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The Hypothalamus

Ever wonder how your body tells itself to warm up when you’re cold? This cone-shaped part of the brain, called the hypothalamus, helps keep the temperature of your body steady. It keeps it in homeostasis. That is a state of balance of your internal processes. To keep this state, it deals with both the nervous system and the endocrine system, and also the pituitary gland.

An illustration of the brain, with parts of the brain marked, including the Hypothalamus.

A diagram of the brain showing the hypothalamus and a few other structures.

 

Where is it Located?

This structure is found at the base of the brain. Its name tells you this. In latin it is (“hypo-“) “below” the thalamus. And it’s above the pituitary gland. A long thin structure links it to the pituitary gland. 
 

Its Function and Related Hormones 

To keep balance, this gland first gets input from the nervous system. It then sends signals to the endocrine system. It keeps a lot of things under control: hunger, body temperature, growth, sleep rhythms, and other things.

Endocrine System Diagram

A picture of the glands in the endocrine system.

Here is a list of the major hormones released by the hypothalamus: 

  • Corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH): has to do with the adrenal glands. 
 
  • Thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH): has to do with the thyroid.
 
  • Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH): has to do with keeping reproductive functions in check.
 
  • Growth hormone releasing hormone: causes you to produce growth hormone.
 
  • Somatostatin: stops other glands from making certain hormones. 
 
  • Oxytocin: involved with birth. It also builds trust among people. It can even forge bonds between you and your dog! So next time you look into your pet’s eyes, know that oxytocin is being released at the same time.
 
  • Vasopressin or antidiuretic hormone (ADH): controls the water uptake in the kidneys. This water intake affects the body’s blood pressure. 
 

Relation to the Pituitary Gland

This gland affects the endocrine system by sending hormones to the pituitary gland. It sends hormones to the anterior (that’s the front) of the pituitary gland. The posterior (that’s the back) of the pituitary gland receives oxytocin and vasopressin from the hypothalamus. The pituitary gland then releases stimulating hormones to different glands in the body. These glands alter things in the body so that you can stay in homeostasis.

Other Great Resources

The Hypothalamus and Pituitary Gland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dS7bc_2bUE
Written by: Sylvia Choo