Pituitary Gland Function
by Benjamin Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert
Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.
The pituitary gland may be small, but it plays a crucial role in regulating hormones and controlling various bodily functions.
Located at the base of the brain, this tiny gland is often referred to as the "master gland" because it produces and releases hormones that control other glands in the body.
From growth and development to metabolism and reproduction, the pituitary gland has a significant impact on our overall health and well-being.
Despite its importance, many people are unaware of the role this gland plays in our bodies. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the pituitary gland and explore how it works to keep our hormones in balance.
So, whether you're interested in learning more about your body's inner workings or simply curious about the pituitary gland, read on to discover the fascinating world of this master hormone regulator.
Anatomy and Location of the Pituitary Gland
The pituitary gland is approximately the size of a pea and located at the base of your brain behind your nose.
Furthermore, its hormones have a significant impact on growth and fertility control - including its thyroid counterpart - along with growth control itself and prolactinoma development.
If its size becomes excessive, however, other structures such as your optic chiasm could become affected and cause visual changes, an essential communication link between eyes and brain!
Anatomy and Location of the Pituitary Gland
The human pituitary gland is comprised of two separate structures connected by tissue connections: its front-facing portion is known as anterior pituitary (adenohypophysis) while its backward facing part (neurohypophysis).
Each has different embryonic origins and functions. Each part also produces specific cell types and hormones unique to itself.
Your pituitary gland is protected by a bony structure at the base of your skull called sella turcica, providing protection but leaving little room for expansion.
Your pituitary is connected to your hypothalamus via blood vessels and nerves and receives signals from there about what hormones to release when and for how long.
Your hypothalamus also secretes hormones which instruct your anterior pituitary lobe what and when to produce while also producing an oxytocin-antidiuretic hormone which it sends directly into posterior pituitary lobe which then releases them into bloodstream.
Hormones released by the anterior pituitary lobe are responsible for controlling virtually all other endocrine glands, such as your adrenal and thyroid glands, including growth, blood pressure, energy management, all functions of sexual organs as well as water/salt concentration at kidneys as well as temperature regulation.
Hormones Produced by the Pituitary Gland
- Growth Hormone (GH): Stimulates growth and development in children and adolescents, and helps maintain muscle and bone mass in adults.
- Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH): Stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism.
- Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH): Stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, which helps regulate metabolism and stress response.
- Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH): Stimulate the production of sex hormones in men and women.
- Prolactin: Stimulates milk production in lactating women.
What are hormones?
Hormones produced by your pituitary gland are natural chemicals primarily distributed through your bloodstream that regulate numerous bodily functions and processes.
Your body naturally creates and secretes these hormones throughout each day to transmit messages between different parts of the body.
They make up part of your endocrine system - also including thyroid and adrenal glands - but the pituitary gland, commonly referred to as the "master gland," usually measures approximately one pea-size and sits in an osteoid structure (sella turcica) at the base of your brain where it produces various hormones while controlling other endocrine glands.
The pituitary gland can be divided into two distinct sections, known as the anterior pituitary gland and posterior pituitary gland.
The anterior pituitary gland connects directly with the hypothalamus through an infundibulum of blood vessels and nerves known as its pituitary stalk or infundibulum and produces six hormones: growth hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), prolactin and leutinizing hormone (LH).
As with other protein hormones, those produced in the anterior pituitary gland begin as large inactive precursor proteins that contain one or two long chains of amino acids that can then be broken apart into individual hormones and neurosecretory granules for release into blood circulation.
Each hormone produced by the anterior pituitary gland has a specific impact on another gland or cell in your body.
They're controlled in part by feedback loops that detect other hormones like growth hormone and adrenocorticotropic and determine how much stimulation to give target glands and cells.
Adrenocorticotropic and luteinizing hormones play an essential role in reproduction.
These hormones stimulate ovaries to produce eggs and sperm necessary for sexual reproduction as well as initiate ovulation in women and stimulate sperm production in men.
Furthermore, other reproductive hormones, FSH and LH, work by stimulating their own ovaries into development while aiding egg development before helping initiate ovulation and stimulating estrogen release that is required for normal reproductive functioning in females.
Hormones released by the anterior pituitary gland can have profound impacts on metabolic rates, blood pressure and energy consumption management, sexual function and fertility, growth and development processes and many other bodily systems.
Sometimes the pituitary gland can produce too little or too much of one or more hormones; leading to conditions like growth hormone deficiency, central diabetes insipidus, low sex drive or high blood pressure; tumors can alter production leading to weight gain, vision changes or headaches.
The Role of the Pituitary Gland in the Endocrine System
A healthy body is maintained through a network of chemical messengers called hormones.
Hormones govern everything from growth and reproduction, through sensations like hunger and thirst, all the way down to hunger and thirst sensations.
At the base of the brain lies the pituitary gland - about the size of a pea and often called the "master gland", due to its control of other important endocrine glands including thyroid and adrenal glands - producing several essential hormones which then enter bloodstream via receptors for delivery elsewhere in body organs and tissues via receptors for delivery.
