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What is the Exocrine System?
The Exocrine System is a system of glands that produce and secrete substances that may either protect or lubricate the body.
Examples of exocrine glands include:
- sweat: secretes sweat and is located in the dermis of the skin;
- salivary: discharges a fluid secretion into the mouth cavity;
- mammary: the milk-producing gland of women;
- prostate: the semen-producing gland of men;
- gastric: produces acids in the stomach to help with digestion;
- bile-producing glands of the liver;
- ceruminous: a special kind of sweat gland;
- lacrimal: secretes tears;
- sebaceous: a small gland in the skin which secretes an oily substance to lubricate the skin and hair; and
- mucous: a slimy substance used for lubrication and protection.
These glands travel through ducts. They usually deposit their substances onto epithelial surfaces which line the cavities and surfaces of blood vessels and organs throughout the body. They are in three distinct shapes:
- squamous (very thin and flat);
- columnar (like a column); and,
- cuboidal (many sides).
How does the Exocrine System work?
As mentioned above, exocrine gland secretions lead ultimately to the exterior of the body, so the inner surface of the glands and the ducts that drain them are similar to the skin.
Although this collection of glands is considered a system, they do not work together in the way that the parts of the digestive system or the respiratory system work. Instead, they work independently, each with their own job to do and responding to the body's needs at any particular time.
Diseases and Disorders of the Exocrine System
Many conditions can affect the exocrine system including infections, an ulcer, cancer, tumors, some kind of obstruction, genetic conditions, and cysts.
The exocrine system and the endocrine system are closely linked and so some of the disorders seen in the endocrine system are also seen in the exocrine system. (See also: The Endocrine System: How it works.
Some disorders of the exocrine system include:
- Acromegaly: Too much growth hormone is produced in adults, causing an enlargement of bones and thickened skin. This is very rare.
- Addisons Disease: The adrenal gland fails to produce enough corticosteroids.
- Cretinism: An extreme form of hypothyroidism present prior to or soon after birth.
- Cushing's Disease: An over-production of cortisol.
- Dwarfism: Too little growth hormone produced during childhood.
- Gigantism: Too much growth hormone produced during childhood.
- Goiter: An enlargement of the thyroid gland, causing a swelling in the neck.
- Hyperthyroidism: A disorder in which an overactive thyroid produces too much thyroxine.
- Hypothyroidism: A disorder in which an underactive thyroid produces too little thyroxine.
- Cystic Fibrosis: This hereditary disorder causes the production of abnormally thick mucus which leads to the blockage of the pancreatic ducts, intestines, and bronchi. Respiratory infections are common.
- Diabetes: see The Endocrine System: How it works and Exercise and Diabetes.
Can Exercise Assist the Exocrine System?
It is, of course, important to monitor your own health and seek treatment if a disorder develops. It is also possible to take preventive measures to protect the exocrine system.
Research continues to suggest that all systems of the body respond well to a healthy diet and regular exercise: the exocrine system is no exception.
Stress can be an exacerbating factor in almost any disease or disorder, and this is true for the exocrine system as well. Alleviating stress, then, is always good for your body.
One of the main functions of some glands is to secrete hormones which will help the body respond to stressful situations; however, that is intended to be short-term. When stress lasts longer than a few hours, higher energy demands are placed on the body. More hormones are then secreted to meet those demands, but at a price. They tend to weaken the body's defenses, leaving the body open to infection.
Combining exercise with proper amounts of sleep, relaxation techniques, and positive thinking will help reduce stress and keep hormone levels balanced.
- The Endocrine System: How it works
- Exercise and Diabetes
- 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.
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