Endocrine System Function

Edited by StephWrites, Jen Moreau

What is the Endocrine System?

Did you know that your body is continuously producing substances to control functions like your mood, your metabolism, growth, or sexual and reproductive functions? Anytime you feel scared, happy or sad; specific substances are released through your body to respond accordingly. Well, the endocrine system is the primary system in your body that coordinates these chemicals release.

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The word endocrine comes from the Greek words ἐνδο- endo- "inside, within," and κρίνειν krinein "to separate, distinguish." The endocrine system is a very complex system that controls glands to secrete hormones into the circulatory system to be transported into body organs and regulate several body functions. The hypothalamus, which is a part of the brain, is the one who controls the endocrine system.

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The two main systems of our body are the nervous system and the endocrine system. The nervous is in charge of fast processes like muscle movement and breathing. On the contrary, the endocrine system is responsible for slow processes like cells growth or converting calories into energy. Even though they are different, they work together to keep the body functioning properly, the pineal gland in the brain connects them both.

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How Does it Function?

Endocrine system works like a thermostat; it is continuously receiving information and acting upon it. It sends and receives instructions through hormones, which are produced by glands. Hormones are secreted to work as messengers to exchange data from one set of cells to another.

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It all begins at the hypothalamus which is continuously working to maintain functions like body temperature, metabolism, heart rate, temperature, or satiety. The hypothalamus secretes hormones to the pituitary gland through an artery called the hypophyseal portal system. These hormones will signal the pituitary gland whether to produce or to suppress the production of specific hormones and then the pituitary gland will respond and send hormones to the targeted gland indicating the same message to produce or suppress more of their specific hormones. When the gland starts to secrete the signaled hormone, the level will rise in blood circulation. When the level is high enough, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland will stop releasing their messenger hormones, also called "releasing hormones."

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For example, after sunset when it gets dark, the hypothalamus sends a message to the Pineal gland to start producing melatonin which is a hormone to make us feel relaxed and induces us to sleep. When the sun comes up, and the brain perceives the light, the hypothalamus will now send a message to stop producing melatonin and instead activate different hormones to wake us up.

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What is a gland?

A gland is a group of cells that selects and removes materials from the blood, then processes and secretes the finished chemical product for its use somewhere in the body. Each gland releases or suppresses hormones with specific body functions. These are the major endocrine glands:

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  1. 1
    Pituitary gland
    It is found at the base of the brain; its size is no bigger than a pea. It is considered the most important gland in the endocrine system since it regulates more functions than any other gland such as metabolism, the growth of bone and tissue, sex functions or milk production in females. This gland is divided into two sections called anterior and posterior lobe.
    1. The anterior lobe produces the growth hormone which induces our bones and tissue to develop to their proper size; it also produces Thyroid- stimulating Hormone which stimulates the thyroid gland directly to secrete thyroid hormones. Another hormone induced by the anterior lobe is Adrenocorticotropin which stimulates the adrenal gland, to produce steroid related hormones. Prolactin, which is the hormone that makes women produce milk when giving birth is also induced by the anterior lobe. And finally, the Luteinizing hormone and the follicle-stimulating hormone are both in control of sexual functions and the stimulation of steroids, estrogen and progesterone production in females, and testosterone in males.
    2. The posterior lobe produces the antidiuretic hormone which controls water loss through kidneys, and also oxytocin which function is to perform contractions during childbirth and stimulating milk production.
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  2. 2
    Pineal gland
    Also called coronarium, is located in the epithalamus, in the middle of the brain, between both hemispheres. Its name is attributed to its pine cone shape. This gland is in charge of producing melatonin which regulates the sleep and awakening circadian cycles of the body. Almost every vertebrae species has a pineal gland. An interesting fact is that René Descartes believed that it was the "seat of the soul" and many academic philosophers considered that this gland had metaphysical qualities.
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  3. 3
    It is found behind the stomach in the abdominal cavity and has an elongated shape. The pancreas has two main functions:  
    1. Digestion: The exocrine pancreas produces digestive enzymes through pancreatic juice to perform digestion and absorb nutrients into the small intestine. These are the enzymes that break down proteins, carbohydrates and lipids.
    2. Sugar levels in blood: The endocrine pancreas secretes hormones like insulin, somatostatin, polypeptide and glucagon to regulate sugar levels in the blood.
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  4. 4
    Reproductive gland
    Male and female have different reproductive glands, both are related to sexual functions:  
    1. Female reproductive glands are the ovaries; they are a pair of organs about the size of a grape, located on each side of the uterus; they produce eggs, estrogen, and progesterone. Estrogen is the determinant hormone to develop breast, distribute fat on hips, legs, and breast, and to induce a healthy development of the reproductive organs. Progesterone and estrogen prepare the uterus for menstruation once you reach puberty. The ovaries alternate one another to release one egg every month of women's lives until menopause. If a woman becomes pregnant, high levels of estrogen and progesterone will be triggered to prevent more eggs from maturing, and to reduce uterine contractions for a safer development of the fetus.
    2. Male reproductive glands are the testes, a pair of sperm producers located in the scrotum. They secrete androgens like testosterone that are crucial to male sexual organs development and male physical factions like facial hair, lower voice, muscle mass development, pubic hair, the growth of Adam's apple and an increase in height.
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  5. 5
    Thyroid gland
    This gland is found in the lower part of the neck. It regulates metabolism through thyroid hormones, helps bones growth and develops the brain and nervous system. These hormones also keep blood pressure and heart rate on normal levels, affects reproductive functions, digestion and muscle tone.
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  6. 6
    Parathyroid gland
    These are two small glands that release parathyroid hormones. They have the specific role of regulating calcium levels in the blood and bones.
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  7. 7
    Adrenal glands
    These are two triangular shaped glands that are located on the top of each kidney. The outer part called adrenal cortex produces corticosteroids which regulate the balance of salt and water, the immune system and sexual functions. The internal part called adrenal medulla produces hormones to respond to stress and emotions by producing hormones called catecholamines which elevate heart rate and blood pressure.
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Endocrine Diseases

As we have learned, the endocrine system is responsible for maintaining our bodies in balance in so many ways, by performing a wide variety of process that keeps us alive and healthy.

All of these processes must work properly to make sure our bodies remain healthy:

  • The correct amount of hormones must be produced (a hormone imbalance is when they release too much or too little).
  • Your blood must be healthy enough to transport all of these hormones through your body.
  • There have to be enough receptors where the hormones reach out and deliver their trigger message to the target gland.
  • Those targets must be ready to respond efficiently to the hormonal signal.

There are so many processes delivered by the endocrine system that it is common to encounter endocrine diseases, it only takes one tiny step of the process to fail to produce an imbalance. If you believe to have an endocrine disease, don´t hesitate and look for a specialist to diagnose and treat you. Stay healthy!

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Referencing this Article

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APA (American Psychological Association)
Endocrine System Function. (2017). In ScienceAid. Retrieved Sep 24, 2023, from https://scienceaid.net/Endocrine_System_Function

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Categories : Biology | Medicine

Recent edits by: StephWrites

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