What is the endocrine system?
Your endocrine system is made up of several organs called glands. These glands, located all over your body, create and secrete (release) hormones.
Hormones are chemicals that coordinate different functions in your body by carrying messages through your blood to your organs, skin, muscles, and other tissues. These signals tell your body what to do and when to do it.
It’s similar to the nervous system in that it plays a vital role in controlling and regulating many of the body’s functions.
However, while the nervous system uses nerve impulses and neurotransmitters for communication, the endocrine system uses chemical messengers called hormones.
Keep reading to discover more about the endocrine system, what it does, and the hormones it produces.
What does the endocrine system do and how does it work?
Your endocrine system continuously monitors the number of hormones in your blood. Hormones deliver their messages by locking into the cells they target so they can relay the message.
The pituitary gland senses when your hormone levels rise and tell other glands to stop producing and releasing hormones. When hormone levels dip below a certain point, the pituitary gland can instruct other glands to produce and release more. This process, called homeostasis, works similarly to the thermostat in your house. Hormones affect nearly every process in your body, including:
- Metabolism (the way you break down food and get energy from nutrients).
- Growth and development.
- Emotions and mood.
- Fertility and sexual function.
- Heart rate
- Sleep and waking cycle
- Blood pressure.
- Body Temperature
Sometimes glands produce too much or not enough of a hormone. This imbalance can cause health problems, such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and changes in sleep, mood, and behavior. Many things can affect how your body creates and releases hormones. Illness, stress, and certain medications can cause a hormone imbalance.
The endocrine system is responsible for regulating a range of bodily functions through the release of hormones.
Hormones are secreted by the glands of the endocrine system, traveling through the bloodstream to various organs and tissues in the body. The hormones then tell these organs and tissues what to do or how to function.
The endocrine system is made up of organs called glands. The Glands produce and release different hormones that target specific things in the body. You have glands all over your body, including in your neck, brain, and reproductive organs. Some glands are tiny, about the size of a grain of rice or a pea. The largest gland is the pancreas, which is about 6 inches long.
The main glands that produce hormones include:
- Hypothalamus: This gland is located in your brain and controls your endocrine system. It uses information from your nervous system to determine when to tell other glands, including the pituitary gland, to produce hormones. And also, the hypothalamus controls many processes in your body, including your mood, hunger and thirst, sleep patterns and sexual function.
- Pituitary: This little gland is only about the size of a pea, but it has a big job. It makes hormones that control several other glands such as the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, ovaries and testicles. Moreover, the pituitary gland is in charge of many different functions, including how your body grows. And it’s located at the base of your brain.
Other Parts of the Endocrine System
- Thyroid: Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck. And in addition, it is responsible for your metabolism (how your body uses energy).
- Parathyroid: These four tiny glands are no larger than a grain of rice. They control the level of calcium in your body. For your heart, kidneys, bones and nervous system to work, you need the right amount of calcium.
- Adrenal: You have two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney. They control your metabolism, blood pressure, sexual development and response to stress.
- Pineal: This gland manages your sleep cycle by releasing melatonin, a hormone that causes you to feel sleepy.
- Pancreas: Your pancreas is part of your endocrine system, and it plays a significant role in your digestive system too. It makes a hormone called insulin that controls the level of sugar in your blood.
- Ovaries: In women, the ovaries release sex hormones called estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Women have two ovaries in their lower abdomen, one on either side.
- Testes: In men, the testes (testicles) make sperm and release the hormone testosterone. This hormone affects sperm production, muscle strength and sex drive.
Hormones are the chemicals the endocrine system uses to send messages to organs and tissue throughout the body. Once released into the bloodstream, they travel to their target organ or tissue, which has receptors that recognize and react to the hormone.
Below are the following examples of hormones that are produced by the endocrine system.
|adrenaline||adrenal||increases blood pressure, heart rate, and metabolism in reaction to stress|
|aldosterone||adrenal||controls the body’s salt and water balance|
|cortisol||adrenal||plays a role in stress response|
|dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA)||adrenal||aids in the production of body odor and growth of body hair during puberty|
|estrogen||ovary||works to regulate menstrual cycle, maintain pregnancy, and develop female sex characteristics; aids in sperm production|
|follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)||pituitary||controls the production of eggs and sperm|
|glucagon||pancreas||helps to increase levels of blood glucose|
|insulin||pancreas||helps to reduce your blood glucose levels|
|luteinizing hormone (LH)||pituitary||controls estrogen and testosterone production as well as ovulation|
|melatonin||pineal||controls sleep and wake cycles|
|oxytocin||pituitary||helps with lactation, childbirth, and mother-child bonding|
|parathyroid hormone||parathyroid||controls calcium levels in bones and blood|
|progesterone||ovary||helps to prepare the body for pregnancy when an egg is fertilized|
|prolactin||pituitary||promotes breast-milk production|
|testosterone||ovary, teste, adrenal||contributes to sex drive and body density in males and females as well as development of male sex characteristics|
|thyroid hormone||thyroid||help to control several body functions, including the rate of metabolism and energy levels|
What conditions and disorders affect the endocrine system?
Dozens of conditions can cause issues in the endocrine system. These conditions can lead to health problems all over the body. Some of the most common disorders are following:
- Diabetes: And also, this endocrine disorder affects the way your body uses the energy from the food you eat. Diabetes develops when the pancreas doesn’t make enough of a hormone called insulin, or insulin doesn’t work as it should.
- Thyroid disorders: Furtheremore, here are several conditions that can affect the function of the thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism happens when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones. Hyperthyroidism occurs when it creates too many hormones.
- Hypogonadism (low testosterone): In men, hypogonadism can cause erectile dysfunction. It can also cause memory and concentration problems, changes in muscle strength and low sex drive. It happens when the testes do not produce enough of the sex hormone testosterone.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): In addition, a hormonal imbalance causes women with PCOS to have irregular periods, abnormal hair growth, excess acne and weight gain. It can lead to diabetes, increased risk of metabolic syndrome and infertility.
- Osteoporosis: When a woman’s ovaries don’t produce enough estrogen, bones become brittle and weak. Although it is more common in women, men sometimes have osteoporosis when testosterone levels get too low. People with an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism) may also have weak bones.
Chemicals called endocrine disruptors can also affect the endocrine system. And also these chemicals appear everywhere — in pesticides, plastics, cosmetics, and even our food and water. Moreover, endocrine disruptors cause a wide range of problems throughout the body by changing how hormones send messages.
How can I keep my endocrine system healthy?
Your endocrine system needs the same things the rest of your body needs to stay healthy. Firstly, You should exercise, eat right and see your healthcare provider regularly.
However, if you have a family history of diabetes, thyroid disorders, or PCOS, talk to your provider. In summary, managing these conditions can help you avoid a hormone imbalance that can lead to health problems.