The endocrine system is in charge of many important aspects of the body. The endocrine system contains glands that are responsible for the hormone production in the body. These glands regulate different life processes by coordinating cooperation between them efficiently. The hormones that are secreted by these glands serve as messengers that transfer vital information from one part of the body to the other. These hormones pass directly into the bloodstream for transference.
The nervous system and the endocrine system function similarly. The nervous system is responsible for sending out electrical messages to coordinate body organs; whereas the endocrine system releases chemicals to communicate to different parts of the body. These chemicals, also known as hormones, are synthesized and secreted by the endocrine gland. Development, growth, metabolism, and reproduction are all activated and maintained by the endocrine system. The term ‘endocrine’ refers to the body’s reaction to stimuli via hormone released into the bloodstream.
The Glands of the Endocrine System
The endocrine system is composed of six major glands. These glands are: The hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, the pineal gland, the adrenal glands, the thyroid gland, and the reproductive glands or gonads (the ovary or testes, depending on gender).
Hypothalamus – The hypothalamus is located in the central part of the brain, and is the main link between the endocrine and nervous systems. It regulates body temperature and metabolism. It also secretes hormones that regulate the hormone secretions of the pituitary gland.
Pituitary Gland – No larger than the size of a pea, the pituitary gland is situated at the base of the brain, located just below the hypothalamus. The pituitary gland is often considered to be the most important gland in the endocrine system, because it regulates the hormone production of the other glands.
Thyroid Gland – The thyroid gland is located on the front part of the lower neck and is shaped like a butterfly. This gland secretes two different hormones: Triiodothyronine and thryoxine. The thyroid gland is in charge of controlling the body’s metabolism. There are four tiny glands that are attached to the thyroid, called ‘parathyroids’. They serve to regulate calcium in the blood. Additionally, the thyroid also plays a role in the development of the brain and of bone growth in young children.
Adrenal Glands – These pair of glands are located atop each kidney. They are triangular-shaped and consist of two different parts. The exterior of the gland is known as the ‘adrenal cortex’, and the interior is known as the ‘adrenal medulla’. These glands secrete hormones that are responsible for dealing with stress by increasing the body’s heart rate and blood pressure. Additionally, they maintain the water and salt balance in the body.
Pineal Gland – This gland is located in the center of the brain. It is responsible for the hormone production of melatonin. Melatonin regulates the wake and sleep cycle of the body.
Reproductive Glands – The reproductive glands, also called the gonads, are the primary source of sex hormones. The female glands are called ovaries, and they produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The male glands are called testes, and they produce hormones called androgen and testosterone.
Pancreas – This organ has both digestive and hormonal functions. Insulin and glucagon are two very important hormones that are produced by this double gland. These hormones regulate blood sugar levels in the body. A decrease in the production of insulin can lead to diabetes.