Functions of the Endocrine System
Ever feel out of control? You’re not alone. Nearly half of Americans suffer from hormonal imbalances at least one or more times in their life. It’s easy to blame the side effects of the chemical imbalances on our external experience, when the secret is to take a step back and gain understanding around how our body’s endocrine system works and influences everything.
The endocrine system (along with the nervous system) is made up of glands. There are seven primary glands we are going to focus on in the article.
They are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, pineal body, and the reproductive organs (ovaries and testes).
These glands produce and secrete hormones in our bloodstream. Hormones are fancy little chemicals in the body that regulate the activity of your cells and organs.
The key functions of this system is:
Your hormones are secreted from the glands of the endocrine system, and are specific in that each hormone causes a response.
Hormones can be grouped into three main types:
Glands discharge hormones directly into the bloodstream. They have built in feedback mechanisms that maintain a proper balance of hormones, and prevent excess hormone secretion. Low concentrations of a hormone will often trigger the gland to secrete. Once the concentrations of the hormone in the blood rise this may cause the gland to stop secreting, until once again hormone concentrations fall. This feedback mechanism causes a cycle of hormone secretions.
Once hormones have served their function on their target organs/tissues they are destroyed. They are either destroyed by the liver or the actual tissues of the target organs. They are then removed by the kidneys. This is one of the more fascinating aspects to understanding how our organs work with our hormones.
1. Gland produces and secretes hormone into blood stream
2. Hormone serves its function on target organ/tissue
3. Hormone is destroyed by either the liver or the actual organ issue.
4. Kidneys then remove the hormone from the body.
Often referred to as the "master gland”. The pituitary gland has control over all of the other glands of the endocrine system. Talk about mind over matter! Despite its importance the pituitary gland is no larger than a small pea. The Pituitary gland is made up of two separate glands: the Anterior lobe and the Posterior lobe.
The Anterior Lobe of the pituitary plays the 'master' role secreting six major hormones that affect most of the body, including the other Endocrine glands:
The Posterior Lobe of the Pituitary Gland (or neurophpophysis) stores and releases hormones secreted by the hypothalamus section of the brain including:
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located at the base of the throat. The Thyroid itself secretes three main hormones:
There are four Parathyroid glands which are small and rounded, arranged in two pairs usually located above and below the thyroid. Each Parathyroid is small, yellow and smooth, sometimes they imbed themselves in the thyroid itself.
Parathyroid hormone increases the blood concentrations of calcium and phosphorous, working to balance the Calcitonin which is secreted by the thyroid to maintain the body's balance of calcium.
The pancreas is a long, narrow, lobed gland located behind the stomach. The Pancreas has two types of cells: exocrine and endocrine cells. The exocrine cells secrete Pancreatic juices which are an important part in the digestive system. The endocrine cells are arranged in clusters throughout the Pancreas. There are three types of endocrine cells; alpha cells which secrete glucagon, beta cells which secrete insulin, and delta cells which inhibit the secretion on glucagon and insulin:
The adrenal glands resemble small caps perched on top of each kidney. The Adrenal is actually a combination of two glands the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla.
The adrenal cortex is essential for life, as opposed to the adrenal medulla which is important but not indispensable. The anterior pituitary controls the adrenal cortex by secreting the hormone ACTH. All of the secretions of the adrenal cortex are known as steroids, many of which can now be manufactured synthetically. The adrenal cortex is made up of three layers associated with three classes of hormones:
The Adrenal Medulla is the inner part of the adrenal gland. The hormones secreted effect the structures in the body that are under the control of the sympathetic nervous system, aiding the body to deal with stressful situations such as fright, attack or pursuit. They are both associated with an increased heart beat, higher blood pressure, and higher blood glucose levels, thus preparing the body for quick action.
Gaining a bit of a deeper understanding around how our body’s endocrine system works to influence everything can help us gain more confidence in understanding our own body’s process to restore balance on a deeper level.