Keeping things under control

The human body is a very complicated mechanism that needs to work the best way possible so that the person lives life at its best, in good health, thus needing a good regulation system to keep things working in harmony.

Our unique endocrine control system keeps the human body functioning in good order and maintains stability. A neuroendocrine system has been observed in all animals with a nervous system and all vertebrates have a hypothalamus-pituitary axis. A number of glands that signal each other in sequence are usually referred to as an axis.

The endocrine system consists of various glands situated in different parts of the body and each gland produces and releases, directly into the blood stream, different chemicals, the hormones, which are transported by the circulatory system to distant target organs to regulate their activity. Like a management team with several levels of command, keeping the work of the different departments controlled, as a whole and in proper equilibrium, through a system of incentives that are distributed according to the need that is detected.

One of these various glands, the pituitary gland or hypophysis, is a small pea-sized gland that plays a major role in regulating vital body functions and general wellbeing. It is referred to as the body’s ‘master gland’ because it produces hormones that control the activity of most other endocrine, hormone-secreting glands.

Although the pituitary gland looks like one single small gland, it actually has two distinct parts: the anterior pituitary gland and the posterior pituitary gland. The gland is attached to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls its activity. The anterior part of the pituitary gland consists of gland cells, which are connected to the brain by blood vessels. The posterior pituitary gland is actually part of the brain and it secretes hormones directly into the bloodstream under the command of the brain.

The brain should be called the CEO of the human body and the glands the control team.

What does the pituitary gland do?

It produces hormones controlling many different processes in the body. It senses the body’s needs and sends signals to different organs and glands throughout the body to regulate their function and maintain an appropriate environment.
It secretes a variety of hormones into the bloodstream which act as messengers to transmit information from the pituitary gland to distant cells, regulating their activity. For example, the pituitary gland produces prolactin, which acts on the breasts to induce milk production.

The pituitary gland also secretes hormones that act on the adrenal glands, thyroid gland, ovaries and testes, which in turn produce other hormones. Through production of its hormones, the pituitary gland controls metabolism, growth, sexual maturation, reproduction, blood pressure and many other vital physical functions and processes. It really keeps it all going on…

What could go wrong with the pituitary gland?

The pituitary gland is an important gland in the body and the hormones it produces carry out varied tasks and regulate the function of many other organs. This means that the symptoms experienced when the pituitary gland stops working correctly can be varied, depending on which hormone are affected.

When a benign growth, or tumour, develops, it can cause the gland to produce excess hormone or block hormone production – or hormone production is not affected in any way.

If the tumour grows very large, even though still benign, it may squash the surrounding cells and stop them working (hypopituitarism), or push upwards and interfere with vision.

Very occasionally, the tumour may expand sideways and cause double vision as it affects the nerves that control eye movements.

It should be emphasised that even when these tumours are large, they usually remain quite benign and very rarely spread to other parts of the body.

Hormones are essential for many aspects of life. They play key roles in animals’ and even plants’ life history. Furthermore, the hormonal mechanisms are subject to information about the external and internal environment of the individual.
Hormones regulate the schedule of development, the adult reproduction and related activities and are also responsible for the mechanisms of senescence.

The way one grows from childhood to adolescence, the first sexual attraction, the first girlfriend or boyfriend (and the ones to follow), having children in adulthood and inevitably getting older … all this is dependent on the levels of an array of fundamental chemical substances, the hormones.

Some people look younger than others even if they have exactly the same age. That, as well, has to do with the individual hormonal levels! It is not totally related to the good or bad way that life has individually treated them.

Best health wishes,
Maria Alice

By Dr Maria Alice
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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve