The endocrine system is a vast network of glands and organs throughout the body. It plays a vital role in controlling and regulating many of the body's functions. Just as the nervous system fires impulses and neurotransmitters for communication, the endocrine system uses hormones as its messengers. While I can't cover every function and impact that the endocrine system has and every thing that impacts it, I hope to cover the basics here. This article can give you a good idea of what glands and organs are involved, what hormones they produce, and some things that can impact the optimal functioning.
What glands and organs are involved?
Hormones are secreted by the many different glands and organs of the endocrine system 1. These hormones then travel through the blood to their target organs and tissues. At the target area, the hormones tell them what to do or how to function.
Glands of the endocrine system:
- Hypothalamus. This gland makes growth hormone releasing hormone, thyrotrophin releasing hormone, gonadotropin releasing hormone, and corticotropin releasing hormone. The hypothalamus is controlled by the pituitary gland. It is in charge of sleeping cycles, body temperature, and appetite.
- Pituitary gland. This gland is located right below the hypothalamus. It creates thyroid stimulating hormone, vasopressin (a anti-diuretic hormone), luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, oxytocin, prolactin and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH controls estrogen production in women and testosterone in men. The pituatary gland, therefore, is involved in: growth, reproduction, water retention, and milk production during breastfeeding.
- Pineal gland. The pineal gland is located in the middle of the brain. It is involved in sleep-wake cycles because it controls melatonin production.
- Thyroid gland. When signaled by the pituitary gland, it produces thyroxine and then triiodothyronine. These hormones are involved in cell metabolism everywhere in the body!
- Parathyroid gland. The parathyroid sits right next to the thyroid gland in the neck. It controls parathyroid hormone, which maintains control of calcium levels in the bones and blood.
- Thymus. The thymus is located in our upper torso. It controls humoral factors involved in our lymph system. And ultimately immunity.
- Adrenal glands. These are a big topic these days! That is because many of us are in a chronic state of stress. The adrenals regulate aldosterone, corticosteroid, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. All of these hormones control blood pressure, heart rate, and stress response.
- Pancreas. The pancreas helps control blood sugar levels through the regulation of glucagon and insulin.
Organs of the endocrine system:
- Kidneys. Our kidneys are another organ involved in blood sugar control. But, they are also involved in blood pressure and red blood cell production. The kidneys control hormones like renin, angiotensin, and erythropoietin.
- Testes. The testes are a male reproductive organ involved in testosterone production.
- Ovaries. The ovaries are a female reproductive organ involved in estrogen and progesterone production. 1
Here is an excellent graph that I found on healthline to show the hormones different organs make:
Body functions controlled by the endocrine system:
- Growth and development
- Sexual function & reproduction
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Sleeping & waking cycles
- Body temperature 1
Factors that can affect the endocrine hormones:
- Aging. Aging is a process that effects us all. It can cause a disruption in: hormone secretion, function, and even target cell/tissue response to the hormone. However, some of use are at greater risk of hormone imbalances and dysfunctions later in life. This can be due to damage caused over time by a poor diet and lifestyle. It can also be caused by different medical issues that the aging body accumulates.
- The environment. This can include pollution as well as synthetic chemicals found in many products. These chemicals can bind where the hormone was supposed to bind. This can cause the function to turn on when it is not needed. Or, it can block the hormone from binding and doing its job, leaving the function turned off.
- Stress. While some amount of stress is completely natural, and our bodies are even designed to handle it. But more commonly, we are in a constant state of stress. Whether it is from a demanding job, or something else, or adrenal glands can become fatigued, leading to dysfunction.
- Genetics. Extra, missing, or even damaged chromosomes (maybe even from those environmental toxins noted above), can result in diseases or conditions that affect hormone production.
- Certain Diseases. Once hormones are done doing their job, they go to the liver and kidneys to be disposed of. However, if the kidney and liver aren't running properly, this can cause a buildup (or deficit) of hormones in the body.