Receptors on target cells recognize signals sent by hormones, and respond in kind - helping the body maintain homeostasis (a state of relative equilibrium which ensures normal body functioning).
Hormones released from the pituitary gland influence metabolic rate, growth and sexual maturation processes, blood pressure regulation and other essential bodily processes.
Negative feedback loops play a pivotal role in regulating pituitary hormone secretion by decreasing production of certain hormones - for instance thyrotropin inhibits TSH production - as part of their regulation system.
Other positive and negative feedback mechanisms also exist which allow the pituitary gland to quickly adapt to changing environments.
While anterior pituitaries contain hormone-producing epithelial cells that produce hormones while posterior pituitaries contain unmyelinated nerve fibers from hypothalamus.
Each lobe of the pituitary gland produces different hormones. For instance, its anterior pituitary gland - or adenohypophysis - produces adrenocorticotrophic hormone, growth hormone and prolactin production, among others. It's controlled by neural connections running down its pituitary stalk.
The hypothalamus, an array of nerve cell bodies located at the center of your brain, connects directly with each lobe of the pituitary gland through what's known as the neurohypophyseal system.
This system coordinates a wide array of physiological processes, such as sleep patterns, body temperature regulation and fluid balance.
Additionally, it regulates circadian rhythm - or the daily pattern of activity and rest. As one example, the hypothalamus sends signals through the pituitary stalk that stimulate growth hormone release during adolescence and adulthood while inhibiting it during pregnancy and lactation.
The hypothalamus provides signals that regulate fluid balance within the body through kidneys and regulate blood pressure through arteries, sending messages through its system of nuclei and nerve fibers.
The posterior pituitary (neurohypophysis) is connected to regions of the brain responsible for controlling osmolality (solute concentrations) and thirst.
These regions receive input via axons from two large clusters of nuclei located within the hypothalamus that serve as input.
Disorders of the Pituitary Gland - Hypopituitarism and Hyperpituitarism
Situated at the base of the brain, this small pea-sized gland may become compromised over time causing symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, weakness, feeling cold or menstrual cycle issues as well as unexpected weight gains or losses.
Such disorders may develop suddenly after surgery or injury or more commonly over months or even years.
Hypopituitarism refers to an absence of one or more pituitary hormones. Depending on which hormone(s) are deficient, symptoms may include fatigue, infertility, reduced libido, poor memory recall or depression and difficulty with concentration - often times these hormonal deficiencies can be addressed using medication.
At times, the pituitary gland may become overactive or produce excess of certain hormones - this condition is known as hyperpituitarism and most likely results from tumor pressure affecting hormone production, or excess cerebrospinal fluid filling the area around the pituitary gland and compressing it causing overproduction of certain hormones while underproduction of others.
Pituitary tumors are often noncancerous growths called adenomas and may come in two sizes: microadenomas (less than 10mm in size) or macroadenomas, the latter usually larger.
Adenomas produce prolactin, growth hormone, thyrotropin and antidiuretic hormone - all hormones with significant health implications that may need to be produced from within their cell mass.
Pituitary adenomas may produce too much corticotropin-releasing hormone, or ACTH. ACTH stimulates the pituitary gland to release cortisol which regulates blood pressure but may cause Cushing's syndrome in certain people.
Some pituitary adenomas secrete somatostatin which controls insulin amounts while others may release gonadotropins which regulate the reproductive organs for both men and women.
These abnormalities are typically identified through a combination of laboratory tests, imaging scans and physical exams.
Depending on the nature of your disorder, testing methods may include hormone stimulation tests to measure hormone levels in your body and brain imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Researchers use imaging tests to detect pituitary tumors and help doctors decide the most effective course of treatment.
Sometimes medications can help shrink large tumors; other times they may help regulate hormone production or replace any missing hormones.
Prevent or treat side effects associated with these conditions with various medications, including diabetes, high blood pressure and headaches.
To learn more about pituitary diseases specifically, it is best to seek professional guidance from an endocrinologist specialized in pituitary disease.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Pituitary Gland Disorders
The pituitary gland secretes hormones that influence multiple organs and body systems. When cancerous tumors arise in this gland, their production may become disrupted causing symptoms and sometimes serious consequences.
Pituitary disorders often display similar symptoms to those seen with other health problems, making diagnosis challenging.
Your physician will use visual examinations, blood tests and imaging studies such as MRI to pinpoint what may be causing your symptoms.
Because the pituitary gland lies close to the brain, if your symptoms could be related to an endocrine system disorder your physician may refer you for further evaluation by neurosurgeon.
Your doctor will usually begin by measuring the levels of pituitary hormones in your blood.
A tumor producing excess growth hormone could increase levels of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone in your system.
This could potentially lead to polyglandular deficiency syndrome - in which multiple hormones simultaneously decline - requiring treatment.
An excessively large tumor may press upon the pituitary and prevent production of antidiuretic hormone (commonly referred to as vasopressin or ADH).
