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What is the Human Endocrine System?

To understand the human endocrine system is to understand hormones. Hormones are an important part of the body. They play a role in maintaining balance by regulating “growth and development, metabolism, electrolyte balances, and reproduction” [1]. Several different glands give off hormones, including the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary gland, posterior pituitary gland, adrenal cortex, testes, ovaries, parathyroid gland, thyroid gland, and pancreas.

The hypothalamus is a gland located in the brain that excretes six hormones. These hormones include Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), Thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), Growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), Somatostatin, and Dopamine. These different hormones control “many bodily functions, including eating and drinking, sexual functions and behaviors, blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature maintenance, the sleep-wake cycle, and emotional states (e.g., fear, pain, anger, and pleasure)” [1].

The pituitary glands, located below the hypothalamus, secrete ACTH, LH, FSH, TSH, GH, Prolactin, Vasopressin, and Oxytocin. The last two hormones, vasopressin, and oxytocin are stored inside the posterior pituitary gland. Vasopressin maintains the body’s water and electrolytes, while oxytocin stimulates contractions in the uterus when going through childbirth. It also activates the secretion of milk in those who are breastfeeding. The other hormones listed are from the anterior pituitary gland, and most of these have a role in stimulating glands in other areas of the body.

The adrenal gland is located above the kidneys, and they produce cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol’s role is to “control carbohydrate, protein, and lipid metabolism” [1]. Aldosterone’s primary role in the body is to balance the body’s water and electrolytes and to “conserve sodium and to excrete potassium from the body” [1].

The ovaries and testes make up the gonads, whose primary roles are to produce germ cells and secrete sex hormones. The testes produce testosterone (an androgen), while the ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone. The main role of testosterone is to “stimulate the development and growth of the male genital tract,” which includes: the development of male genitalia during the fetal stages, promoting the growth of male sex hormones; and the maintenance of “masculinity, libido, and sexual potency” [1]. In the ovaries, estrogen plays a role in “the normal development and functioning of the female genitalia and breasts,” while progesterone stimulates lactation and “changes in the uterine lining in preparation for pregnancy” [1].

The parathyroid and thyroid glands are located in the windpipe, with the parathyroid glands behind the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland produces the thyroid hormone (thyroxine and triiodothyronine), and calcitonin. The thyroid hormone increases metabolism in the tissues, and calcitonin “helps maintain normal calcium levels in the blood” [1]. As for the parathyroid glands, they produce parathyroid hormone (PTH), which “increases calcium levels in the blood, helping to maintain bone quality and an adequate supply of calcium, which is needed for numerous functions throughout the body (e.g., muscle movement and signal transmission within cells)” [1].

Last, but not least, is the pancreas, which produces insulin and glucagon. Insulin is known for lowering blood glucose levels, whereas glucagon increases blood glucose levels. The two help to balance blood glucose levels, working together to maintain a system.

So, the endocrine system is a lot more important than you think, as it produces very important hormones. These hormones keep the body regulated, so that it may maintain its balance.


1. Hiller-Sturmhöfel, S., & Bartke, A. (1997). The Endocrine System: An Overview. Alcohol Health and Research World, 22(3), 153-164.



Author: Kayjah Taylor

Editor: Lauryn Agron

Health scientist: Chantelle Moore

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