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How Does the Endocrine System Affect Reproductive Development?

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The Endocrine System, however, consists of seven separate glands. There is no central system organ and no easily identifiable connecting pathways among the glands

In fact, the job of the endocrine glands is more to interact with the body as a whole and to regulate body-wide functions than it is for the glands to interact with or coordinate any kind of predominant endocrine activity with each other. This is different from the activity of the urinary, nervous, respiratory or circulatory system organs and functions.

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The endocrine system produces hormones that function to control and regulate many different body processes. The endocrine system coordinates with the nervous system to control the functions of the other organ systems. Cells of the endocrine system produce molecular signals called hormones. These cells may compose endocrine glands, may be tissues or may be located in organs or tissues that have functions in addition to hormone production. Hormones circulate throughout the body and stimulate a response in cells that have receptors able to bind with them. The changes brought about in the receiving cells affect the functioning of the organ system to which they belong. Many of the hormones are secreted in response to signals from the nervous system, thus the two systems act in concert to effect changes in the body. Maintaining homeostasis within the body requires the coordination of many different systems and organs. One mechanism of communication between neighboring cells, and between cells and tissues in distant parts of the body, occurs through the release of chemicals called hormones. Hormones are released into body fluids, usually blood, which carries them to their target cells where they elicit a response. The cells that secrete hormones are often located in specific organs, called endocrine glands, and the cells, tissues, and organs that secrete hormones make up the endocrine system. Examples of endocrine organs include the pancreas, which produces the hormones insulin and glucagon to regulate blood-glucose levels, the adrenal glands, which produce hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine that regulate responses to stress, and the thyroid gland, which produces thyroid hormones that regulate metabolic rates. The endocrine glands differ from the exocrine glands. Exocrine glands secrete chemicals through ducts that lead outside the gland (not to the blood)

For example, sweat produced by sweat glands is released into ducts that carry sweat to the surface of the skin. The pancreas has both endocrine and exocrine functions because besides releasing hormones into the blood. It also produces digestive juices, which are carried by ducts into the small intestine. An endocrinologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating endocrine disorders. An endocrine surgeon specializes in the surgical treatment of endocrine diseases and glands. Some of the diseases that are managed by endocrinologists include disorders of the pancreas (diabetes mellitus), disorders of the pituitary (gigantism, acromegaly, and pituitary dwarfism), disorders of the thyroid gland (goiter and Graves’ disease), and disorders of the adrenal glands (Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease).

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A plethora of hormones regulate many of the body’s functions, including growth and development, metabolism, electrolyte balances, and reproduction. Numerous glands throughout the body produce hormones (Gavaler JS, Van Thiel DH., 1992). The hypothalamus produces several releasing and inhibiting hormones that act on the pituitary gland, stimulating the release of pituitary hormones. Of the pituitary hormones, several act on other glands located in various regions of the body, whereas other pituitary hormones directly affect their target organs. Other hormone-producing glands throughout the body include the adrenal glands, which primarily produce cortisol; the gonads (i.e., ovaries and testes), which produce sex hormones; the thyroid, which produces thyroid hormone; the parathyroid, which produces parathyroid hormone; and the pancreas, which produces insulin and glucagon. Many of these hormones are part of regulatory hormonal cascades involving a hypothalamic hormone, one or more pituitary hormones, and one or more target gland hormones. Generally speaking, hormones control the growth, development, and metabolism of the body; the electrolyte composition of bodily fluids; and reproduction. This article provides an overview of the hormone systems involved in those regulatory processes. The article first summarizes some of the basic characteristics of hormone-mediated communication within the body, then reviews the various glands involved in those processes and the major hormones they produce. For more in-depth information on those hormones, the reader should consult endocrinology textbooks (e.g., Constanti et al. 1998; Wilson et al. 1998). Finally, the article presents various endocrine systems in which hormones produced in several organs cooperate to achieve the desired regulatory effects. The discussions focus primarily on the system responses in normal, healthy people ( A, Bartke A, 1998). For information regarding alcohol’s effects on some of the hormone systems, the reader is referred to subsequent articles in this issue of Alcohol Health & Research World.

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All in all, the male and female reproductive cycles are controlled by hormones released from the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary as well as hormones from reproductive tissues and organs

The hypothalamus monitors the need for the FSH and LH hormones made and released from the anterior pituitary. FSH and LH affect reproductive structures to cause the formation of sperm and the preparation of eggs for release and possible fertilization. In the male, FSH and LH stimulate Sertoli cells and interstitial cells of Leydig in the testes to facilitate sperm production. The Leydig cells produce testosterone, which also is responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics of males. In females, FSH and LH cause estrogen and progesterone to be produced. They regulate the female reproductive system which is divided into the ovarian cycle and the menstrual cycle. Menopause occurs when the ovaries lose their sensitivity to FSH and LH and the female reproductive cycles slow to a stop.

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Constanti A, Bartke A, Khardori R. Basic Endocrinology for Students of Pharmacy and Allied Clinical Health Sciences. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers; 1998.

Wilson JD, Foster DW, Kronenberg HM, Larsen PR, editors. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders; 1998.

Gavaler JS, Van Thiel DH. The association between moderate alcoholic beverage consumption and serum estradiol and testosterone levels in normal postmenopausal women: Relationship to the literature. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 1992

Purohit V. Moderate alcohol consumption and estrogen levels in postmenopausal women: A review. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 1998

Reichman ME, Judd JT, Longcope C, Schatzkin A, Clevidence BA, Nair PP, Campbell WS, Taylor PR. Effects of alcohol consumption on plasma and urinary hormone concentrations in premenopausal women. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 1993

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