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How does the Endocrine System Function?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Endocrine system function is defined as a series of ductless glands within the human body that manufacture and distribute hormones. The pituitary gland is the body's master gland. Men and women share five glands, while sex glands depend on one's sex. Hormones produced by the endocrine system regulate bodily growth and regulation. A number of medical condition can impede normal endocrine system function.

In men and women, the pituitary gland is the body's master gland. The pituitary is part of the brain, located next to the hypothalamus. Endocrine system function would be impossible without it. Stimulating hormones produced by the pituitary prompt other glands to produce their own hormones. Growth hormone promotes growth in the bones and muscles during childhood and adolescent development.

Below the pituitary, in the neck, are the thyroid and parathyroid glands. The thyroid produces thyroxin, a hormone that regulates metabolism and physical development. The parathyroids, four small glands attached to the thyroid, produce parathormone. Parathormone regulates phosphorous and calcium levels within the bones and blood.

The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. They produce many essential hormones, the two most well-known being adrenalin and cortisol. Adrenalin is a key part of the body's fight or flight response. Its release prompts rapid breathing and heartbeat. Cortisol, on the other hand, is an anti-inflammatory that acts as as the body's natural response to conditions such as arthritis.

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The pancreas, located just below the stomach, produces insulin. Insulin breaks down blood glucose into glycogen, a form of energy that the body can store as fat. To turn this stored energy back into usable glucose, a second hormone, glucagon, reverses the process. Both of these hormones are made by specialized cells known as the Islets of Langerhans.

The sex glands (gonads) are different in men and women. In men, the testes produce testosterone, the hormone that promotes the development of male secondary sex characteristics. These characteristics include deep voice, broad shoulders and body hair. In women, the ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone. Besides developing female secondary sexual characteristics such as breast development and wide hips, these hormones maintain the menstrual cycle.

Many medical conditions can impede normal endocrine system function. Most endocrine glands are susceptible to cancer, some forms more serious than others. Other conditions, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, are treatable but may have a significant impact on one's quality of life. Endocrine system function disorders are the specialty of endocrinologists. These specialists assist other physicians in diagnosing disorders and creating treatment plans for patients.

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