This lack of ADH could result in diabetes insipidus, leading to excessive water loss through urine production causing frequent urination and thirstiness; your doctor will measure hormone levels in urine samples in order to diagnose this condition.
If your symptoms are being caused by a pituitary tumor, surgical removal may provide immediate relief and alleviate pressure on optic nerves or other parts of the brain.
Medication may also help control some pituitary tumors; cabergoline works by mimicking dopamine levels within your body to shrink prolactinomas.
These abnormally high prolactin levels are thought to contribute to male infertility as well as female.
Your surgeon may employ transphenoidal surgery as an approach to reach the pituitary gland directly.
If a tumor cannot be completely removed through surgery, radiation therapy can help kill off remaining tumor cells and stop further growth.
Bromocriptine and cabergoline medicines may help lower or stabilize hormone levels to restore fertility for women with high prolactin levels and reverse acromegaly in men.
Medication may help relieve or manage symptoms for some types of pituitary tumors.
- - Fatigue
- - Weakness
- - Weight loss or gain
- - Headaches
- - Vision problems
- - Decreased sex drive
- - Infertility
- - Enlarged hands, feet, or facial features
To diagnose a pituitary gland disorder, your doctor may perform a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan.
Treatment Options for Pituitary Gland Disorders
Most pituitary tumors do not produce symptoms and do not require medical intervention, while others can cause signs and symptoms like loss of vision or headaches, as well as affect hormone production, leading to problems in body growth or development.
Such tumors usually belong to a condition known as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1).
If you have symptoms that seem abnormal, seeing your doctor can be the key to discovering their source.
Your physician might recommend tests for pituitary tumors; such as 24-hour urine tests to measure levels of certain substances - high levels of ACTH can indicate Cushing disease caused by pituitary tumors that produce too much ACTH.
Another common test is an MRI scan which uses magnetism and computer-generated radio waves to capture images of brains and organs.
Doctors typically treat pituitary tumors by surgical removal or prescribing medications to stop them from producing too many hormones.
For prolactinoma patients, cabergoline, which acts as a dopamine agonist drug that shrinks prolactin-producing tumors and restores normal hormone levels may be prescribed as treatment.
Some pituitary tumors may be treated with radiation therapy. This process entails placing you in a rigid head frame and aiming a radiation beam directly at the tumor through your skull or nose.
Alternatively, your doctor might use drugs injected directly into your cerebrospinal fluid or into organ cavities such as your abdomen - this form of chemotherapy treatment is known as regional chemotherapy.
- Medications to replace or suppress hormone production
- Surgery to remove tumors or other growths
- Radiation therapy to shrink tumors
- Hormone replacement therapy
Lifestyle Changes to Support Pituitary Gland Health
Lifestyle Changes to Promote Pituitary Gland Health Doctors suggest making lifestyle adjustments that support pituitary gland health by including diets rich in proteins and fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, B1, and B12 as these may all help strengthen its functions while decreasing inflammation.
If you have a pituitary tumor, you will most likely need to visit both an endocrinologist--a physician specializing in glands and hormones--and a neurosurgeon, who specialize in brain, head, and central nervous system operations.
Furthermore, you may be referred to an ophthalmologist, who treats diseases of the eyes. Based on your symptoms and desired treatments, a personalized plan including standard therapies as well as clinical trials may need to be devised.
To maintain the health of your pituitary gland, it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Pituitary Gland Health Supplements and Foods
The pituitary gland serves as the master gland in your body, secreting hormones that regulate other glands such as adrenal, thyroid and ovarian glands.
Low pituitary hormone levels can negatively impact areas such as energy, vision, mood and growth - but you can encourage it by eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals to stimulate its release of more hormones from its gland.
Not only should a pituitary-healthy diet contain protein-rich foods, such as protein-rich meats and seafood.
A diet high in manganese will also stimulate your gland; beans, nuts, whole grains and leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and amaranth contain it as do nuts and whole grains containing manganese.
Vitamin C, B1 and B12 can all play important roles in supporting pituitary gland function and can be found in many fruits, vegetables as well as meats, fish eggs and dairy products.
Iron is also essential to the pituitary gland's health. A study published in "Biology of Reproduction" in August 2012 discovered that an insufficient intake interfered with normal puberty and reproductive health for women, which can be corrected by eating foods rich in iron such as red meat, fish and poultry.
If your pituitary gland isn't producing enough hormones, a doctor can prescribe medications to restore balance such as thyroid hormone pills, progesterone for early menopause women and testosterone gel, liquid or monthly pellet inserted under the skin for men who have decreased sex drive.
- - Vitamin D: Helps regulate hormone production and supports bone health.
- - Omega-3 fatty acids: May help reduce inflammation and support brain health.
- - Probiotics: May help support gut health, which plays a role in hormone regulation.
- Foods that may be beneficial for pituitary gland health include:
- - Dark, leafy greens: Rich in nutrients that support hormone production and brain health.
- - Berries: Rich in antioxidants that support brain health.
- - Nuts and seeds: Rich in healthy fats and nutrients that support brain health.