex drive.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): A hormonal irregularity causes females with PCOS to have:
    • irregular periods
    • irregular hair growth
    • too much acne
    • excessive weight gain
    • diabetes
    • increased risk of metabolic syndrome
    • infertility.
  • Osteoporosis: When a female’s ovaries fail to make enough estrogen, bones become brittle and weak. The condition is more common in females. Males can at times have osteoporosis when testosterone levels decrease too much. Individuals having an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism) might also have weak bones.

Chemicals named endocrine disrupters may also influence the endocrine system. These chemicals appear everywhere. They can be in pesticides, cosmetics, plastics, and even food and water. Endocrine disrupters may lead to a lot of problems all over the body. They cause problems by altering how hormones send messages.

How common are these conditions?

  • Diabetes: This endocrine problem is prevalent. Roughly 10% of individuals have diabetes and 27% have prediabetes.
  • Thyroid disorders: Roughly 20 million population have thyroid disease. Females are about 5 times more expected than males to develop the condition.
  • Hypogonadism: Roughly 40% of males above 45 years of age have low testosterone. Levels of this sex hormone naturally fall down with a man’s age. Other factors like a man’s diet, weight and other health issues may influence testosterone levels.
  • PCOS: This common condition influences nearly 5% to 10% of adult females. It is a leading reason for infertility.
  • Osteoporosis: More than half of adults over age 50 suffer from osteoporosis. It is more likely to take place in females than males.

How to Keep Endocrine System Healthy?

The endocrine system requires similar things the body requires for being healthy. A person must exercise, consume right and visit a doctor regularly. If a person has a family history of diabetes, thyroid disorders or PCOS, discuss with a provider. Managing these conditions may assist him or her to avoid a hormone imbalance. This imbalance may cause various health problems.

When to Call a Doctor?

Some signs may indicate a serious health condition like diabetes. Call a provider if a person has:

  • Intense thirst, even after a person had plenty of water.
  • Nausea or stomach pain that doesn’t get away.
  • The urge to urinate (pee) a lot.
  • Too much sweating.
  • Sudden incidents of rapid heart hearts or raised blood pressure
  • Developmental or growth delays.
  • Unexpected weight loss or unexplained weight gain.
  • Serious fatigue or weakness.

Endocrine problems are common. They may occur even when one step in the process doesn’t function as it is supposed to. If a person experiences an endocrine disorder, consultation with a specialist (endocrinologist) is a must. He or she would effectively diagnose and help treat the condition.

FAQs:

Which is not an endocrine gland?

There is another type of gland (an exocrine gland). These include sweat glands and lymph nodes. They do not produce hormones and release their product via a duct. The adrenal glands are small structures adhering to the top of each kidney.

Which is the smallest endocrine gland?

The pineal gland is the smallest endocrine gland. The pineal gland is present in the roof of the third ventricle. And its shape is similar to the small pine cone.

How does the endocrine system influence a person’s daily life?

The hormones in your endocrine system regulate all the processes in your body. These chemicals assist in coordinating the body’s functions. They may range from metabolism to growth and development, sexual function, emotions, mood, and even sleep.

What would occur without the endocrine system?

Without your endocrine glands and the hormones, they release. The cells wouldn’t identify when to do important things. For example, your bones fail to get the message to grow and get bigger. Endocrine system makes hormones vital for growth. Also, it helps you stay alert and full of energy.

References:

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21201-endocrine-system
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/the-endocrine-system

Last Updated on by Dr. Damanjit Duggal 

Disclaimer

The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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