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What is Endocrine Physiology?

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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 18 February 2018
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Physiology is a biological science that focuses on the functional processes of living matter or beings. The word "endocrine" is an adjective used to refer to the production of secretions that are circulated to various parts of the body by the bloodstream. Endocrine physiology, therefore, is the study of the endocrine system. Although the physiology of a system of the body is almost always studied along with the anatomy of that same system, the terms should not be confused. It might be more accurate to define endocrine physiology as the study of the functions of the endocrine system.

Various glands and organs that are responsible for regulating body functions by the production and secretion of hormones make up the endocrine system. This is why endocrine physiology is also sometimes loosely defined as the study of hormones. Glands of this body system lack ducts, so they "dump" their hormones directly into the bloodstream. Not every organ in the body that secretes hormones or substances that behave like hormones belongs to the endocrine system. For example, the kidneys produce hormones, but they do not belong to this system.

Major glands of the endocrine system include the pituitary, the hypothalamus, the thyroid, the parathyroid, the adrenal glands, the islets of the pancreas, the ovaries in females and the testes in males. Endocrine physiology deals with how the various hormones affect and control entire organs. Hormones are intricately involved with a number of processes that take place within the body at every stage of life. For example, the growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland encourages the production of protein and controls growth and development.

Thyroid hormone controls the metabolic rate of the body or the rate at which it functions. The parathyroid glands produce what is called parathyroid hormone, which is responsible for bone formation and the excretion of the minerals phosphorous and calcium. Courses in endocrine physiology might cover questions such as the exact processes that take place within a specific gland or organ leading to the production of its hormones and the question of when they are released into the bloodstream. Endocrine physiology would also explore questions regarding how modern medicine and medications might manipulate hormones to be able to accelerate or decelerate growth rate, metabolism and a number of other processes.

Other questions of interest to those who study endocrine physiology include discovering the root problem of disorders of various hormone-producing glands and organs. Some disorders of this system can produce very bizarre abnormalities, such as a condition called galactorrhea, which is the production of breast milk in females who are not pregnant or even in males. Central diabetes insipidus is a condition in which there is a lack of the antidiuretic hormone that leads to the excessive production of very dilute urine. When there is an overproduction of growth hormone causing excessive growth, a condition called gigantism can result in children; it is referred to as acromegaly in adults. All of these conditions are of special interest to people who study endocrine physiology.

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