Messing with the Regulation of Your Bodyís Systems

Alcohol and the Endocrine System


The Endocrine System:

Letís get a brief overview of the endocrine system and what happens to you when you drink alcohol.First of all, what is the endocrine system? The endocrine system is a communication system for the body, sometimes known as ďthe other nervous system.ĒIt uses hormones to communicate between the regions of the body.The regulation of hormones maintains homeostasis, a relative constancy in the internal environment of the body.Researcherís are trying to find ways of using hormonal mechanisms to help treat alcoholicís as well as to identify people predisposed to alcoholism.

Figure 1.Location of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenal gland in the human body.


Hormones are molecules that are produced by endocrine glands, including the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, adrenal glands, gonads,(i.e., testes and ovaries), thyroid, parathyroid glands, and pancreas.


Endocrine means that in response to specific stimuli, the products of those glands are released into the blood stream.The hormones then are carried via the blood to their target cells.

Endocrine Glands:


Hypothalamus: Small region located within the brain that controls many bodily functions, including eating and drinking, sexual function and behaviors, blood pressure and heart rate, body temperature maintenance, the sleep-wake cycle, and emotional states (See figure 1).


Pituitary gland: small marble-sized gland located in the brain directly below the hypothalamus.The gland has two parts, the anterior and posterior (see figure1).


Anterior Pituitary: Produces hormones that stimulate target glands: adrenal glands, gonads, and thyroid gland to produce target gland hormones or directly affect target organs (see figure 1).


Posterior Pituitary: Stores vasopressin and oxytocin that are produced by neurons in the hypothalamus.

Vasopressin:Important in the maintaining the bodyís water and electrolyte distribution.

Oxytocin: Stimulates the contractions of the uterus during childbirth.Also in nursing women, it activates milk ejection in response to suckling by the infant.


Adrenal Glands:Small structures located on top of the kidneys, that produce numerous hormones,


Gonads (ovaries and testes): Have two major functions:produce germ cells and synthesize steroid sex hormones that are necessary for the development and function of both female and male reproductive organs


Thyroid Gland:

       Two lobes, located in front of the windpipe just below the voice box.

       Produces two hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine:thyroid hormones in general increase the metabolism of almost all body tissues.

       Plays a role in development of the central nervous system during late fetal and early postnatal developmental stages; normal bone growth; in normal development of teeth, skin, and hair follicles; and in functioning of the nervous, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal systems.


Parathyroid gland:

       Four pea sized bodies located behind the thyroid gland that produce PTH.

       Increases calcium levels in the blood helping to maintain bone quality and enough supply of calcium which is needed for muscle movement and signal transmission within the cells.


Pancreas: Located in abdomen behind the stomach.

       Serves to functions acts as exocrine organ.

       Produces various enzymes, essential for the digestion of food, that are secreted into the gut.

       Contains islets of Langerhans, which are cells that produce two hormones, insulin and glucagon.These two hormones are released into the blood are important in blood glucose regulation.



Now that you have an overview of the glands in the endocrine systemb letís discuss the nastiness that alcohol inflicts.

Not to freak you out or anything, but drinking has all kinds of disastrous effects on the human endocrine system which means scary things for an alcoholic.Such as:


       Cardiovascular abnormalities

       Reproductive deficits,

       Inefficeint immune system

       Bone disease.


Letís discuss a few of the major problems you may encounter if you continue to drink alcohol heavily:



Are you pregnant or nursing?Find out what alcohol does to the hormone Prolactin.

Alcohol will mess with your HPA axis and cause a disease called pseudo-Cushing's syndrome.Learn more about it.

Alcohol makes it difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar levels, which means terrible consequences for those prone to diabetes.

Milk does the body good, for your bones anyway; but alcohol does the opposite.Find out more about the effect on your bones.

Ads that say alcohol is sexy are dead wrong...Find out why.



This page is just a brief look at the endocrine system and the effects alcohol has on it.If you are interested, I encourage you to explore further information sources listed on the reference page.