The Importance of the Pituitary Gland

Have you ever wondered what hormones are all about? No, it’s not really about women’s ‘unique trait of raging hormones’ during PMS each month. Both men and women need hormones equally for various biological functions.

Although one of the smallest organs in the body, it is also one of the most important. When you learn its functions, you will have a greater appreciation for this very small pea size weighing 0.5g (0.02oz) organ than before.

 

Often called the ‘master gland’, the pituitary gland is a hormone producing gland located underneath the base of your brain and behind the nose.

Your body needs the ‘master gland’ to take signals from your brain via the hypothalamus and processes these signals to produce related hormones for certain parts of your body. These signals also trigger other glands to produce their own hormone as well as regulate them at the adequate levels. If certain hormone gets too high or too low, the pituitary gland when functioning normally will respond and bring the hormones back to the normal level.

Types of hormones that are produced by pituitary gland include prolactin that triggers milk production as a woman nurses her baby. Prolactin also affects the sex hormones secreted by both ovaries and testes. Lutenizing hormones are also needed to regulate the sex hormones as well. Follicle-stimulating hormone is needed to stimulate sperm production in males and ovulation of eggs in females. This particular hormone also works together with lutenizing hormones to maintain a healthy function of the reproductive systems.

Growth hormones are also produced by pituitary gland and it’s particularly essential in development during our childhood phase as well as maintaining a healthy body composition such as bone, muscle mass, and fat distribution in the adult phase.

Believe it or not, we do need a ‘stress hormone’ called cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is important to maintain healthy levels of blood pressure and glucose levels. Hormones for stimulating our thyroid are highly essential as it’s needed to regulate metabolism, growth development, and nervous system.        `

Also known as vasopressin, the antidiuretic hormones work by regulating water balance in our body. Too much or too little of these hormones can affect our kidneys adversely such as diabetes insipidus (different than mellitus) that affects glucose levels.

There always lies a possibility of defects in pituitary gland or malfunctioning which often occurs due to the tumor that develops and exerts pressure to it, causing the ‘master gland’ to be in its most vulnerable state. These tumors are common among adults and it’s not really a cancerous form (which is in fact, quite rare to begin with). However, a formation of this tumor can impose serious impacts on normal functioning of the gland which in turn affect your body.

Too much hormone release is not good at all (also known as hypersecretion) as it creates an imbalance among other hormones. This can be witnessed during excess of prolactin hormone released while nursing and excess production of thyroid hormone which leads to the expansion of thyroid gland. A hyposecretion is also possible when the pituitary gland is unable to give signals for necessary hormone production which can cause health issues such as vision problems, headaches, malnutrition and fluctuating blood pressure.

In summary hormones secreted from the pituitary gland help control the following body processes:

  • Growth (Excess of HGH can lead to gigantism and acromegaly.)
  • Blood pressure
  • Some aspects of pregnancy and childbirth including stimulation of uterine contractions  during childbirth
  • Breast milk production
  • Sex organ functions in both males and females
  • Thyroid gland function
  • The conversion of food into energy (metabolism)
  • Water and osmolarity regulation in the body
  • Water balance via the control of reabsorption of water by the kidneys
  • Temperature regulation
  • Pain relief

By Liya Das

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