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get to know your pituitary gland

Get to Know Your Pituitary Gland

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November 17, 2020 | Published by


Now that we’ve discussed the hypothalamus, let’s move on to the pituitary gland. The pituitary is also quite small (about the size of a pea) but controls most of the glands in the endocrine system, earning the nickname “the master gland.” How can something so small be so powerful? Let’s find out!

Location of the Pituitary

The pituitary gland is housed in the sella turcica (Turkish saddle), a bony hollow in the base of the skull located underneath the brain and behind the bridge of the nose. There are two main parts of this gland: the anterior pituitary and posterior pituitary. As we mentioned in the previous blog, the pituitary is attached to the hypothalamus, its neighbor and work partner. While the anterior pituitary is connected to the brain by blood vessels, the posterior pituitary is actually part of the brain, as it releases hormones into the bloodstream under direction from the brain.1

Functions of the Pituitary

This ‘master gland’ acts as a director of hormones, sending signals to different glands throughout the body to regulate function and maintain homeostasis. The pituitary releases different hormones in the bloodstream. These hormones relay information to distant cells, regulating their activity. One example of this is prolactin, a hormone which interacts with the breasts to induce milk production. The adrenal glands, thyroid, ovaries, and testes are other glands that take direction from the pituitary. The hormones released by the pituitary help control metabolism, growth, sexual maturation, reproduction, blood pressure, and many other important bodily functions and processes.1

Along with it’s partner the hypothalamus, the pituitary controls the involuntary nervous system. This side of the nervous system manages the balance of energy, heat and water in the body. This includes functions as diverse as body temperature, heartbeat, urination, sleep, hunger and thirst.3

Hormones of the Pituitary

The two main parts of the pituitary, anterior and posterior, release different sets of hormones which different functions. Let’s take a look at the hormones produced by the anterior pituitary first. There are 6 main hormones produced in this region, which are:

  • Growth hormone – helps moderate the body’s growth and physical development and has important effects on body shape by stimulating muscle formation and reducing fat tissue2
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone – sends signals to the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones like T3 and T42
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone – also known as corticotropin, this hormone stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and other hormones2
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone (the gonadotropins) – triggers the testes to produce sperm, the ovaries to produce eggs, and the sex organs to produce sex hormones ( testosterone and estrogen)2
  • Prolactin – stimulates the mammary glands to produce milk2

The anterior lobe produces several other hormones as well, including one that causes the skin to darken (beta-melanocyte–stimulating hormone) and ones that inhibit pain sensations (enkephalins and endorphins) and help control the immune system (endorphins).2

Now let’s talk about the posterior lobe, which produces two hormones.

  • Vasopressin – also known as the antidiuretic hormone, this hormone helps maintain water levels and hydration by regulating the amount of water excreted by the kidneys2
  • Oxytocin – controls many vital behaviors and emotions, such as trust, recognition, sexual arousal, and maternal behavior. Oxytocin also plays a part in some reproductive functions, such as lactation and childbirth2

Tips to Support the Pituitary

Like the hypothalamus, there are things you can do and avoid to help support the health of your pituitary gland. These tips won’t prevent genetic predispositions or pituitary conditions from developing, but they can certainly contribute to the overall health of the pituitary and body in general.

Eat a balanced, healthy diet

As you know well by now, a balanced healthy diet is good for overall health. However, it’s also important for hormone health and production as well.  For example, malnourished children are at a risk of not producing enough growth hormone to meet growth goals for their age group. General tips for healthy eating include:4

  • eating adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, which are great sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients
  • choosing healthy sources of fats, especially those containing omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats
  • opting for whole grains over refined grains
  • reducing sodium intake
  • avoiding refined sugars and other carbohydrates
  • staying hydrated by drinking at least 4-6 glasses of water a day

Reduce and better manage stress

Chronic stress can lead to an increase in cortisol, which can sometimes lead to:4

  • insomnia
  • weight gain
  • anxiety
  • depression

Try setting aside some time to get at least 30 minutes per day of exercise or work on a relaxing hobby. We have more stress management tips available on our blog.

References:

  1. Pituitary Gland. You and Your Hormones. https://www.yourhormones.info/glands/pituitary-gland/
  2. Chapman, I. Overview of the Pituitary Gland. Merck Manual Consumer Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/hormonal-and-metabolic-disorders/pituitary-gland-disorders/overview-of-the-pituitary-gland#:~:text=The%20pituitary%2C%20a%20pea%2Dsized,often%20called%20the%20master%20gland
  3. How does the pituitary gland work? NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279389/
  4. Seladi-Schulman, J. Pituitary Gland Overview. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/human-body-maps/pituitary-gland

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