The Endocrine System And
Your endocrine system is composed of glands that produce a substance called
hormones. These are biochemical messengers that control a large number of functions in your
body. And while they're not under your conscious control, there are a number of things you
can do to help them function at an optimal level.
Each gland in the endocrine system has its own particular function, and the hormones it secretes
are specific to that purpose. Once released directly into the bloodstream, the hormones target
those organs with matching receptor sites, through which they are absorbed and
The hormones produced by your endocrine system control how you experience life from day one:
- Hormones facilitate the process of becoming male or female.
- Hormones regulate your growth throughout childhood.
- Hormones bring about puberty and maturation.
- Hormones come to your aid in times of stress and danger.
- Hormones regulate the reproductive process.
- Hormones bring about the cessation of ovulation in women.
Here are the glands of your endocrine system and the hormones they produce:
1. The Pituitary Gland
The pituitary is situated at the base of your brain and is the master gland of the body. Like
the rest of the endocrine system, the pituitary is controlled by the hypothalamus, a small
structure above and behind it. Together they regulate appetite, thirst, body temperature,
sleeping and waking, and sexual function.
The rear lobe of the pituitary secretes two hormones:
The front lobe produces several hormones:
- vasopressin, which controls the level of water excreted by the kidneys
- oxytocin, which stimulates uterine contractions during birth and moderates the
secretion of breast milk
- luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH): two hormones that
control the reproductive glands
- thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH): affects the thyroid
- adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH): controls part of the adrenals
- human growth hormone (HGH): stimulates growth and controls utilization of
- prolactin: stimulates breast milk formation
Loss of appetite, low blood pressure, fatigue, impotence, dwarfism, gigantism, premature sexual
development or failure of sexual development, failure of menstruation, infertility, excessive
production of breast milk, and diabetes insipidus
2. The Pineal Gland
A mysterious organ located roughly between the eyes, its purpose is unclear, but it enjoys an
esteemed position in metaphysical literature where it's referred to as The Third Eye.
3. The Thyroid Gland
The thyroid is found at the base of the throat, with a parathyroid gland situated at each of
its four corners. It produces several hormones that perform the following functions:
- Triiodothynonine (T3) and thyroxine (T4): regulate growth
- Triiodothynonine (T3): also regulates metabolism and oxygen consumption
- Calcitonin: regulates calcium absorption (by reduction)
- Parathormone: raises calcium in blood
Hyperthyroidism: loss of weight, muscle weakness, nervousness, irritability, sweating,
palpitations, bulging eyeballs, enlarged thyroid (goiter)
Hypothyroidism: slow metabolism, weakness, muscle and joint pains, slow pulse, fatigue,
apathy, deafness, hair loss, croaky voice, pale dry skin, swollen face, puffy eyelids, puffy
lips, anemia, constipation, sensitivity to cold, cretinism (in newborns)
Calcium imbalance: fatigue, lethargy, kidney stones,
4. The Thymus Gland
The thymus gland is found below the thyroid, approximately level with the armpits. Like the
pineal gland, its function is unclear, but some researchers believe it's active during fetal
development, then shrinks in size shortly after birth and is basically dormant in adults.
Researchers hypothesize that it's linked to the immune system and can be stimulated by tapping
to improve immune function and promote a sense of well-being. While there's no medical evidence
for the benefits of tapping the thymus, it's a harmless activity that may actually create a
5. The Mammary Glands (Breasts)
In females, these glands are responsible for producing breast milk for the feeding of newborn
6. The Pancreas Gland
The pancreas sits below the stomach and controls the level of glucose in the blood, as well as
secreting enzyme-rich pancreatic juice into the small intestine, which aids in the further
breakdown of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
As glucose from carbohydrate foods enters the bloodstream, the pancreas releases the hormone
insulin, which triggers glucose absorption by the muscles and liver for future use as energy.
In between meals, when the level of glucose in the blood drops below a certain point, the
pancreas produces the hormone glucagon to facilitate the release of glucose from the liver,
keeping the blood sugar on an even keel and providing energy.
Diabetes Mellitus (in which sugar can't be utilized by the body)
Hypoglycemia: sweating, shaking, dizziness, double vision, unconsciousness
7. The Adrenal Glands
The adrenals sit like caps on the top of each kidney and are controlled directly by the
pituitary. Each adrenal gland is composed of an inner and outer portion with different
The medulla (the inner portion) secretes two stress response hormones:
- Adrenaline and noradrenaline give you a burst of energy to fight or flee when
confronted with danger.
The cortex (the outer portion) secretes three steroid hormones made from
- Glucocorticoids (cortisol) respond to stress by increasing blood pressure and
- Mineralocorticoids (aldosterone) regulate sodium and potassium levels and
reduce immune responses.
- Sex Hormones (androgens and estrogens) regulate sexual development.
8. The Reproductive Glands
The testes in men produce sperm and secrete the hormone testosterone. The ovaries in women
produce eggs and secrete the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Hormones are also produced by other organs:
- The stomach produces gastrin.
- The kidneys produce renin.
How can you ensure the health of your hormones?
Assuming there's no evidence of a specific disorder, the best way to make sure your endocrine
system is functioning properly is to take care of your overall health:
On a physical level:
On a mental/emotional level:
- Eat fresh, healthy food.
- Drink an adequate amount of fresh, clean water daily.
- Keep your body supple and strong with regular exercise.
- Breathe fresh air.
- Don't abuse your system with cigarettes, excess alcohol or unnecessary drugs
If you notice any signs of a hormonal imbalance, see your health professional immediately.
It's important that you have an accurate diagnosis of the problem, then select the most effective
- Find effective ways to de-stress.
- Make sure you include relaxation in your weekly routine.
- Find a reason to laugh every day.
- Get at least 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night.
Your endocrine system is a marvel of biochemical engineering, taking care of so many essential
processes. When something upsets the balance of the endocrine system, the consequences can be
severe. This is one area of your health that you don't want to neglect.
Health Essentials #8: Aging
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embarking on any new dietary or exercise regimen.
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to your lifestyle. Unless you're a health professional yourself, you aren't
equipped to objectively observe your body's responses to a new diet or exercise
program. So whatever your chosen course of action, please be sure you enlist the
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