What is the role of endocrine system?
The endocrine gland system is a collection of glands that produce hormones.These hormones regulate growth,metabolism,sexual function etc
How endocrine system impacts health?
The endocrine gland system has a profound influence on the health of human beings. The most important endocrine glands (the pineal, the pituitary and the hypothalamus) are located in the brain. The working of these glands is very crucial since unless they release their hormones in correct quantity, the other glands such as the thyroids, the adrenals, the pancreas and the male/female sex glands do not function properly. These gives rise to complex health issues such as hypertension, diabetes, Parkinsonism, Alzheimer disease and host other complex diseases
Types of glands in our body
There are two types of glands encountered in human anatomy. They are:
- Duct glands, also known as exocrine glands. These glands have ducts (canals) which limit area of their secretions. Examples are – tear glands, sweat glands, salivary glands.
- Ductless glands also known as endocrine glands. These glands release their secretions, called hormones, into the blood stream. The blood loaded with the hormone secreted by the gland is carried to the locations where these hormones carry out their action. Examples are – hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pancreas etc. .
Key functions of the glands
Figure shows the three glands in the brain. The glands have specific functions to perform. They are:
It is a pea sized gland which is considered the most important part of the endocrine system. It is often called master gland because it makes hormones that control several other glands. Production and secretions of pituitary hormones can be influenced by factors such as emotions, change of season, anxiety and many other environmental factors. Hypothalamus relays the information sensed by the brain (emotions, fear, anxiety etc) to pituitary through nerve cells from hypothalamus. The pituitary gland controls the working of other important glands in the body.
is a pea sized gland which is considered the most important part of the endocrine system. It is often called master gland because it makes hormones that control several other glands. Production and secretions of pituitary hormones can be influenced by factors such as emotions, change of season, anxiety and many other environmental factors. Hypothalamus relays the information sensed by the brain (emotions, fear, anxiety etc) to pituitary through nerve cells from hypothalamus. The pituitary gland controls the working of other important glands in the body.
Pituitary gland is divided into two parts
The two parts of Pituitary Gland
– The anterior lobe regulates activity of thyroid, adrenals and reproduction glands by secreting some hormones which play very important roles in human physiology. The anterior lobe also secretes growth hormone which stimulates growth of bones and body tissues. It plays an important role in body’s handling of nutrients and minerals. It secretes prolactin which activates milk glands in women who are breast feeding. Thytropin secreted by the anterior lobe stimulates thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones. The anterior lobe also secretes Corticotropin which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce its own hormones. Anterior lobe secretes endorphin chemicals that act on nervous system and reduce the feeling of pain. The anterior lobe also secrets some hormones that signal reproductive system to make sex hormones and controls ovulation/menstrual cycle in women
– The posterior lobe releases anti-diuretic hormone which controls balance of water in the body.
It is located in the front part of the lower neck, is shaped like a bow tie or butterfly.It produces thyroid hormones (thyroxin and tri-iodothyronine). These hormones control the rate at which cell burn fuels from food to produce energy.The production and release of thyroid hormones is controlled by thyrotropin which is secreted by pituitary gland.The more thyroid hormone there is in a person’s blood stream, faster chemical reactions occur in the body.Thyroid hormones help kids and teens develop strong bones. They also play a major role in the development of the brain and the nervous system.Attached to the thyroid are four tiny glands (functioning together), called parathyroid gland. They release parathyroid hormone. The parathyroid hormone regulates level of calcium in blood using calcitonin produced in thyroid.
Adrenal glands are two triangular glands one on top of each kidney. Each of the glands produces a set of hormones which have different functions.The outer part, called adrenal cortex, produces hormones called corticosteroids that influence or regulate salt and water balance in the body, body’s response to stress, metabolism, immune system and sexual development/function.The inner part, called adrenal medulla, produces hormones, catecholamine’s such as epinephrine (also called adrenalin). This hormone is responsible for increase in blood pressure and the heart rate when body experiences stress, fear/flight.
Gonads are the sex glands. These glands are the main source of sex hormones. In males, they are located in the scrotum. Male gonads or testes secrete hormones called androgens, the most important of which is testosterone. These hormones regulate body changes associated with sexual development, the growth spurt that occur during puberty. This is also associated with secondary characteristics such as deepening of voice, growth of facial and pubic hair, increased muscle growth and strength. Working with hormones from pituitary gland, testosterone also supports production of sperms.
Female gonads, ovaries, are located in pelvis. They produce eggs and secrete the female hormones, estrogens and progesterone. Estrogen is involved in development of female sexual features such as breast growth, accumulation of body fat around hips and thighs. Both are involved in pregnancy and regulation of menstrual cycle.
Pancreas produces two important hormones, insulin and glucagon. These hormones work together to maintain a steady level of glucose or sugar in the blood and keep the body supplied with fuel to produce and maintain stores of energy. It also activates various enzymes and co-enzymes which support the glycolysis reactions which generate the primary ATP energy bonds. Malfunction of this gland is associated with various very serious health issues in addition to diabetes.
The mysterical Pineal Gland
Pineal gland is the most mysterious gland whose function is not fully understood and is a subject of intense research at present. It is at the geometric center of the brain in a tiny cave behind and above the pituitary gland which lies a little behind the root of the nose. It is located directly behind the eyes, attached to third ventricle. The microscopic examination reveals that the pineal gland is divided into two fine hemispheres. This gland is activated by light and it controls various bio rhythms of the body. It works in harmony with hypothalamus gland which directs the body’s thirst, hunger, sexual desire and biological clock that determines our aging process.
