Endocrinology: A Primer

The field of endocrinology is key in learning and understanding how the metabolism works. An endocrinologist is a healthcare provider who specializes in endocrinology, a field of medicine that studies conditions related to your hormones. An endocrinologist can diagnose endocrine conditions, develop treatment and management plans for them and prescribe medication. 

Endocrinology is the study of hormones and endocrine glands and organs. Hormone-secreting glands and certain organs in your body make up your endocrine system. A hormone is a chemical messenger that travels from one endocrine gland or organ in your body to another part of your body through your blood. Hormones help parts of your body communicate with other parts and have a large role in many key bodily functions, such as metabolism. 

The reason endocrinology is so important to metabolism is its focus on endocrine glands that release hormones. The human body makes and releases over 50 different hormones including adrenaline, estrogen, insulin, melatonin, testosterone and many more. Certain glands in your body called endocrine glands make and release hormones. Glands are special tissues in your body that create and release substances. The endocrine glands in your body include adrenal glands, pineal glands, pituitary glands, and thyroid glands. 

Endocrinologists may specialize in certain areas of endocrinology. These subspecialities allow for more targeted treatment of specific medical conditions. Of the many subspecialties, the one most closely related to metabolism is the study of diabetes. Many hormones play important roles in your metabolism — how your body transforms the food you eat into energy it can use. Diabetes is one of the most common metabolic conditions. An endocrinologist can specialize in the treatment of different kinds of diabetes and other metabolic conditions such as obesity.  

Types of diabetes vary from person to person. It is important to understand them, especially if you have a family history of diabetes, are overweight, or have other pre-conditions. Types of diabetes and other metabolic conditions include: 

  • Type 1 diabetes (your pancreas can no longer make insulin due to an autoimmune attack)
  • Type 2 diabetes (your body isn’t using the insulin your pancreas makes properly)
  • Gestational diabetes (temporary diabetes during pregnancy)
  • Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults, or LADA (late-onset Type 1 diabetes)
  • Pancreatic diabetes (caused by chronic pancreatitis)
  • Inherited metabolic diseases
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity

 Primary healthcare providers can diagnose and help you manage many endocrine conditions. However, you may benefit from seeing an endocrinologist since they’re likely more knowledgeable on your condition and more up to date on different medications, technology and clinical trials that can help treat your condition. Endocrinologists are experts in endocrinology and endocrine conditions. Endocrinologists’ goal is to prevent complications or, failing that, to recognize complications early when they can be treated effectively. This includes controlling blood sugar, blood cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as detecting early damage to the eyes, kidneys and nerves. 

Obesity is an important topic to explore when talking about metabolism. Obesity is a very complex metabolic disease and not a problem of willpower or self-control. Being obese or being overweight is not the patient’s fault, obesity results from a complex biology whereby the body increases the amount of fat it wants to hold on to. As a result, people with obesity may crave more calorie-dense foods and are more likely to store extra calories as fat. The result is weight gain, or more specifically, an increase in the amount of fat the body wants to carry. Contributors are thought to be unhealthy diet, unhealthy muscle, lack of sleep, disruptions in circadian rhythm, and weight gain-promoting mediations, among others.