Hormones are chemicals navigating our body through blood vessels, carrying key messages that are essential for our whole functioning, for example, our metabolism, sleep and mood. But who coordinates those chemicals in our organs and the key messages they carry around? Or better to say what! It’s a small pea-sized ball in the deep middle of our brain that is responsible for regulating a great part of the activities happening in our body daily through hormones: that’s the pituitary gland.
The pituitary gland (also known as hypophysis) is situated in the base of our brain, below the hypothalamus, which is the deep core of our brain. This regulates our body temperature, our appetite, sleep cycle, mood and sexual activity.
The pituitary gland has a key role in this. It not only produces some of the most important hormones in our body, but also controls the production of other hormones from other organs. We can tell that the pituitary gland represents one of the key bridges between brain activity and the whole body functioning.
What does the pituitary gland do for us?
Response to stress. When we are under stress, the pituitary gland produces the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates our adrenal glands (at the top of our kidneys) to produce cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”. Cortisol is responsible for our response to stress, triggering our fight flight or freeze mode, controlling our metabolism, blood pressure and sugar levels, and regulating our inflammatory responses. Cortisol is more commonly heard of, but it takes it’s orders from the brains through the release of ACTH.
Regulation of sexual functioning. The pituitary gland produces the gonadotropic hormones, which control the function of the ovaries and the testes. These include the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), responsible for the production of sperm in males and estrogens in females, and the luteinizing hormone (LH), responsible for ovulation in females and the production of testosterone in males. It also produces prolactin, responsible for breast milk production after pregnancy and other sexual functions, and it releases oxytocin produced by the hypothalamus, with reproductive functions. So the pituitary gland regulates our sexual development and drive.
Regulation of metabolism. Our metabolism is the set of chemical processes in the body responsible for our living functions, including growth, digestion and energy production. The pituitary gland controls this through the growth hormone (GH), responsible for child development and for maintenance of muscles, fats and bones in adults, and with the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which regulates the activity of our thyroid, another key gland sitting in our neck responsible for our metabolism. The pituitary gland also releases the Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) produced by the hypothalamus, which regulates water and salt levels in the body.
The activity of the pituitary gland and its hormones also has a large influence on our mental wellbeing. Mood, stress and energy levels are all affected by our hormones. This becomes much more evident for those having pituitary disorders and hormone dysfunctions, reporting stress, anxiety, mood swings, depressive symptoms, low energy, eating disorders and low self-control.
Protecting the Pituitary: To ensure this precious gland operates at its best, there are just some simple things in our daily life to maintain it in good shape (no surprises here): maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, avoiding to exceed in both sugars and fats; exercising regularly, with no excessive intensity; getting enough sleep every night; avoiding too much distress. Our usual recipe for wellbeing!