What are the major endocrine glands?

There are five main endocrine glands, the hypothalamus, the pituitary, thyroid and parathyroid, the adrenals, and the pineal.

Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus is situated in the brain, at the base of the optic chiasm and is attached to the pituitary via a stalk-like structure. It acts as a collecting centre for information concerned with the internal well-being of the body and uses much of this information to regulate the secretion of the hormones produced by the pituitary.

Pituitary: The pituitary gland is an important gland and it is often referred to as the ‘master gland’, because it controls several of the other hormone glands. It is usually about the size of a pea and is situated in a bony hollow beneath the base of the brain and just behind the bridge of your nose. The gland consists of two parts (often called lobes) each of which has different functions. The pituitary gland is also sometimes called the Hypophysis.

Thyroid and Parathyroid: The thyroid gland is situated in the front part of the neck, near the windpipe. Embedded in the rear surface of this gland are four parathyroid glands. The thyroid gland controls many body functions, including heart rate, temperature and metabolism. Both these glands play a role in the metabolism of calcium in the body.

Adrenals: The adrenal glands (each of which weighs about 4 grams and is about the size of your thumb) are situated just above the kidneys and consist of two parts, the adrenal medulla and the adrenal cortex. These glands produce hormones which are essential for life and help us cope with stress.

Pineal: The pineal gland is a tiny body located at the base of the brain. It produces the hormone melatonin.

Other organs in the body containing endocrine tissue

Kidneys: The kidneys are situated near the middle of the back, just below the rib cage. These glands control the blood fluid and mineral levels within the body by processing the blood to remove waste products and any excess fluid.

Ovaries: The ovaries are situated either side of the uterus. In addition to containing the egg cells necessary for reproduction, they produce the hormones Oestrogen and Progesterone which are necessary for menstruation and producing the other female sexual characteristics.

Testes: The testes are situated in a pouch that hangs outside the male body. They produce the hormones necessary for the production of sperm and the other male sexual characteristics.

Pancreas: In addition to its digestive functions, cells in the pancreas regulate the blood sugar that provides the body with energy.