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What Is the Endocrine System? How Does It Affect Diabetes?

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Jason Inocencio · Updated Mar 24, 2023

What Is the Endocrine System? How Does It Affect Diabetes?

When a person has diabetes, their body has difficulty regulating blood glucose levels. Normally, the endocrine system manages the complex interplay of blood glucose and hormones like insulin, which reduces blood glucose, and glucagon to ensure that you get the energy you need. But what is the endocrine system? What role does it play in diabetes? And what are the other endocrine system disorders you should know about?

The Pancreas and Diabetes

The pancreas is at the heart of diabetes, as this is organ that makes insulin. Specifically, the islets of Langerhans are a cluster of cells found in the pancreas that have this role. Insulin is produced in the beta cells of the Islets of Langerhans. Meanwhile, the alpha cells of the Islets of Langerhans produce glucagon.

The pancreas is located in the abdomen, behind the stomach. Most pancreatic cells also produce digestive enzymes, which the pancreas secretes into the gut. These enzymes are essential in the digestion of food.

Type 1 diabetics’ bodies don’t produce enough insulin. That’s why, to manage blood glucose levels, insulin injection is an integral part of type 1 diabetes treatment.

In contrast, the bodies of type 2 diabetics are unable to respond effectively to insulin. This can result in higher-than-normal blood sugar levels.

What Is the Endocrine System?

At its core, the endocrine system is responsible for regulating many of the body’s processes. The endocrine system is a highly complex network of hormones controlled by endocrine glands spread throughout the body. Beyond diabetes, an endocrine system that is not functioning properly can result in several conditions.

Several glands are part of the endocrine system.

  • Pancreas – regulates blood glucose levels
  • Adrenal gland – increases blood glucose levels and speeds up heart rate
  • Thyroid gland – helps in regulating metabolism
  • Pituitary gland – for growth stimulation
  • Pineal gland – for regulating sleep patterns and circadian rhythm
  • Ovaries – promote the development of female sex characteristics
  • Testes – promote the development of male sex characteristics

The various parts of the body must communicate with each other so that it can function properly. Two systems help this communication process: the nervous system and the endocrine system. 

What Do Hormones Do?

Specialized cells are responsible for producing hormones. It is these cells that secrete hormones into extracellular fluids. Blood transfers hormones to target sites. And these hormones regulate the activity of other cells.

Proteins, peptides, and amines are amino acid-based hormones. Steroids are hormones made from cholesterol. Meanwhile, highly active lipids make up prostaglandin.

Hormones in the endocrine system are responsible for several specific actions. They cause changes in plasma membrane permeability or electrical state. They also cause the synthesis of proteins such as enzymes. Hormones trigger the activation or inactivation of enzymes. Hormones also cause the stimulation of mitosis.

Endocrine System Disorders

It’s natural to notice some things related to the endocrine system as you age. Metabolism slows down. This can result in weight gain even if the way you eat, or exercise hasn’t changed. Hormonal shifts may partly explain why you’re more likely to have heart disease, osteoporosis, or even type 2 diabetes as you get older.

Other endocrine system disorders may occur with age.

  • Acromegaly – When the pituitary gland makes too much growth hormone, your bones can get bigger than normal. This condition may affect the hands, feet, and face, and this can start happening upon reaching middle age.
  • Adrenal insufficiency – When the adrenal glands don’t make enough cortisol, which controls stress, it might be because adrenal glands aren’t making enough hormones.
  • Hyperthyroidism – This is when the thyroid gland makes more hormones than your body needs. It can make your system run too fast, resulting in nervousness, weight loss, a rapid heartbeat, and trouble sleeping.
  • Hypothyroidism – The opposite of the previous disorder, this is when the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. This can make you feel tired, gain weight, have a slow heartbeat, and have muscle and joint pain.
  • Hypopituitarism – This is the condition when the pituitary gland doesn’t make enough of certain hormones. This has an adverse effect on the adrenal and thyroid glands.
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia – A group of disorders affecting the endocrine system result in this condition. This causes tumors on at least two endocrine glands or in other organs and tissues.

 Key Takeaways

Diabetes happens because of an endocrine system that is not functioning at its best. While this is true, it actually involves problems with the pancreas, which is part of the endocrine system.

The endocrine system is important because it regulates several of the body’s processes. Several glands are part of it, which in turn produce hormones to regulate the activities of other cells. As people get older, some parts of their endocrine system may end up compromised. These endocrine system disorders may be the result of metabolism slowing down, weight gain, hormonal shifts, and glands not working the way they once did.

For more on diabetes, click here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Jason Inocencio · Updated Mar 24, 2023

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