The endocrine system is a widespread group of glands and organs that acts as the body's control system for producing, storing, and secreting chemical substances called hormones.
The primary glands that compose the endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, pineal, ovary, and testes. The pancreas, considered both an organ and a gland, is also part of the system. The thymus is sometimes considered an endocrine-system organ. Although not part of the endocrine system, other organs that secrete hormones are the heart, brain, lungs, kidneys, liver, skin, and placenta. The word "endocrine" means that in response to specific stimuli, the hormones produced by the glands are released into the bloodstream.
Hormones are compounds produced by the endocrine glands. They generally control the growth, development, and metabolism of the body; the electrolyte composition of body fluids; and reproduction. The specific functions of the endocrine glands and pancreas are unique.
The pituitary is the master gland of the endocrine system. Located at the base of the brain, the gland, which is about the size of a marble, consists of two parts: anterior and posterior. The anterior pituitary produces hormones that either stimulate other glands (such as adrenal, testis, ovary, and thyroid) to produce target-gland hormones, or directly affect the target organs.
Three of these hormones—adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), gonadotropins, and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)—act on other glands. ACTH stimulates the adrenal cortex to produce corticosteroid hormones and small amounts of male and female sex hormones. Gonadotropins are two hormones that regulate the production of male and female sex hormones and the egg (ova) and sperm (spermatozoa) cells. TSH stimulates the thyroid gland to produce and release thyroid hormone.
Another pituitary hormone, growth hormone (GH), has a central role in controlling the growth and development of the body and its components, including organs, tissue, and muscle. It also affects the metabolism of carbohydrates,
protein, and fat. For example, GH increases glucose levels in the blood by reducing the amount of glucose used by muscle cells and adipose tissue and by promoting glucose production from certain liver molecules. Other functions of GH include increasing the amount of amino acids that cells take from the blood and stimulating the breakdown of lipids (fats) in adipose tissue. The pituitary hormone prolactin acts with other hormones in female breast development and helps regulate breast-milk production (lactation).
Two hormones, vasopressin and oxytocin, are stored but not produced in the posterior pituitary. Vasopressin, also called arginine vasopressin (AVP), helps the body to conserve water by increasing reabsorption of water from the kidneys. Oxytocin stimulates contractions in the uterus during childbirth and activates milk injection caused by an infant sucking on the breast.
Ken R. Wells, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,