The Endocrine System

The endocrine system is the system of glands, each of which secretes different types of hormones directly into the bloodstream (some of which are transported along nerve tracts to maintain homeostasis. The endocrine system is an information signal system like the nervous system, yet its effects and mechanism are classifiably different. The endocrine system’s effects are slow to initiate, and prolonged in their response, lasting from a few hours up to weeks.

Hormones are substances (chemical mediators) released from endocrine tissue into the bloodstream where they travel to target tissue and generate a response. For instance, the pancreas secretes insulin, which allows the body to regulate levels of sugar in the blood. Hormones regulate various human functions, including metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sleep, and mood. Features of endocrine glands are, in general, their ductless nature, their vascularity, and usually the presence of intracellular vacuoles or granules storing their hormones.

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The thyroid gets instructions from the pituitary to secrete hormones which determine the pace of chemical activity in the body (the more hormone in the bloodstream, the faster the chemical activity; the less hormone, the slower the activity). HCG is a gonadotropin (glycoprotein hormone) secreted by the pituitary gland. HCG is among the family of endocrine system hormones that regulate growth, reproductive and sexual functions in the body. Cushing’s disease is caused by a tumor or excess growth (hyperplasia) of the pituitary gland. This gland is located at the base of the brain.

People with Cushing’s disease have too much ACTH. ACTH stimulates the production and release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Too much ACTH means too much cortisol. Cortisol is normally released during stressful situations. It controls the body’s use of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and also helps reduce the immune system’s response to swelling (inflammation). Treatment involves surgery to remove the pituitary tumor, if possible. After surgery, the pituitary may slowly start to work again and return to normal. During the recovery process, you may need cortisol replacement treatments.

Radiation treatment of the pituitary gland may also be used. If the tumor does not respond to surgery or radiation, you may get medications to stop your body from making cortisol. If these treatments are not successful, the adrenal glands may need to be removed to stop the high levels of cortisol from being produced. Addison’s disease is a disorder that occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of their hormones. The adrenal glands are small hormone-releasing organs located on top of each kidney. They are made up of the outer portion (called the cortex) and the inner portion (called the medulla).

Addison’s disease results from damage to the adrenal cortex. The damage causes the cortex to produce less of its hormones. Treatment with replacement corticosteroids will control the symptoms of this disease. However, you will usually need to take these drugs for life. People often receive a combination of glucocorticoids (cortisone or hydrocortisone) and mineralocorticoids (fludrocortisone). Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder that results from too much growth hormone (GH) in the body. The pituitary, a small gland in the brain, makes GH.

In acromegaly, the pituitary produces excessive amounts of GH. Acromegaly is caused by prolonged overproduction of GH by the pituitary gland. The pituitary produces several important hormones that control body functions such as growth and development, reproduction, and metabolism. But hormones never seem to act simply and directly. They usually “cascade” or flow in a series, affecting each other’s production or release into the bloodstream. Currently, treatment options include surgical removal of the tumor, medical therapy, and radiation therapy of the pituitary.

Cretinism is a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth due to untreated congenital deficiency of thyroid hormones (congenital hypothyroidism) due to maternal nutritional deficiency of iodine. Replacement therapy with thyroxine is the standard approach to treatment of hypothyroidism. Once medication starts, the blood levels of TSH and free T4 are monitored to keep the values within a normal range. “Anabolic steroids” is the familiar name for synthetic variants of the male sex hormone testosterone.

The proper term for these compounds is anabolic-androgenic steroids, “anabolic” referring to muscle-building and “androgenic” referring to increased male sexual characteristics. Anabolic steroids are usually either taken orally or injected into the muscles, although some are applied to the skin as a cream or gel. Doses taken by abusers may be 10 to 100 times higher than doses prescribed to treat medical conditions. Medication and behavioral therapy, especially when combined, are important elements of an overall therapeutic process that often begins with detoxification, followed by treatment and relapse prevention.

Oophorectomy is the surgical removal of the ovaries; the part of a woman’s reproductive system that stores and releases eggs for fertilization and produces female sex hormones. Oophorectomy is often necessary when pelvic disease, such as ovarian cancer or severe endometriosis, is present. Oophorectomy is sometimes recommended when the hormones produced by the ovaries are making a disease such as breast cancer or severe endometriosis worse. Orchiectomy is the removal of the testicles. The penis and the scrotum, the pouch of skin that holds the testicles, are left intact.

An orchiectomy is done to stop most of the body’s production of testosterone, which prostate cancer usually needs in order to continue growing. This procedure is used as a result of prostate cancer which is is a malignant tumor of the prostate gland, a walnut-sized organ located in front of the rectum and right below the bladder. The function of the prostate gland is to produce part of seminal fluid, the solution that carries sperm. As men grow older, testosterone levels fall, with a steeper decline in unbound or free testosterone compared with total testosterone concentrations.

Lower testosterone levels have been associated with poorer cognitive function, and with impaired general and sexual health in aging men. Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone or androgen present in the circulation. It is secreted by the testes in response to luteinizing hormone (LH) produced by the pituitary gland, which in turn is regulated by hypothalamic secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone. Testosterone therapy is now available in a range of formulations and treatment can be individualized to achieve physiological testosterone levels.

Aging changes in the female reproductive system result mainly changing hormone levels. One clear sign of aging occurs when your menstrual periods stop permanently. This is known as menopause. Menopause is a normal part of a woman’s aging process. Most women experience menopause around age 50, though it can occur before then. The usual age range is 45-55. Hormone therapy in the form of estrogen or progesterone alone or in combination may help menopause symptoms such as hot flashes or vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse.

Oxytocin, a peptide that functions as both a hormone and neurotransmitter, has broad influences on social and emotional processing throughout the brain and body. Oxytocin is a peptide of nine amino acids that is produced in the hypothalamus and released into both the brain and bloodstream. Functioning as a neurotransmitter and hormone, oxytocin’s role throughout the body is widespread. Included is the hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, brainstem, heart, uterus and regions of the spinal cord which regulates the autonomic nervous system, especially the parasympathetic branch.