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What is the endocrine system?

Updated: Sep 19, 2019

To really understand hormone health, it helps to have at least a basic idea of how the endocrine system works together to produce the hormones you need for health and wellbeing. And that’s what we’re going to look at briefly today!

So, what is the endocrine system?

In a nutshell, it includes various glands located throughout the body, which are responsible for producing hormones and helping them to get to organs.

The pituitary gland is one of the most important glands within the endocrine system. It effectively acts as the “master gland” that makes sure that other glands receive information from the brain. It’s also directly responsible for producing some key hormones, including growth hormones. Production of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), thyroid stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone are also linked to the pituitary gland.

As well as the pituitary gland, the endocrine system also includes the hypothalamus, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, pineal gland, thymus gland, pancreas and reproductive organs.

Here’s how they all work:

The hypothalamus acts a control center between the endocrine system and the nervous system. It tells the pituitary gland whether to produce hormones in the first place.

The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones. If it doesn’t produce enough, it can lead to hypothyroidism. This condition affects metabolism and slows down a lot of the processes in the body. If the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, you can develop hyperthyroidism. This has the opposite effect and speeds up many of the body’s processes.

The parathyroid gland is a collection of four small glands that are located behind the thyroid gland. Despite their close proximity to the thyroid gland, they’re super important for bone health and have a big role to play in regulating calcium levels.

The fight or flight response

The adrenal glands are involved in the “fight or flight” response and produce adrenaline and cortisol. These glands are designed to protect you from stress and if your adrenal function isn’t at the optimum level, it can have an effect on how your body responds to stress and the lead to physical and emotional changes.

The pineal gland produces melatonin, also known as the “sleep hormone”.

The thymus gland produces white blood cells and is crucial for helping children to develop a stronger immune system. It starts to get smaller after you’ve reached puberty.

The pancreas is part of the endocrine system but it’s also part of the digestive system too. From a hormone perspective, it produces insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. For people with diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t make enough insulin (type 2 diabetes) or doesn’t make any at all (type 1 diabetes).

As you can see, different parts of the endocrine system are super important for keeping your body functioning as it should.

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