Endocrinology is a complicated field of study. The simplest definition for endocrinology is that it is the field of science dedicated to studying hormones. In biology, hormones are secreted inside the body in endocrine glands; the whole of these glands make up the endocrine system. Not all glands are part of the endocrine system. For example, sweat glands exude sweat and adrenal glands secrete adrenaline. In botany, hormones are created in several different parts of the plant; there is no one “system” that secretes hormones.
According to the Society for Endocrinology, “Hormones are found in all organisms with more than one cell, and so they are found in plants and animals. They influence or control a wide range of physiological activities, such as growth, development, puberty, level of alertness, sugar regulation and appetite, bone growth, etc.”
Scientists that study the endocrinologic properties of plants hope to learn how to increase production, lessen dependence on herbicides and make plants more fertile. They also work to widen the habitat of crops so that they may be grown in more climates.
Plant hormones are chemical messengers that affect a plant’s ability to respond to its environment. Botanists recognize five major groups of hormones: auxins, gibberellins, ethylene, cytokinins, and abscisic acid.
* Auxins can loosely be described as a growth hormone for plants.
* Gibberellins are analogous to pituitary hormones in humans because they impact aging, seed dormancy and germination.
* Ethylene is a gaseous hormone and is usually associated with fruit ripening.
* Cytokinins promote cell division which allows plant growth.
* Abscisic acid is more difficult to define as it generally plays an inhibitory role in plant growth, but it also promotes certain functions. For example, it can inhibit the growth of a shoot while simultaneously promoting growth of the root in the same plant.
Endocrinology is one of thirteen specialties within internal medicine. There are 43 recognized endocrine disorders. They include diabetes, infertility, obesity, hormonal imbalances and heart disease. Endocrinologists are commonly referred to as “doctors to the doctors”, not because they treat other doctors but because they only consult with them. Some endocrinologists don’t even see patients of their own.
Endocrinologists are called in when disorders are uncontrolled, complicated or when the patient suffers from multiple disorders requiring more than one medical specialty. For example, a woman with diabetes struggling with infertility may be referred to an endocrinologist, or her OB/GYN may simply call in an endocrinologist to consult.
While endocrinology as a field of science is complicated, remember that human beings have been manipulating and using hormones since before we knew what hormones were; the Chinese used to burn incense in closed rooms to ripen their pears. Old women have “prescribed” herbal remedies to relieve menstrual cramps. The study of hormones may be complicated, the usefulness of hormones is not.