What is the endocrine system?

Sister Lynette Lacock explains what the endocrine system is and how this systems fails when the pancreas malfunctions.

Unless you took biology in high school or work as a health professional, you’re probably not aware of all the different functions in the body that rely on the endocrine system to work properly. So, let’s start off with the basics.

What is the endocrine system?

The endocrine system is a complicated group of glands that produce hormones and regulate different functions in the body. These include:

  • Pancreas – produces insulin that regulates blood glucose levels.
  • Adrenal gland – produces hormones that help regulate metabolism, immune system, blood pressure and response to stress.
  • Thyroid gland – controls metabolism by regulating thyroid hormones.
  • Pituitary gland – referred to as the master gland because it controls other glands in the body and is responsible for well-being.
  • Pineal gland – regulates circadian rhythm by regulating melatonin.
  • Ovaries – regulates hormones responsible for female characteristics and reproduction.
  • Testes – regulates hormones responsible for male characteristics and sperm production.

Pancreas malfunction

Many people are blissfully unaware of how hard their pancreas is working to regulate their blood glucose all the time. Unfortunately, many of us have some form of diabetes and our blood glucose is unregulated, causing us to be symptomatic.

The more stable our blood glucose is, the less likely we’ll experience the negative side effects of diabetes. So, if you’ve diabetes you must be knowledgeable about various treatments and work at keeping your blood glucose in check. 

Types of diabetes

Pre-diabetes and insulin resistance

You may be more prone to getting pre-diabetes if you’re overweight, have a family history of diabetes, lead a sedentary lifestyle, have an elevated cholesterol level or had gestational diabetes.

Be aware of some warning signs, such as constant thirst, frequent urination, urinary tract infections, fatigue, blurry vision and itchy skin. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms go have your blood glucose checked by a healthcare professional. If you blood glucose is slightly elevated, see your doctor for an evaluation and advice.

Warning bell

You can think of pre-diabetes as a warning bell telling you to change your lifestyle and diet to prevent yourself from getting full-blown diabetes.

When you’re pre-diabetic, your pancreas is still producing insulin but your cells don’t respond normally and glucose builds up in the blood. You’ll have slightly elevated blood glucose levels that aren’t high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Reverse the progression

However, your body will be suffering the negative side effects of elevated blood glucose and you may not even be aware it’s happening. Luckily there are ways to reverse this progression. These following three changes may seem hard at first but if you stick with them you’re on the road to a healthier life.

  • Exercise/walk five days a week
  • Eat less processed, high glycaemic index and fatty foods
  • Drink more water

Start small and progress at your own pace. At first you may just be able to walk short distances but over time you’ll be able to increase that distance. If you’re not the one that cooks at home, speak to whom ever does so you can come up with healthier alternatives that the whole family can enjoy.

Type 1 diabetes

Unfortunately there isn’t anything you can do to prevent Type 1 diabetes. It’s an autoimmune disease thought to be the result of genetics or a viral infection which causes the body to attack and destroy the cells in the pancreas, making them unable to produce insulin.

If you’ve Type 1 diabetes, you’ll need to use insulin to regulate your blood glucose on a daily basis. Your doctor will explain how to control your blood glucose with insulin. You will need to check your blood glucose several times a day to make sure the insulin dose is effective. It’s still very important to exercise and eat healthy foods if you have Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes

This type of diabetes occurs when you develop insulin resistance and the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin to regulate your blood glucose.  If your pancreas is still producing some insulin it may be possible to go on oral medication to regulate you blood glucose. However, if there isn’t enough insulin being produced, you’ll need to go on insulin to regulate your blood glucose.

People living with Type 2 diabetes can help control their blood glucose by losing weight, exercising and following a healthy diet. This will help lower blood sugar glucose levels and possibly prevent you needing insulin in the future.

Why is it important to keep my blood glucose levels normal?

To maintain your health and well-being you must keep your blood glucose levels stable and within the normal range. The best way to do this is to have your blood glucose tested regularly and work closely with your doctor to decide the best course of treatment.

Elevated or uncontrolled blood glucose over a period of time can have negative effects. Though, most of these problems can be prevented. Although you may not feel sick with slightly elevated blood glucose, it may already be affecting your organs.

Uncontrolled diabetes can damage small blood vessels causing problems with your heart, kidneys, eyes, peripheral nerves and capillaries causing neuropathies and delayed wound healing. Remember, prevention is easier than cure.

Keep track of your pancreas

It’s important to get your blood glucose tested regularly, particularly if you have a family history of diabetes, or have been diagnosed as pre-diabetic.

If you’re already on treatment, it’s still important to monitor your blood glucose so you and your doctor can make sure you’re on the best treatment for your type of diabetes. For example, if you’re prescribed tablets, you need to monitor your blood glucose to make sure that they are controlling it. If they are not, you can be suffering from the negative side effects of high blood glucose because the treatment isn’t working.

So, please take charge of your health and learn the best ways to stay healthy and prevent complications. Get your doctor or healthcare professional to explain your medications and anything you don’t understand about your condition. Remember, we only get one body so look after yourself.




Sr Lynette Lacock


Sr Lynette Lacock received her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and Biofeedback Certification in Neurofeedback in the US. She has over 30 years’ experience in healthcare which has enabled her to work in the US, UK and South Africa. Initially specialising in Cardiothoracic and Neurological ICU, she now works as an Occupational Health Sister. She is passionate about teaching people how to obtain optimum health while living with chronic conditions.

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