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What is the Endocrine System?
Endocrine comes from two Greek words: "endo" meaning within, and "crinis" meaning to secrete.The endocrine system is a collection of glands that produce hormones. Those hormones affect almost every organ and cell in the body. Some bodily functions which are are regulated by these hormones include:
- growth and development;
- tissue function;
- sexual function;
- sleep; and,
In general, this is how the endocrine system works:
- first, a gland removes the materials it needs from the blood;
- then, it processes those materials; and,
- finally, it secretes the finished product for use somewhere else in the body.
Although hormones circulate throughout the body, each type of hormone is intended for specific organs and tissues.
What are the parts of the Endocrine System
The system includes the following parts:
- pituitary gland;
- thyroid gland;
- parathyroid glands;
- adrenal glands;
- pancreas; and,
- ovaries (in females) and testicles (in males).
The kidney, liver, heart, and gonads also sometimes assist the endocrine system.
Diseases or Disorders of the Endocrine System
Problems arise in the Endocrine system when:
- hormone levels go too high;
- hormone levels go too low; or,
- the body doesn't respond to the hormones appropriately.
Other things can also affect the endocrine system's functions:
- changes in the blood's fluid; or,
- changes in the electrolyte balance (see sidebar).
The most common endocrine diseases or disorders are:
- Diabetes: a condition in which the body does not properly process glucose, a simple sugar.
- Hormone Imbalances: Often a problem for women, who have a regular cyclic change of hormone levels, as well as during pregnancy and after menopause.
- Hypothyroidism: This occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone to meet the body’s needs.
- Thyroid Cancer: Cells in the thyroid begin to change, grow uncontrollably and eventually form a tumor.
- Hypoglycemia: Sometimes referred to as low blood sugar, hypoglycemia occurs when blood glucose drops below normal levels. 2
Exercise and the Endocrine System
For most people, exercise can boost the number of hormones circulating in the body and improve the function of the organs. There is some research to indicate that particularly vigorous exercise might improve endocrine function.
Here are ways that exercise might help to keep your endocrine system healthy:
Improves Metabolic Rate: Exercise — particularly heavy weightlifting — can stimulate hormones from your pituitary gland and your thyroid. Those particular hormones — testosterone and thyroxine — can speed up your metabolism. (See also: Metabolism: Making Sense of It)
Stabilizes Blood Sugar: Insulin regulates your blood sugar, but excessive insulin reduces your sensitivity to it. This can lead to diabetes. Research suggests that "exercise might increase your insulin sensitivity by reducing blood concentrations of insulin. Blood insulin levels begin decreasing after 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, and weight training might increase your sensitivity to insulin at rest 3."
Increases Blood Flow: Epinephrine is released during exercise, particularly during higher intensity exercise. Increased epinephrine will increase the amount of blood that your heart pumps and also enhance your ability to use your muscles. Thyroxine secretions during exercise increase the amount of blood in your body by about 30 percent, and these secretions might remain elevated for as much as five hours after exercise.
Improves Mood: The pituitary gland may produce a higher blood endorphin levels shortly after exercise begins. Endorphins block your sensitivity to pain, and can reduce tension or anxiety by inducing a sense of euphoria.
Once again, we find that exercise can help keep our bodies functioning and healthy.
- The Exocrine System: How it Works
- Metabolism, Calorie Intake, and False Promises: Getting Through the Dieting Maze
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.