Introducing the Endocrine System


The busy, busy endocrine system determines how long we live and how well. Well, who knew?

Truth to tell, most of us don’t know much about this amazing system–where it is, what it does, what happens when it doesn’t do it, how it impacts our various body parts, etc. There’s a lot to learn about this most-complicated-system-in-the-world, and you’ve come to the right place.

Thanks to a drunk driver, my endocrine system went kaput before my first birthday, doctors didn’t help, so I either had to figure it out or learn to live without energy, hair or a working brain. It took years to put all the pieces together, so now I help people shortcut the learning process.

I’ll go into endocrine details in articles about each individual gland, but for now, let me introduce you to the family.

1. Tucked up along the bottom of our brain lies the hypothalamus. About the size of an almond and shaped like a little, lumpy pancake, this gland doesn’t look like much, but since it controls both the nervous system and the endocrine system, it’s the King.

Unfortunately, we innocently do things that can knock the king off the throne, which can lead to disaster. Fortunately, a little knowledge help us support our tiny king.

2. The pituitary gland, shaped like a tiny teardrop, hangs below the hypothalamus, not far behind the bridge of our nose. The pituitary tells all the other endocrine glands when to shoot out some hormones and when to stop. If the pituitary isn’t talking, the rest of the gang pretty much stops working. No thyroid hormone to keep metabolism humming along, for instance.

3. The thyroid gland sits front-and-center in our neck, by the Adam’s Apple. If your thyroid gets into trouble, your risk of all other diseases jumps, and at least half of us have a troubled thyroid. We’re led to believe the thyroid is only about pudging out, but you’ll want to add heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and so on down the list of about 300 possibilities.

Meanwhile, medicine insists thyroid problems are easy to diagnose and easy to treat, but that’s wishful thinking.

4. Four tiny parathyroid glands are kind of in back of the thyroid, with one in each corner of a square. They, helped by the thyroid, control how much calcium races through our body. Too much calcium causes heart valves to stick and blood vessels to get rough and inflamed, and you end up with heart problems.

5. The two adrenal glands sit like saggy, little berets atop each kidney. Our kidneys are in the back, one on either side of the spine, with the top at about the bra line. Whether or not you wear a bra, that’s where to find the adrenals. These stress and fight-or-flight glands are a real piece of work. Whacked adrenals provide a symphony of symptoms to make sure you know they’re unhappy.

6. The thymus gland, the general who leads our immune system into battle, is behind the breast bone. Sickness depletes the thymus, so we have to know how to get it singing and dancing again. Medicine claims it’s not possible to restore the thymus, so we’re on our own, but that’s okay. You can do this; you just need information, which is what I’m all about.

7. The pancreas is front and center, just below the stomach, near the bottom of the rib cage. The pancreas controls blood sugar levels. Too high and you have diabetes, hyperglycemia; too low and you have hypoglycemia, low blood sugar. Neither one is a picnic, but both respond well to nutrition. Type 1 diabetes, which usually starts in childhood, is more difficult to treat that Type 2, usually the result of poor nutrition, but exciting research keeps popping up.

8. The pineal gland, known by mystics as our Third Eye, sits in its own little bat cave, in the brain, where it creates melatonin and controls our internal clock. The melatonin helps us sleep at night and stay awake during the day. However, fluoride whacks every part of the endocrine system, and it can put the pineal out of business.

9. Our bones were recently added to the endocrine roster. They’re not glands, but they have close ties to other endocrine glands, such as the thyroid which helps the bones create new cells to replace the old.

10. The gonads, testes and ovaries, are all about estrogen, testosterone and progesterone. And they’re usually in trouble nowadays because of the medicines we take, soy and other things we eat, fluoride, lotions and potions, the plastics that surround us, and so on. This is the path that causes men to grow moobs and get prostate cancer, leads women to PMS and breast cancer, pushes girls into premature puberty and sentences boys to a lifetime of low testosterone.

11. Finally, there’s blubber. Yup! Our blubber is a major endocrine player. And since endocrine glands talk to each other 24/7, I hate to think about the stories my blubber’s telling on me.

Blubber is chock-a-block full of hormones, most still waiting to be identified. But we know about leptin and grehlin; leptin encourages us to eat, and grehlin tells us when enough is enough. But when the endocrine system is struggling, leptin’s “stop eating” message never reaches the brain, so nothing happens. Meanwhile, grehlin keeps yelling, “Eat hearty!” and I don’t have to tell you how that ends up.

That’s the endocrine list for now. They’ll be adding to the list as time goes by; it looks like digestion will be next.

Meanwhile, I have good news. You don’t have to wait for medical poobahs to tell you what to do; you can start getting your endocrine system marching to a good beat on your own. Read exciting results achieved by real people at

About the author: Bette Dowdell defines determination. In a really deep health ditch, with doctors who didn’t help, she got her Oh-Yeah! attitude in gear and researched her way out. She never intended to be a health expert, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. You can subscribe to Bette’s free e-mails on how to solve health problems at

Bette Dowdell
A drunk driver pretty much destroyed my health a month before my first birthday. Doctors said I was fine--for years. Finally realizing my health was up to me, I started researching. I got out the health ditch I was in, and found my future: Giving people the information they need to understand how to take control of their own health. It's been an amazing journey, and I look forward to all that is yet to come.