pituitary gland

You’ve probably heard a lot about hormones and how they control many functions of your body. But what controls your hormones?

What Controls Hormones in the Body?

Different glands in your body control the production and release of numerous hormones. These glands are all part of your endocrine system.

The most important is the pituitary gland.

What is the Pituitary Gland?

This pea-sized structure is found at the base of your brain, just below the hypothalamus. The pituitary is also called the master gland. That’s because it produces hormones that stimulate the other glands in the endocrine system, such as the:

  • Kidneys
  • Ovaries
  • Thyroid
  • Testes

The pituitary gland sends out hormones based on hormonal or electrical signals from the hypothalamus.

What Does the Pituitary Gland Control?

The master gland releases numerous hormones that control body functions.

  • Growth hormone (GH) –controls the growth and size of muscles and bone
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) – stimulates the thyroid gland to release hormones, such as those that control metabolism
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) – stimulates the adrenal glands, which produce hormones with effects similar to steroids
  • Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) – keeps the ovaries and testes working properly by stimulating follicle production in the ovaries and sperm production in men
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH) – works with FSH and stimulates estrogen in women and sperm production in men
  • Prolactin – stimulates breast milk production
  • Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) – prompts the kidneys to absorb more water in the blood and causes you to urinate less
  • Oxytocin – stimulates uterine contractions for childbirth and milk production

What Happens When Something Goes Wrong with the Pituitary Gland?

With the pituitary gland having such important functions, it can be a big deal when you have a problem. The most common disorder is a pituitary tumor. The good news is these are usually benign, meaning not cancerous.

Sometimes a tumor can cause the pituitary gland to make too much of one or more hormones. A tumor may also press on the gland, causing it to produce too little of certain hormones.

In addition, the gland is located near your optic nerve, the one that controls vision. If a tumor is large enough, it could press on that nerve and cause vision problems or blindness.

Symptoms of a tumor can vary widely depending on how hormone production is affected and what hormones are changed. Sometimes a tumor causes no symptoms and doesn’t affect hormone production.

Headaches, changes in menstrual cycle, and lower sex drive may be signs something is not right with your pituitary gland. Always bring up concerns to your doctor.