Reproductive hormones, like estrogen and testosterone, are often the most well-known hormones. Estrogen, for example, is well known as the hormone one responsible for making the uterus lining thick so an egg can implant and for causing PMS symptoms. However, estrogen is only one of many endocrine hormones that perform a multitude of vital functions in the body throughout the lifespan. Endocrine hormones create a network that helps control a vast majority of your bodily functions. And it is important to take good care of this network adrenal fatigue.
What are Endocrine Hormones?
Many don’t know much about this part of the body. Yet the endocrine system is the network responsible for producing and releasing the hormones that have receptors on almost every organ, in every part of the body. These glands change calories into energy, empowering cells and organs to operate efficiently. They also play an important role in the heart’s rhythm and the growth of tissues and bones. Problems with the endocrine glands can lead to the development of diabetes, thyroid disease, and certain growth disorders.
The endocrine glands include:
- Pituitary gland: The pituitary gland is often called the “master gland” as it is the primary influencer of many other glands. It is found behind the sinuses, at the base of the brain. Problems with this gland can affect the release of breast milk, menstruation, and the growth and development of the skeletal structure.
- Ovaries: These glands are part of the female reproductive system, and are responsible for producing sex hormones and releasing eggs each month.
- Hypothalamus: This gland tells the pituitary gland when to release hormones. It is located in the lower part of the middle brain.
- Adrenal glands: The adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol. They are the two small almond-sized glands that reside near the kidneys.
- Testes: The testes are the male reproductive glands that are responsible for producing sex hormones and sperm.
- Islet cells: The islet cells located in the pancreas are responsible for controlling the release of insulin and glucagon hormones.
- Parathyroid: These four tiny glands play a major role in bone development. They are located in the neck.
- Thyroid: The thyroid is located in the front of the neck and is the butterfly-shaped gland that is responsible for controlling metabolism.
- Pineal gland: The pineal gland is another gland that is found near the center of the brain and may be linked to sleep patterns and disorders.
- Thymus: This gland assists in developing the body’s immune system early in a child’s life. The thymus is located in the upper chest.
Even the smallest malfunction in any of these glands can be powerful enough to change the balance of hormones in the body, leading to endocrine hormone disorders and diseases. Therefore, the operations of these endocrine systems and receptors are vitally important.
The Importance of Endocrine Hormone Receptors
All cell receptors, including the ones designated specifically for hormones, are proteins found on the inside and on the surface of cells throughout the body. These receptors act as the cell’s senses, receiving messages from substances in the bloodstream that give the cells directions on what to do.
The receptors act as a door lock. If a particular substance comes through the bloodstream that fits into the receptor, like a key into a lock, the door is opened, and activity begins in the cell.
Although completely necessary, receptors are not always acting for the betterment of the body. For example, just like healthy cells, most cancer cells also have receptors.
Many breast cancer cells have hormone receptors that respond to signals from hormones. An important part of cancer therapy is knowing whether the cancer cells have receptors or not.
With hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells, hormone therapy can interrupt the influence of hormones necessary for the growth and function of cells. If the hormone is blocked, the cancer cells are less likely to thrive. In addition, cells are constantly undergoing changes. Some breast cancer cells that are hormone receptor positive can lose receptors over time, and some that are hormone receptor negative can gain receptors. Therefore, it is common practice to repeat biopsies and retest cancers for hormone receptors. It is the primary determination regarding whether hormonal therapy may be helpful or not.
Endocrine Hormone Disorders
Because of the importance of endocrine hormones and their function in the human body, it is easy to see how a disruption in the system can cause disorders.
Endocrine disorders can be caused by:
- a problem with the endocrine feedback system
- injury to an endocrine gland
- failure of a gland to stimulate another gland to release hormones (for example, a problem with the hypothalamus can disrupt hormone production in the pituitary gland)
- different infections
- tumor or nodules in an endocrine gland
- a genetic disorder, such as multiple endocrine neoplasias (MEN) or congenital hypothyroidism
Many endocrine lumps such as tumors and nodules are noncancerous and usually do not spread to other parts of the body. However, a tumor or nodule on a gland may interfere with that gland’s hormone production.
Many types of endocrine disorders can result from hormone discrepancies.
- Diabetes. This is the most common endocrine disorder in the U.S.
- Gigantism. Also known as acromegaly, these are growth hormone disorders. When the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone, children may grow abnormally large or fast. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if the growth hormone levels are too low, growth can be stunted.
- Cushing’s Syndrome. An overactive adrenal gland results from the overproduction of a pituitary gland hormone. Cushing’s often occurs in children and some adults who take corticosteroid medications in high doses.
- Adrenal insufficiency. If the adrenal gland releases too little of the hormone cortisol or aldosterone, fatigue, stomach upset, dehydration, and skin changes may occur. Adrenal insufficiency is also called Addison’s disease.
- Precocious puberty. This is the abnormal onset of early puberty. The endocrine glands tell the body to release sex hormones prematurely.
- Hyperthyroidism. The most common cause for an overactive thyroid is Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disorder. Too much thyroid hormone is excreted by the thyroid gland, leading to weight loss, nervousness, over-sweating, and rapid heartbeat.
- Hypothyroidism. This is when the gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Symptoms include fatigue, dry skin, depression, constipation, and abnormally slow development in children.
- Hypopituitarism. This occurs when little or no hormones are secreted by the pituitary gland, leading to a number of different diseases. Women with little or no pituitary hormones often have a discontinuation of their menstruation.
- Multiple endocrine neoplasias I and II (MEN I and MEN II). This is the overproduction of hormones caused by tumors of the parathyroid, adrenal, or thyroid glands. These are due to a rare genetic condition.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This is the overproduction of androgens. This syndrome interferes with the development and release of eggs from the ovaries and is the leading cause of infertility.