The human body is an amazing yet complex system. Like an automated machine made up of many systems, the body requires care and maintenance to work to its full potential.
One of the human body’s main systems, is the endocrine system, otherwise known as the hormonal system.
Let us break it down for you.
The endocrine system (pronounced: EN-duh-krin) is one of our main regulators. It is made up of eight major glands, where hormones are produced, stored and released.
Hormones action bodily processes related to metabolism, growth and reproduction. This occurs by the hormones entering the bloodstream and traveling through to a cell known as a target cell – each target cell having a receptor for that specific hormone.
When the hormone connects to the receptor, it prompts a specific response in that cell. Depending on the hormones or calcium levels in the blood, the endocrine system adjusts how much of each hormone is released in order to appropriately regulate the body.
What are the eight major glands that produce our hormones?
- Hypothalamus – The Hypothalamus is part of the brain and plays a central and integrated role linking the nervous system to the endocrine system. It produces crucial hormones to control the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus maintains the body’s internal balance and influences heart rate, blood pressure, sleep cycles, body weight, temperature, appetite, thirst and mood.
- Pituitary – The Pituitary gland is on the brain’s base and controls many other endocrine glands. The hormones created in the Pituitary gland affect growth and reproduction. One of the main growth hormones are prolactin.
- Thyroid – The Thyroid is located in the front part of the neck base and secretes T3 and T4 thyroid hormones. These hormones affect almost all cells of the body by influencing metabolic rates, and in effect, controlling how fast your body works. The thyroid also creates the calcitonin hormone, which affects the body’s calcium levels.
- Parathyroids are actually four small glands combined together. These really small glands sit behind the thyroid gland and produce hormones to regulate calcium levels in the body’s bones and blood.
- Adrenals – We have two adrenal glands that sit on top of each kidney. These glands are responsible for creating hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone and adrenaline (also known as epinephrine). Cortisol influences the level of sugar in the blood. Aldosterone regulates salt and water in the body affecting blood pressure; and adrenaline manages the body’s blood pressure and heart rate – increasing both when the body is under stress.
- Pancreas - The pancreas assists with digestion and produces the hormones insulin and glucagon. These essential hormones keep blood sugar levels (glucose) at an optimal level. Insulin converts glucose into energy. The pancreas will store any glucose the body does not need at the time for use later. In patients with Diabetes insulin injections may be needed to make up for the declining insulin production by the pancreas.
- Ovaries – The ovaries are the female gender sex gland and is located on each side of the uterus. The ovaries create eggs and produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Both of these hormones work together to control the female reproductive cycle.
- Testes – The testes are the male gender sex gland and is located in the scrotum. The scrotum produces the sex hormone testosterone. This hormone is responsible for controlling the male reproductive cycle with the creation of sperm.
Even though most people don’t know much about the endocrine system this hormonal system requires a delicate balance that when disturbed can wreak havoc on the body. Cancer is one of the diseases that can affect any of the endocrine glands and is often heritable. In Australia, the most common form of endocrine cancer, with roughly 2,500 cases per year, is well-differentiated thyroid cancer*.
The Cancer Genetics Lab within the Kolling Institute studies cancers of endocrine organs, many of which develop as a result of hereditary syndromes, which they then seek to help improve clinical care for patients.
If you would like to support the Cancer Genetics Lab or any of the research at the Kolling you can do so by donating^ directly on our website.
The NORTH Foundation is the official fundraising and engagement partner for the Northern Sydney Local Health District, including Royal North Shore, Ryde and Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospitals, as well as the Kolling Institute.
^Donations $2 and over are tax-deductible.