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The Tale of an Underperforming Pituitary Pea
Though the word hormone typically brings to mind estrogen and testosterone, two of the sex hormones, []our bodies produce and use more than 50 different types of hormone to communicate control messages between the different cells in our bodies[]. Our hormones regulate everything from appetite to sexual function to growth to reproduction to behaviour to blood flow.  The glands that produce the different hormones are located at various points within the body. Some hormones are transferred in the blood to distant cells in the body while others act more locally by seeping into nearby tissues.  Because of their importance in controlling operation of the body, production of hormone levels that is too high or low can cause serious health problems.

Often called the "master gland", yet only the size of a large pea, the highly influential pituitary gland sits at the bottom of the brain in front of the ears and behind the nose. Though it is not really the master and the hypothalamus portion of the brain that sits above it truly owns that title, the []tiny pituitary is still very involved in controlling a considerable amount of regular bodily functioning[] through its production and distribution of at least 8 important hormones. As a result of its influence and concentration of hormone production within a single small gland, problems with the pituitary gland can result in a number of medical symptoms.

If we focus only on reduced hormone production by the pituitary gland, a condition called hypopituitarism, the list of symptoms is still quite large. Low levels of one of the hormones,  called ACTH, will result in fatigue, weight loss, anemia, low blood sugar levels and low blood sodium levels. Low levels of another hormone, called TSH, result in low blood pressure, reduced heart rate, weight gain, slower thinking, hair loss and constipation. Reduced production of growth hormone by the pituitary results in loss of muscle, accumulation of belly fat, poor memory and reduced mental focus. Considering only 3 of the 8 hormones, it is clear that reduced hormone production by the pituitary has very serious health effects.

So, what can cause hypopituitarism? Often described as a rare disease affecting no more than 1 in 1500 people, there are many causes for the condition including some that are not known. Brain tumors, birth defects, strokes, autoimmune diseases, infections in the brain and even tuberculosis can all cause the condition. That said, one area in which hypopituitarism is likely significantly under diagnosed however, is in those with brain injury. With roughly 2% of the US population living with some form of brain injury, it is quite likely that the numbers of those with the condition is actually much higher than 1 in 1500. This would make the condition not at all rare and mean that quite a number of people are suffering some effects from reduced pituitary hormone levels.

When those suffering from hypopituitarism are properly diagnosed however, effective treatment is possible in the form of hormone medications in tablet and pill form. The only issue becomes the need to continue taking these medications for life and to properly follow the medication schedule. For the most part, the medications taken to maintain hormone levels do not seem to cause long term effects.

Alternatively, for those whose pituitary gland produces low hormone levels due to physical damage, cutting edge techniques using [[link=/health_blog/a-coming-stem-cell-treatment-revolution]]stem cells[[/link]] may provide another treatment option. Research at the University of California in 2007 found that stem cells injected into the pituitary gland of rodents were able to allow some return to function of the gland. These sorts of findings have been taken a step further with highly experimental and controversial stem cell treatments that are being offered by the Beike Biotech located in Shenzhen, China. Though met with considerable skepticism by Western medical researchers who are performing the same procedures under scrutiny of medical trials, the doctors at Beike are making claims of considerable success in treating many conditions, including hypopituitarism, with the stem cell treatments.

Though hypopituitarism has long been considered rare, its association with brain injury means that it is likely more common than many might think. Fortunately, hormone treatment is possible for those who are correctly diagnosed and in some small number of years, repair of the pituitary gland could realistically become a reality for most people suffering from the condition. In the mean time, those who are desperate will be seeking the latest offering of the Chinese and we can only hope that the miracles being reported have some tie to reality.

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