What are the functions of the pituitary gland?

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bill-education eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The pituitary gland has several functions. It is a part of the endocrine system and it is responsible for producing important chemical substances called hormones which control various bodily functions.

The gland is a pea-sized protrusion from the base of the brain and it is situated within a small cavity in the middle of the head where it is protected by cranial bones.

The functions of the pituitary gland are best described by analyzing the structure of the pituitary and the roles played by each section. The gland is made up of the anterior and the posterior lobes and an intermediate section (the pars intermedia) which also produces its own hormone.

Two groups of hormones are produced by the anterior lobe. They are hormones having a direct impact on the body and those controlling other hormone glands. The group that has a direct effect on the body includes the growth hormone, which is responsible for regulating the development of the body, and prolactin, which is responsible for the production of milk in new mothers. The second group of hormones controls other hormonal glands. These include the thyroid, the adrenals, and the testicles and the ovaries, all of which produce their own hormones.

The posterior lobe is made up of an entangled mass of nerve fibres emanating from the hypothalamus. It stores two hormones- oxytocin which aids the contraction of the uterus during child birth and vasopressin, also called an antidiuretic hormone, which reclaims water from the kidneys to prevent dehydration. These hormones are released when the body requires them.

The intermediate section is made up of a tissue of cells which produce the melanocyte stimulating hormone which controls the production of melanin, a pigment produced in the skin for protection from harmful ultraviolet rays coming from the sun. This hormone also influences libido and exerts control on appetite.