The pituitary gland is a small, pea-sized gland located in the center of the brain, between and behind the eyes. It sits in a small, bony cavity called the sella turcica.
The pituitary gland is sometimes called the “master gland” because it not only produces hormones but also controls the release of hormones from other glands. These hormones are carried through the bloodstream to regulate the activity of cells throughout the body. The hormones produced or controlled by the pituitary gland regulate such important functions as growth, sexual development, metabolism, and the body’s response to stress.
Endocrinologists focus on the hormones produced by the two main parts of the pituitary gland, the anterior and posterior lobes.
The anterior lobe of the pituitary gland produces:
- Growth hormone, which regulates growth, metabolism, and body composition (bone and muscle mass and fat distribution)
- Follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone (also known as gonadotrophins), which work together to regulate the functioning of the ovaries and testes
- Prolactin, which stimulates the production of breast milk in women during pregnancy and after birth
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone, which stimulates the adrenal gland to produce hormones that control inflammation, contribute to sexual development, and regulate metabolism and the body’s response to stress
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone, which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce hormones that control a number of important metabolic functions
The posterior lobe of the pituitary gland produces:
- Anti-diuretic hormone, which prompts the kidneys to absorb more water into the blood
- Oxytocin, which prompts the uterus to contract during childbirth and stimulates the production of breast milk.