What is the Endocrine System?
Simply put, the endocrine system is composed of the body’s various hormone-producing glands along with the hormones they create. The principal organs of the endocrine system are the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, pancreas, adrenal glands, ovaries and testicles. Each of these glands produces a wide range of hormones, or chemical signals that control the functions of cells and other tissues in the body.
The Importance of Hormones
Hormones are a vital part of the body’s function. The actions of most cells are controlled by hormone signals. They are the body’s way of telling cells and other organs what to do. Some of the most important and noticeable functions of hormones is to regulate mood, metabolism, energy level, sexual drive and function and growth. Just about everything a person does is caused by or affected by hormones at some level. This includes thoughts and feelings, especially in terms of impulses that are not consciously controlled.
Hormones also play a strong role in cell growth and cell division, and this can affect what happens in the body, especially with age. As the body gets older it may produce less of certain hormones, such as human growth hormone. A lack or imbalance in certain hormones is often to blame for a variety of conditions related to old age, such as slower metabolism, weight gain and loss of energy or muscle mass. When the body is stimulated to continue producing these hormones, many of the classical signs and effects of aging are less noticeable or may not occur at all.
Diseases of the Endocrine System
There are a wide range of endocrine-related diseases and problems, but several are very common. The most common such disease is diabetes. Whatever form it takes, diabetes occurs because of the body’s inability to produce or regulate the hormone insulin. This is often caused by a problem with the pancreas. The pancreas may become injured or diseased and stop producing insulin. In certain types of cancers, the pancreas may actually produce too much insulin and create an imbalance.
Another common endocrine disease is hypothyroidism. This occurs when the thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Many problems may cause this including cancer or an iodine deficiency.
Problems with the reproductive organs and sex hormones are also a leading health issue. Early in life, these hormone imbalances can affect fertility and growth as well as the proper development of sexual organs and traits. Later in life, sexual hormones tend to decrease. This can affect both sexual desire and performance as well as energy levels and fertility. Hormone changes are primarily responsible for menopause in women and various sexual dysfunctions in men such as erectile dysfunction.
Maintaining Endocrine Health
Maintaining endocrine health is done in a variety of ways. The first way is through diet and exercise. The body often requires certain micronutrients in certain quantities to produce and balance hormones. This nutrition can be achieved by following a healthy and balanced diet.
Exercise often stimulates the production of certain hormones. For example, vigorous exercise has been shown to stimulate both human growth hormone and testosterone that affect body function and energy levels.
When a disease of the endocrine system occurs, it is important to pinpoint the cause of the disease and the affected organ or organs. A specialist known as an endocrinologist is often used to help identify and isolate various problems with the endocrine system so the correct treatment can be performed. Diagnosis and treatment of endocrine diseases may be difficult because a wide variety of causes may lead to a hormone imbalance. If the underlying condition is solved, then the disease is often treated permanently. Otherwise, a person will need to take supplemental hormones or similar medications to correct the imbalance or problem.
Maintaining endocrine health as a major impact on overall life expectancy and quality of life especially in the latter years. It is important to take steps to support endocrine health. This system may not receive as much attention as the heart, skeleton, muscles or brain, but it is just as important.