The endocrine system is a group of small but immensely important organs that regulate metabolism, growth, tissue functioning, puberty, development and moods. These functions are performed via the release of hormones, which are extra-cellular signaling molecules that transmit information and instructions from a set of cells to another. The three most important endocrine glands are the pituitary, adrenal and thyroid.
The endocrinal function of transmitting signals is similar to that of the nervous system. The only difference is that instead of using nerves as the transferring medium, it passes these signals (hormones) through the blood. Endocrine hormones not only send and act upon messages, but also regulate the various functions of the body.
Typical endocrine signaling involves an axis of a number of glands. For example, the hypothalamus is stimulated by events in the body and signals the pituitary through a thyroid release hormone. The pituitary responds to the hormone and releases a hormone known as thyroid-stimulating hormone, which stimulates the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones. It is the thyroid hormones that actually regulate the various functions allotted to them in such a manner that thyroid problems are naturally avoided.
There are three other types of signaling by which hormones target the same cell or a cell nearby, or transmit signals along cell membranes through proteins inherent to the membrane.
Endocrine hormones play a vital role in the etiology of various diseases. The causing factor of these conditions is mostly due to production disorders (hypo-function or hyper-function) and/or inability of the tissues to respond to hormones. One common example of production disorders is presented by thyroid conditions, where the thyroid gland produces inadequate or excessive hormones.
Endocrine dysfunction may be due to various reasons:
- Decrease in the reserve maintained by the gland.
- Imperfect development of a gland.
- Weakening or degeneration of the gland.
- Lack of secretion.
- Excessive secretion.
- Over development of a gland.
- Hyperplasia and/or formation of tumors.
Endocrine dysfunction can disturb an individual’s overall health to a great extent. However, the identification of the real cause of a symptom as being that of an endocrinal production disorder takes time. It is only in the case of unexplained medical disorders that attention is drawn towards checking hormone levels. While primary diseases are caused by restriction in the action of other glands, the inability of the hypothalamus to pick up signals too can lead to endocrine diseases.