A collection of glands forms the endocrine system in the body. These glands produce hormones that travel throughout the body, regulating all kinds of organ and muscle functions. Hormones carry signals to your cells, telling them to do something or to stop doing something. When functioning correctly, the endocrine system is self-regulating: a gland called the pituitary gland, about the size of a pea and located at the base of the brain, monitors hormone levels and sends messages to other glands to produce these hormones. This process, called homeostasis, keeps the body in balance. The basics to know about your endocrine system include the roles of different glands, the processes they control, and signs of imbalance that may require medical intervention.
What the Endocrine System Controls
Hormones play a role in metabolism, growth and development, mood, heart rate and blood pressure, sleep cycles, sexual function, and appetite. Each hormone sent out by the gland that secretes it has a particular target in the body to deliver its message.
Glands That Make Up the Endocrine System and What They Do
Large and small glands throughout the body form the endocrine system. The basics to know about your endocrine system include the names of these glands and what they do:
Thyroid : This butterfly-shaped gland at the front of the neck secretes hormones that regulate metabolism.
Hypothalamus : Located in the brain, this gland receives messages from the nervous system and tells other glands when to produce hormones. The hypothalamus controls mood, hunger and thirst, sleep, and sexual functions.
Pituitary gland: Located near the hypothalamus at the base of the brain, this very small gland plays a big role in signaling other glands to produce hormones. The pituitary gland is also involved in growth and development.
Parathyroids: These four glands no bigger than grains of rice control calcium levels.
Adrenal gland : Perched atop your kidneys, your two adrenal glands play a role in controlling metabolic functions, blood pressure, sexual development, and how you respond to stress.
Pancreas: This gland, located deep within the torso near the stomach, produces insulin to control blood sugar levels.
Pineal gland: This gland produces melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Ovaries and testes: In women, the ovaries produce estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone while releasing eggs for reproduction. The testes make sperm and release testosterone in men.
Diseases Related to the Endocrine System
Hormonal imbalances can cause weight gain, developmental problems during puberty, or insulin resistance and diabetes. They also manifest as thyroid disease, osteoporosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Symptoms such as unexplained weight gain or sudden weight loss, severe thirst, frequent urination, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure may all be indicators of hormonal problems that should be medically addressed. Your doctor may recommend a visit to a specialist. Dr. Philp Rabito is a top-rated endocrinologist in NYC specializing in weight control and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases related to hormonal imbalances.