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Understanding the Endocrine System – An Overview

Adrenal Glands, Endocrine, Endocrine System, Hormones

The endocrine system consists of ductless glands. By ductless, it means that the endocrine glands emit their secretions directly into the blood stream. These secretions are actually hormones that help regulate the body in myriad ways – including the moods, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism, and also sexual function and reproductive processes. This article provides a general overview of how the endocrine systems of glands works to regulate these body functions.

There are seven major glands that make up the endocrine system: hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pineal body and the reproductive glands (includes the ovaries and the testes). There are other non-endocrine organs that also produce and release hormones and work in conjunction with these main glands, including the pancreas, brain, heart, lungs, kidneys liver, thymus, skin and, in pregnant women, the placenta. All these organs also produce and release hormones within the body.

The pituitary gland is sometimes referred to as the “master gland.” It is located at the base of the brain and is not much larger than a pea. It secretes a variety of important and potent hormones including the growth hormone, prolactin(for breastfeeding women), thyrotropin (stimulates thyroid gland to produce its hormones), corticotrophin (stimulates adrenal gland), endorphins, antidiuretic hormone, and oxytocin which triggers and stimulates the contractions of the uterus during labor.

The thyroid gland is shaped like a little butterfly and is located at the front part of the lower neck. The hormones produced here control the rate at which cells burn fuels from food to produce energy for the body. These hormones affect bone growth, chemical reactions and the development of the brain and nervous system in growing children.

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The adrenal glands are triangular shaped and there are two, one above each kidney. These glands produce corticosteroids which regulate the salt and water balance in the body, as well as the body’s response to stress, the metabolism and immune system, and sexual functioning and development. The adrenal glands also produce adrenaline which increases blood pressure and the body’s heart rate during times of stress.

The pineal gland is located in the middle of the brain and it secretes a hormone that helps to regulate the sleep cycle.

The reproductive glands or gonads are the main source of sex hormones in both males and females. In males, the testes do the job and in females, the ovaries produce and secrete the hormones necessary for sexual development and functioning.

As one may imagine, defects or disorders of any of the glands in the endocrine system can have an affect on overall functioning of the body, its growth and development, as well as a “ripple” affect with other glands and organs in the endocrine system.

If you are interested in finding out more about the endocrine system, including various disorders and conditions, the United States National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health produce a website called Medline Plus. The page found at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/endocrinesystem.html is dedicated to the endocrine system and includes informative color images of how the glands and hormones function in the body. This page also has dozens of links to other articles, related conditions and information pertaining to the endocrine system.