Pineal Gland- the link between the physical and spiritual worlds
The Bhramari Pranayama is said to activate this gland and offers several spiritual powers including capability to be able to see things in higher dimensions.
Functioning of endocrine system
Endocrine glands secrete hormones. Once a hormone is secreted, it travels from the gland through blood stream to the cells, called target cells, designated to receive the message. Along the way to target cells, special proteins bind to the hormone. These proteins act as carriers that control the amount of hormone that is available to interact with and cause the desired effect on the target cell. This happens as target cells have receptors that latch onto only specific hormone. This in other words means that each hormone has its own receptors so that each hormone will communicate only with specific target cells that possess receptors for that hormone. When the hormone reaches its target cells, it locks onto the cells specific receptor. These hormone-receptor combinations give rise to chemical interaction within the cell internals to fulfill function of the cell. When hormone levels reach a certain normal level, further secretion is controlled by important body mechanisms. The body mechanisms maintain the level of hormone in the blood. The regulation of hormone secretion may involve the hormone itself or another substance in the blood related to the hormone.
As an example of above, if thyroid gland has secreted adequate amount of thyroid hormone into the blood, the pituitary gland senses the normal level of thyroid hormone in the blood stream and adjusts its release of thyrotropin (pituitary hormone) that stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormone. Thus high or low levels thyroid hormones are controlled or corrected by pituitary gland.
Another example is parathyroid hormone which increases the level of calcium in the blood. When the level of calcium in blood rises, the parathyroid glands sense this change and decrease their secretion of parathyroid hormones – a process which can be called a negative feedback system. It is thus need less to over emphasize the role of master glands in the brain. It must be remembered that the master glands in the brain receive life energy though breath directly.
Malfunctionings of the Endocrine System
At times, the things can go wrong. A few of them are:
- Too much secretion of hormone may be harmful. For example, too much secretion of growth hormone by pituitary gland can result in excessive growth – gigantic growth
- Too little secretion of growth hormone by pituitary gland may make the child abnormally short.
- Adrenal insufficiency caused by dysfunction of adrenal cortex and underproduction of adrenal corticosteroid hormone may cause excessive weakness despite healthy diet, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, dehydration and acute skin changes
- Excessive amount of glucocorticoid hormone or excessive intake of steroids for treatment of some acute diseases can cause very severe side effects such as obesity, muscle weakness, high BP, higher heart rate.
- Hyperthyroidism is due to excessive secretion of thyroid hormones. It can result in weight loss, nervousness, excessive sweating, increased HR,BP, protruding eyes, goiter
- Hypothyroidism is due to insufficient secretion of thyroid hormones can cause obesity, slow hr, constipation, acute sense of disease
The list can be very long indeed. But dealing with these conditions by drugs can prove inadequate and in many cases they are associated with severe side effects.
Endocrine system disorders can be due to deficiency in hormone generation or excessive generation of the hormone.
- External supply of lacking hormone to treat deficiency, in theory, is ok barring the side effects which, at times can be very serious.
- Suppression of hormone generation by antagonist drugs can also suppress generation of other important hormones which can produce severe symptoms. This is an extremely serious issue.
- It is well known that in many autoimmune disorders, the specific immune system cells and the antibodies destroy the cells of some of important glands. For example, in type 1 diabetes, the cells and the antibodies produced in the immune system attack and destroy the cells of pancreas which produces insulin. At present, in such cases external supply of insulin is inevitable.
- The research has shown that regular practice of Pranayama dramatically improves the working of the most important glands in the brain (hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal) which in turn improves the working of other glands in the body.
- The research has also shown that one of major benefits of Pranayama and Yogasanas is to greatly improve working of immune system. Thus in general, disorders of endocrine system can be cured by Pranayama and Yogasanas and no or very little hormone supplement or antagonist may be enough.
How Breath can make an impact on the Endocrine System
Effects of Bhastrika and Kapalbhati Pranayama
- Deeper and slow inhalation in Bhastrika will ensure higher air volume. This greatly improves O2 supply to blood. Forceful exhalation in Bhastrika ensures effective removal of CO2. It is possible to have breathing rate as low as 5-6 BPM or even less without any discomfort for 7-10 minutes of Bhastrika.
- Pressure on abdominal viscera from diaphragmatic motion during Kapalbhati as well as Bhastrika breathing also contributes to venous blood to return to heart with force. This gives tremendous benefit to heart as we shall see later. We can safely do Kapalbhati for 15-20 minutes or more if we maintain 60-70 strokes per minute rhythm in Kapalbhati Pranayama.
- The resulting oscillations/vibrations of the respiratory muscles, blood capillaries, and abdominal viscera are highly useful to the body and mind.
- Lower is the rate of breathing in Bhastrika, we experience total tranquility of the mind and the mental stress disappears. Kapalbhati done for 15 minutes or more also removes the stresses. This is evident from the fact that the exhalation is the activity controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system which triggers the relaxation of the mind.
- The master glands in the brain receive life energy through breath directly.
We shall discuss about obesity issues with present generation in our next post. A good understanding of endocrine glands is required since in many cases root cause of obesity can be malfunctioning of endocrine glands.