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Endocrine Glands

By BD Editors -
Updated April 27, 2019

Endocrine Glands Definition


Endocrine glands are tissues or entire organs that excrete
chemical substances (hormones) directly into the blood
rather than through a system of ducts. Common
endocrine glands are the hypothalamus, pineal, and
adrenal glands. Exocrine glands, by comparison, secrete
substances inside and outside of the body via ducts, such
as sweat or salivary glands. These two methods of
transport mark the difference between exocrine and
endocrine glands.

While in the bloodstream, the hormones are able to travel


through the body’s circulatory system to reach distant
targets. Hormones, in turn, will carry out varied functions
in the body depending on the receptors they bind and the
quantity of the hormone that is present. These voluble
changes will reflect the balance of secretion and excretion
of hormones in the body. Their duration will depend on
the hormone’s inherent half-life and activity levels.

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Examples of Endocrine Glands

Pineal Gland

The pineal gland is a small gland located within the brain


that serves as a great example of endocrine glands in
general. The pineal gland is activated by neurons
connected to your eyes. When these nerves are activated
by light, the pineal gland is repressed. When nighttime
comes, and the light reaching your eyes decreases, the
pineal gland becomes activated.

The pineal gland secretes melatonin, a hormone which


activates our sleep cycle. By releasing this hormone when
it gets dark, the pineal gland is helping your body
coordinate for sleeping. This includes changing your
respiratory rate, brain patterns, and even digestive
patterns.

Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland is found in your throat, just below the

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rate of your cellular metabolism, or decrease it. These
activities are in part directed by another endocrine gland,
the pituitary, which signals to the thyroid which hormones
to release. In turn, your metabolism is regulated. In fact,
a nonfunctioning thyroid gland often leads to drastic
weight gain or loss, depending on the malfunction.

Function of Endocrine Glands

Releasing Hormones

The endocrine system derives its power from coordinating


the interactions that take place between the hormones
that are released by this network of glands. Endocrine
glands themselves will inherently be able to make,
secrete, and store hormones for future use. This ability to
store hormones for later release is useful for modulating
responses to a certain stimuli. Depending on our
developmental needs at whichever stage in life we are in,
our endocrine system will ensure that a proper hormonal
balance is in place so that we release more or less of
certain hormone based on these needs. Many factors can
compromise this balance, however, resulting in endocrine
disease.

One such instance is when too much or too little hormone


is released from a given endocrine gland. Another
problematic scenario is if an afflicted patient’s blood
supply is not strong enough to carry the hormones the
distance they need to be carried to reach their target
organs. Furthermore, once the hormones reach their
target site, the tissue must have an adequate number of
hormone receptors to maintain this intricate balance.
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Responding to the Nervous System

The actual release of hormones by endocrine glands is


tempered by the nervous system. Hormone release will be
directly tied to the body’s response to certain neural or
hormonal stimuli. Hormones come in various forms; some
may present as fatty steroids or long-chained amino acids.
These substances will travel through our bloodstream to
reach specific tissues or organs.

The endocrine system will regulate our metabolic


processes, our appetite, our growth, and even our
sleeping patterns. Our endocrine glands will essentially
help regulate our body’s energy distribution in order to
wire all of these varied processes. Many tissues in our
bodies have the ability to release chemical substances into
our blood, but we will discuss the most major endocrine
glands in more detail.

List of Endocrine Glands

The figure depicts the major endocrine glands of the


human body.

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Among the most important endocrine glands in the human
body is the hypothalamus. In spite of its small size, this
part of the brain releases crucial chemicals that influence
the body’s internal homeostasis as well as the pituitary
gland. Its hormones include oxytocin and growth
hormone, among many others.

The pituitary gland, in turn, is another endocrine tissue


that releases hormones related to growth, mental
development, and sexual reproduction. Moving on to the
pineal gland in the brain, the pineal body will create and
release various hormones, including melatonin, which
regulates our sleep and waking cycles and eventual sexual
maturation. The thyroid is an endocrine gland in the neck
that releases thyroid hormones that help maintain our
body’s metabolic and energetic processes. The parathyroid
gland, on the other hand, lies behind the thyroid gland
and secretes chemicals that allow for normal bone
development.

Within the Body

The thymus has much more important roles in immune


health during our childhood (via T cell production), as it is
eventually phased out by fat in post-pubescent children.
The pancreas is another endocrine gland that releases
insulin in the body, which importantly allows for sugar in
the blood to be metabolized.

Moving southward to the kidneys, the adrenal glands that


lie above each will secrete adrenaline hormone during
strenuous fight or flight situations. This modulation will
likewise influence the way our bodies use energy.

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gland. Ovaries in women will create estrogen and
progesterone derivatives that help with our sexual
development and will aid in the release of eggs for future
fertilization. Thus, all of these glands orchestrate large
processes that keep our species alive and thriving. Hence,
the evolutionary importance of having endocrine tissue!

Major Endocrine Glands:

Hypothalamus
Thyroid
Parathyroid
Pituitary gland
Adrenal glands
Pineal gland
Pancreas

Quiz

1 . W h i c h o f t h e f o l l o w i n g i ss n o t a n e n d o c r i n e g l a n d
property?

A. Production of hormones

B. Regulate wake and sleep processes

C. Expel primarily to local receptors

D. Secrete to blood

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References
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Academic Consultant
Hormone Health Network (2017). “The Endocrine
System.” Hormone. Retrieved on 2017-08-11 from
http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/the-
endocrine-system
Teens Health (2017). “Endocrine System: Body
Basics.” Kids Health Org. Retrieved on 2017-08-10
from http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/endocrine.html
Sargis, Robert MD. “About the Endocrine System.”
Endocrine Web. Retrieved on 2017-08-13 from
https://www.endocrineweb.com/endocrinology
/about-endocrine-system

Further Readings:
Endocrine System Fun Facts
How Does the Endocrine System Maintain Homeostasis
Exocrine Glands
Gland
Endocrine System
Thyroid Gland
Parathyroid Gland
Hormone

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