Located below the thalamus of the brain and just above the brain stem, is a small, cone-shaped, almond-sized structure projecting downwards. Although, referred to as a gland, the hypothalamus is not a gland, but a portion of the brain, controlling large number of body functions.
One of the most important hypothalamus gland functions, is how it forms the link between the nervous system and the endocrine system via the pituitary gland. This gland is a complex region, comprising a large number of nuclei, each responsible for a set of functions.
Functions of the Hypothalamus Gland
The hypothalamus is the hub for autonomic and endocrine homeostatic systems, like cardiovascular, abdominal visceral and temperature regulation.
The hypothalamus links our mind to our body and also processes sensory impulses, controls body metabolism, regulates endocrine hormonal levels, etc. It is the emotional center, controlling molecules conducing to feelings of anger, sorrow, joy and exhilaration.
It controls the feelings of hunger, appetite, comfort, creativity, satisfaction, etc. and is also responsible for regulation of the sleep-wake cycle and food-water intake.
Moreover, the nerve cells in the hypothalamus produce neurohormones (hypothalamic-releasing hormones) that either suppress or stimulate the secretions from the pituitary gland, thereby controlling the master gland of the brain. It stimulates the pituitary gland to release growth hormone, into the bloodstream or even inhibit its secretion.
We already saw how the hypothalamus is responsible for controlling feelings of hunger and appetite. Besides the feeling of hunger, the hypothalamus is also responsible, for the feeling of satisfaction one feels after eating a meal.
It takes up to 20 minutes for the hypothalamus to send signals of the feeling of being full, even after one has eaten enough. Thus, people who want to stop overeating should reset their hypothalamus and control it by eating slowly.
Weight conscious people are interested in resetting the hypothalamus gland to lose weight. By eating slowly we give the hypothalamus the time to understand how much one has already eaten and will send signals to stop eating faster. Resetting also helps prevent the body from creating fat reserves, thereby resulting in weight loss.
Hypothalamus Gland Dysfunction
Sometimes, the hypothalamus fails to function properly. When this happens, wrong neurohormones are secreted, giving wrong neural-messages to the different glands of the endocrine system. There is a lot of clutter in one's emotional clarity. The person feels all void within and enters a depressed state of mind.
The dysfunction of the gland is referred to as hypothalamic dysfunction, which can be caused by various factors such as genetic disorders, malnutrition, bleeding, anorexia, surgery, brain tumors, infections and inflammation, radiation and bulimia, etc.
The symptoms of hypothalamic dysfunction depends on the level of hormone altered. In some children, abnormal levels of human growth hormone (HGH) can cause them to grow too tall or remain very short in stature. For low thyroid hormone secretion, the person may go through symptoms like fatigue, hoarseness of voice, constipation, cold intolerance, etc.
Low adrenal levels will emerge with symptoms like weakness and dizziness. Some other symptoms of this dysfunction are excessive thirst, obesity, body temperature problems and uncontrolled urination. However, these symptoms are not common.
Prolactin deficiency, deficiency of gonadotropins, adrenocorticotropic hormone deficiency, etc. are also caused by dysfunction of the hypothalamus gland. Disorders will be treated based on the type of symptoms. If it's hormone deficiency, then missing hormones will be replaced, if it's a tumor, then it will be treated accordingly.
The gland controls all our moods, behavior, feelings of hunger and thirst, thus, we now know how important this almond-shaped gland is to our body and mind's well-being!