The hypothalamus is a small part of the brain that is located just above the brain stem. In the human brain it is approximately the size of an almond and can be found between the right and left thalamus. The hypothalamus is an important part of the brain as it has many diverse functions. Its main function is linking the nervous system with then endocrine system. It is responsible for a number of metabolic processes and various activities of the autonomic nervous system.
What is the function of the hypothalamus?
The hypothalamus controls the central nervous system. This system is responsible for maintaining homeostasis within the body. The nervous system sends messages to different organs in the body to maintain the internal balance required for the body to function. It controls the elimination of waste and toxins as well as the creation and excretion of certain hormones. It also maintains the blood water levels and carbohydrate metabolism.
The hypothalamus is also responsible for hunger, thirst and temperature. The hypothalamus uses internal and external stimuli to generate the impulses that help us to know when we are hungry or thirsty. If we are not metabolizing enough carbohydrates then the hypothalamus will produce hunger signals. If our blood water level is too low thirst signals are created. It is also responsible for maintaining our body temperature. If we are too cold it initiates processes to warm the body such as shivering. If we are too hot it initiates the process of sweating.
The hypothalamus is also responsible for regulating the pituitary gland. This is the major endocrine gland in the body and controls the other endocrine glands within the body. The hypothalamus secretes neurohormones, called hypothalamic-releasing hormones which stimulate or inhibit the secretion of the pituitary gland. It is the hypothalamus that signals the release of the hormones that are required during puberty, pregnancy and sex. It also controls the release of hormones that are responsible for parenting and attachment behaviors.
The hypothalamus also controls the body’s circadian cycles. It is this part of the brain that responds to day and night and regulates when the body needs to sleep and when it needs to be active. The cycles are affected by internal and external stimuli and are adjusted daily. It is the hypothalamus that adjusts these cycles.
The hypothalamus is also responsible for emotions and the effect that these have on the body. It responds to emotional input and stimulates the responses necessary such as an increase in heart rhythm, hollow stomach, shortness of breath etc.