The hypothalamus is a little part of our brain that performs several vital functions. The hypothalamus encloses many tiny nuclei performing a range of roles. It has a vital role in our nervous system and also the endocrine system. The hypothalamus is connected with a small, but important gland known as the pituitary gland.
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Precisely speaking, the hypothalamus is situated under the thalamus and a little higher than the stem of the brain. Talking in terms of neuroanatomy, the hypothalamus comprises the perpendicular segment of the diencephalon (the rear portion of the forebrain). Brains of all vertebrates enclose a hypothalamus. The size of the hypothalamus in humans is about the dimension of an almond.
The hypothalamus controls specific metabolic processes as well as different functions of the autonomic nervous system (which comprises the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems). This part of the brain is also responsible for the synthesis as well as release of specific neurohormones, frequently referred to as the hypothalamic-releasing hormones, which, consecutively either invigorate or slow down the release of the pituitary hormones. In addition, the hypothalamus works to regulate hunger; body temperature; vital factors related to parenting as well as attachment behavior (an individual's actions of being close or depending on another for emotional fulfillment); fatigue; sleep; thirst; and even circadian cycles.
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The hypothalamus is crucial for the survival of all vertebrates, because this brain part performs several vital tasks. Besides regulating specific metabolic procedures and different actions of the autonomic nervous system, the hypothalamus is also responsible for the synthesis and release of hypothalamic-releasing hormones (also called neurohormones). The neurohormones work to control as well as standardize the release of pituitary hormones.
Linking the endocrine system and the nervous system via the pituitary gland is the primary role of the hypothalamus. As mentioned earlier, the hypothalamus is responsible of several functions of the nervous system, including hunger, sleep, and body temperature in addition to blinking. This part of the brain also regulates the secretion of hormones required by the brain as well as the remaining parts of the body to function properly. Perhaps comparing the hypothalamus with an airport's control tower will best describe the functions of this small, but vital part of the brain. Our body produces several hormones, which like an aircraft, are ready to depart for different locations throughout the body. The hypothalamus is responsible for instructing the appropriate time for every hormone batch to take off. These hormones pass on information to different body parts to undertake a number of functions, such as instructing the brain when it requires sleep, or conveying the stomach to rumble as it is hungry.
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All vertebrates surviving on the earth possess a hypothalamus and also have a range of functions that are controlled by the hypothalamus. These animals respond to sunlight and photoperiod (the time in a 24-hour phase when a plant/ animal are subjected to light). This function is also regulated by the hypothalamus, as it helps to calculate the amount of light or darkness the body is exposed to. In addition, the hypothalamus is also responsive to the odours the body is exposed to, counting pheromones (chemical substances released externally by particular animals to affect the actions or physiology of animals belonging to the same species). While this instinct is not very potent in humans, the pheromones are responsible for prompt mating in several animals. In fact, as far as mating is concerned, humans make use of visual signs rather than smell. Nevertheless, the hypothalamus also controls this fundamental biological function in humans too. In fact, the hypothalamus possesses the aptitude to collect information from the different body parts, counting the reproductive system, the stomach and, most importantly, the brain. A major function of the hypothalamus is to ensure that the heart functions normally and the heart rhythm is usual as well as stable. In addition, this part of the brain also transmits signals to the stomach instructing that the individual is hungry - an extremely potent gut feeling that is activated by hormones.
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The hypothalamus also has a role to play when an individual is unwell owing to infection caused by any microbe, especially fever. The hypothalamus increases the temperature of the body to eliminate the microorganisms that plague our body. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that the humans have to cope with such rise in temperature, as it is not only very uncomforting, but also difficult to handle. In a number of instances wherein the body temperature becomes uncontrollable, this defence actually turns out to be an encumbrance, and may possibly damage the heart and the brain severely.
It is very interesting to note that the appearance as well as the functioning of the hypothalamus in different sexes is somewhat dissimilar. While nearly all the parts of the brain are similar in males as well as females, the physical appearance of the hypothalamus is dissimilar in each of them. The difference in the hypothalamus in the sexes gives rise to one of its major functions - secretion of hormones that are related to growth, which is actually responsible for making the males of a species larger compared to the females of the same species. Moreover, the dissimilarity in the shape of the hypothalamus makes the females to be further drawn to the odour of the males as well as like their companionship, rather than the females of the same species. This particular aspect is helpful in the proliferation as well as the continued existence of any species.
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Although it may seem to be odd, provided the hypothalamus of any female is damaged or scarred in any manner, she is likely to have a preference for the company of other females, instead of the males. Although this is in no way related to the sexual orientation, it is just that the female would be looking for friendship with other females. In fact, this particular role of hypothalamus also exists in males, interestingly; any similar damage to this part of the brain will lead to converse consequences on both sexes.
Precisely speaking, the hypothalamus is an extremely interesting element of the brain - it regulates the body, is responsible for secretion of pheromones as well as release of a variety of chemicals to different body parts. The hypothalamus is responsible for our height, size, and even attractiveness to the other sex. In fact, there would be a great difference in the lineage of the human history in case the hypothalamus (the controlling tower) did not exist in our body. Therefore, it may be stated that a small portion of our brain, just as big as an almond, not only ensures our survival, but is also responsible for various other things. For instance, the hypothalamus enables the species of any animal to continue existence and also controls our preferences regarding our companionship. To a great extent, the hypothalamus as well as its functions is responsible for our existence and also what we actually are. In the absence of the hypothalamus, the life we are familiar with will just vanish.
Occasionally, the hypothalamus does not function as it should. When this occurs, the brain secretes wrong neurohormones, thereby, transmitting erroneous neural signals to the various glands associated with the endocrine system. In such instances, an individual's emotional clarity is messed up a lot and he/ she has a feeling of emptiness inside, while their mind is depressed. The malfunctioning of the hypothalamus is known as hypothalamic disorder, which may occur owing to a number of factors, including malnutrition, loss of appetite and lack of ability to eat (also called anorexia), infections as well as inflammations, brain tumours, surgery, bulimia, bleeding, exposure to radiation, genetic disorders and others.
The symptoms associated with hypothalamic dysfunction are subject level to which the hormone has undergone alteration. In a number of children, anomalous levels of the hormone called HGH (human growth hormone) may either make them grow very tall or their height may be extremely small. In case the secretion of thyroid hormone is inadequate, the individual may endure symptoms, such as hoarse voice, tiredness, constipation, intolerance to cold and others. Low levels of adrenal hormones may cause symptoms like debility and light-headedness. Hypothalamic dysfunction may also result in a number of other symptoms, such as intense thirst, problems related to the body temperature, obesity and uncontrolled urination.
Since the hypothalamus gland is responsible for the secretion of various hormones throughout the body, its anomalous functioning may also cause prolactin deficiency, deficit of gonadotropins, insufficiency of adrenocorticotropic hormone and others. Usually, these disorders are treated depending on the nature of the symptoms. In case of hormone deficiency, treatment will be undertaken to restore the missing hormones while the treatment of tumours will be different. In addition to regulating the secretion of a range of hormones, ensuring our very existence and nature, the hypothalamus gland is also responsible for our behaviour, all moods, feelings of thirst and hunger. Hence, we are now aware of the importance of this small gland having the shape of an almond for the general wellness of our body as well as the mind.