What is the pituitary gland?

The pituitary, a pea-sized gland, is part of the endocrine system. It is located at the base of the brain deep in the center of the skull where it hangs from the hypothalamus by a thread-like stalk. Known as the "master gland of the body," it synthesizes, stores and releases many hormones that control the function of other glands in the body, including the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, ovaries and testes. The pituitary sends signals to these other glands telling them to produce thyroid hormone, cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
The pituitary gland is a small, oval gland (about the size of a pea) that's located at the base of your skull. It has two sides, the posterior and the anterior. The anterior comes up from the back of the mouth and grows up into the brain, while the posterior protrudes down from the hypothalamus in the brain to sit on a bone called the "Turkish Saddle." It's a bone that sits at the base of the skull and holds the pituitary—almost like a ball resting in a socket. Although the posterior secretes a couple hormones, the anterior gets all the glory for secreting hormones you probably recognize, if not by name, by their function—including:

• luteinizing hormone, which plays a part in menstrual cycles and pregnancy and tells men when to release testosterone;

• prolactin, which helps women produce milk and plays a role in maintaining immune system cells in both genders (women have a lot more prolactin at all times than men);

• thyroid stimulating hormone, which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone that helps regulate metabolism and blood pressure;

• adrenal corticotrophic hormone, which stimulates: the adrenal cortex to produce cortisone that helps regulate metabolism, blood pressure, and response to stress;

• aldosterone that helps regulate water metabolism and blood pressure; and the sex hormone it produces (such as testosterone for women);

• and growth hormone, which, uh, helps you grow.

Picture of hypothalamus and pituitary
YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

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YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

Between your full-length mirror and high-school biology class, you probably think you know a lot about the human body. While it's true that we live in an age when we're as obsessed with our bodies as...

The pituitary gland is a small gland located directly behind the nose inside the skull. The pituitary gland helps regulate the function of many other endocrine glands located throughout the body. These hormones are involved in a wide range of activities, including growth and metabolism, salt and blood pressure regulation, sexual maturation and reproduction, and milk production.

Tumors in the pituitary gland can lead to excess hormone production or create pressure on nearby structures.

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The pituitary is a pea-sized gland that sits at the base of the brain. It's an important part of the endocrine system because it releases many different hormones. These hormones contribute to a wide variety of body functions including the menstrual cycle, blood pressure, thyroid function, temperature control, sexual function, metabolism, the production of urine, and more. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.