Understanding the Endocrine System

WITHIN THE HOUSE - Defining Endocrine

The key that unlocks understanding the human endocrine system is to dispel the mystery about what the word “endocrine” means. The prefix “ENDO-” stems from the Greek “endon,” meaning “within,” which itself has deeper roots in “EN-,” meaning “in,” and the Latin “domus,” meaning “house.” Thus, one could say ENDO- means “within the house,” or “inner.”

“-Crine” is derived from the German “krinein,” meaning “to separate;” also from the Latin “cernere” meaning the same thing. This sense of separation, however, is the notion of discerning a moment that portends a good or a bad outcome. (For example, when a fever breaks, and its victim either will recover or get worse. From that discernment, correctly termed a “crisis,” “-crine” takes its roots.) 

Thus, endocrine gathers these separate notions into one term meaning “inner separation of functions and effects (discerned by body glands).” 

What does this all have to do with understanding the human endocrine system? 

The Endocrine System

The endocrine system inside of a human body uses various glands and their secretions to separate (discern) what goes where and when regarding bodily fluids and nutrients looking for a home inside of cells that will utilize them to maintain (or repair) the integrity of the body’s health.

In other words, the endocrine system is a bit like a traffic cop or traffic light at various intersections, assisting the ongoing flow of particles to and from the cells in order to avoid accidents which would disrupt the overall survival of the body. The system’s mission is to keep the flow going and coming, which keeps the body healthy. It would be a bad thing to mess with such a wonderful set-up.

“If you put that straight jacket on me, I am going to pull your endocrine system out of your body.” 

  Gary Busey, American Actor and Humorist 

Components of the Endocrine System

The endocrine system consists of glands that secrete through ducts liquids known as hormones (from Greek “hormon,” meaning “to stimulate, excite”). These secretions go directly into the bloodstream for transport to distant organs. The major endocrine glands include the:

  1. pineal gland,

  2. pituitary gland,

  3. pancreas,

  4. ovaries,

  5. testes,

  6. thyroid gland,

  7. parathyroid gland,

  8. hypothalamus,

  9. gastrointestinal tract, and

  10. adrenal glands.

A neighboring system consists of the sweat glands, salivary glands, mammary glands, and liver, which secrete a different set of hormones.

The endocrine system signals other body organs, like the way the nervous system functions, yet its effects and method differ. The desired effects initiate slowly and are prolonged in their response, lasting from a few hours up to weeks, while the nervous system responds quickly, but its effects are short-lived. In the human body and other vertebrates, the hypothalamus gland controls the nerves of the endocrine system.

Endocrine glands are essentially ductless, meaning they secrete directly into blood surrounding them, unlike, for example, bile which is secreted outward. Endocrine structures can store hormones for use on demand, differing from the salivary and sweat glands, among other glands within the gastrointestinal tract, which have ducts for secretions. In addition to those specialized endocrine organs, other organs that are part of other body systems, such as the liver, heart and gonads, have similar, though secondary, glandular functions. (For example, the kidneys.)

One of the remarkably impressive features of the endocrine system is the intelligent ability of its glands to signal each other in sequence, a bit like the timing sequence of spark-plugs in an internal combustion engine – not a bad analogy for this body system’s functions, only smarter.

Best of all, endocrine system hormones are capable of effecting their functions even after travel over long distances. (You may recall that in another post in this blog series we covered the considerable length and surface area of the digestive system, as well as the billions of functions of the circulatory system.)

There is an added functionality of the endocrine system glands that makes its presence an important factor regarding calcium which, of course, plays such a major part in the body’s overall health. For now, here is a poster showing some of that relationship:

Another amazing system of health of the human body is further discussed in the next post of the series, the Immune System. And, of course, the earlier posts cover other systems.

© 2014 by Ron Kule and Desiree Lotz. All Rights Reserved.


DISCLAIMER: As always, the information provided here, and the links to other information, are intended to inform our readers on an educational level. We are not doctors and we do not diagnose conditions of wellness or illness. We recommend that you consult with a licensed, knowledgeable physician or professional regarding your health.

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