© 2007 All Rights Reserved. Do not distribute or repurpose this work without written permission from the copyright holder(s).
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At the base of the human brain there lies a tiny organ called the pituitary gland. About the size of a pea, this demure little gland produces and secretes a cocktail of hormones into the bloodstream from its bony nook inside the skull, helping the body to govern many internal systems. The pituitary is perhaps most well-known for its production of the
amino acid protein somatotropin, a growth hormone which stimulates cell reproduction and bodily development.
This humble chemical factory typically produces some amount of growth hormone throughout an individual’s life, though the volume usually drops off precipitously after adolescence. In spite of its small size, however, misbehaving pituitaries have been known to cause massive consequences for their owners.
One of the more common defects is a benign tumor called an adenoma. This swelling originates in the pituitary, often producing excessive amounts of one or more of the gland’s chemical messengers.
When such a tumor spills excessive growth hormone into the body, a condition called acromegaly arises.
The effects of acromegaly vary depending on the development stage of the stricken individual. If the condition arises after the end of natural growth, the victim’s hands, feet, jaw, forehead, and ribcage will often grow outwards. But when the tumor arises earlier, in someone who hasn’t yet reached full height, a phenomenon called gigantism occurs. This state causes continuous growth, ultimately leading to an abnormally tall stature in adulthood. The extremities also grow more than the rest of the body, leading to disproportionately large hands and feet, and a characteristic large-boned face.
The extreme height and distinctive features of gigantism have been irresistible to Hollywood. Actors Richard Kiel (“Jaws” in James Bond movies) and Matthew McGrory (“Karl the Giant” in Big Fish) both had acromegaly. Even those acromegalics in other professions frequently seem to end up on the big or little screens. André the Giant and Paul Wright, both professional wrestlers, and Gheorghe Muresan, a basketball player, have all had parts in more than one movie or TV show. Carel Struycken, who played Lurch in the Addams Family movies, was literally pulled off the street when a woman abandoned her car to run after him and offer him a part in Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Unfortunately fame and fortune don’t offer much protection against the life-threatening effects of acromegaly. Over time it leads to a host of systemic problems including arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. The tumor itself, should it grow too large, can press against the optic nerves and cause blindness. Untreated acromegalics rarely live past middle-age. Early treatment could avoid most of these problems, but early diagnosis, let alone treatment, is hard to come by. Most people go for years— as much as a decade or more— between the onset of symptoms and a diagnosis.
Even someone as drastically affected as André the Giant didn’t receive a diagnosis of acromegaly until well into his pro-wrestling career, and after much damage had already been done. His death in 1993 was directly attributable to his disease.
While an adenoma can result in a surplus of growth hormone, there are some conditions which can result in just the opposite. Certain brain diseases, tumors, and trauma can cause the pituitary gland to reduce its output, which causes a host of ill effects. Most cases of growth hormone deficiency appear in adults, causing reduced bone and muscle mass, increased body fat, and some impaired brain functions. However, when this condition occurs in a child, the shortage of growth hormone usually leads to pituitary dwarfism, resulting in an abnormally short stature with normal body proportions.
Perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of the pituitary’s power occurred in a man named Adam Rainer. Born in Austria in 1899, Adam experienced abbreviated growth during his childhood, and it soon became apparent that he was destined to be a very short man. At age twenty-one he stood only 3′ 10.5″ tall.
One can only imagine that by that age Adam had come to terms with his fate, accepting that he would live out his life as a dwarf. But he was mistaken.
In his early twenties, little Adam Rainer began to grow at an astonishing rate. It seems that his malfunctioning pituitary had gone from producing too little growth hormone to producing far too much, and over the next eleven years he grew an average of 3.6 inches per year. By the time he was thirty-two Adam Rainer stood at just under 7′ 2″— a giant by some estimations— and it was at about that time that he lost the ability to stand on his own. The strain of such massive growth left him bed-ridden, and though his rate of growth did decrease, it did not stop. By the time Adam died at age fifty-one, he had gained another six inches, leaving him at 7′ 8″ tall. He was the only man in history to be classified as both a dwarf and a giant.
Today, treatment for pituitary problems is readily available, though the gradual onset of symptoms frequently leads to late diagnosis, which in turn decreases the effectiveness of treatment.
Surgical measures for gigantism have been available since Dr. Julius von Hochenegg successfully pioneered a method in 1908 where he accessed the pituitary by punching through the back of the nose, an approach still favored by surgeons today. A handful of drugs can also be used to alleviate the problems of excessive growth hormone and to try to shrink the tumor, though their track record is not wonderful. Pituitary dwarfism can be successfully treated by simply administering synthetic growth hormones, assuming it is diagnosed before skeletal development is complete.
The most astonishing thing of all may be that this entire set of dramatic symptoms is the result of a deficit or surplus of one single hormone. The pea-sized pituitary produces half a dozen distinct hormones, each of which triggers a unique set of problems should the pituitary be compromised. Acromegaly and dwarfism are but two of a plethora of potential problems. Sometimes small things can be very important indeed.
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I love this site, I visit it more than once a day to review the archives and peek at the various comments.. I’d like to take this time to make my second comment: “First!”
Although it wasn’t mentioned, the pituitary gland also controls blood pressure, some aspects of pregnancy and childbirth, breast milk production, sex organ functions in both women and men, thyroid gland function, the conversion of food into energy (metabolism), and water and osmolarity regulation in the body (taken directly from Wikipedia). No wonder it’s situated in a bone cavity to protect it, because if it were to be damaged…
Could injections of somatotropin be used to make “super soldiers?”
Why have people lately been obsessed with “super soldiers”. Seems to me its an outdated concept considering modern technology..
but hey it was cool science fiction a few decades ago
I’m a super soldier
For some reason when ever I hear mention of super soldiers I get an image of a load of guys in in leotards with there y fronts on the outside singing “I’m so super, Im fantastic” from South Park. Don’t worry I’m going to take my medication now!!
Baader-Meinhof strikes again. I was looking up this exact syndrome last night on wikipedia. At least it means I don’t need to follow the links to get more information, because I already know it!
Professional athletes and their “personal trainers” have been tampering with this phenomena and HGH for several years now. Think Barry Bonds. I read somewhere recently that in the last 7-8 years, his hat size has grown 1/4 inch ( and he shaves his head now!) and his shoe size has has jumped from a 10 1/2 to a 13 1/2! It seems the real money – at least until the much publicized scandals of late- is in the creation of “super sluggers” not “super soldiers”.
Although that did make me think of Dolph Lundgren in Universal Soldier. What a crappy flick.
As always, DI!
I’ve loved Andre the Giant since I was a little girl watching “the Princess Bride” – in the behind-th-scenes, they talked about how much of a sweetheart he was, but how, when the movie was in production, he couldn’t work for very long at a time and they had to rig the scenes when he performed “feats of strength” because his bones and muscles were so fragile. DI!
…they had to rig the scenes when he performed “feats of strength” because his bones and muscles were so fragile…
Damn, I thought he pulled Buttercup, Inigo and Vizzini up the Cliffs of Insanity by himself ;-)
Anybody want a peanut?
I see Richard Kiel is alive and well, so much for dying early. As somebody who is 6’6″ and 30lbs. I can tell you being big is fantastic, except when it comes to finding clothes or a car that fits. The funny thing is there is only a problem with being tall with some women. MOST of the girls I have been with have been fascinated while others have been scared to death and want nothing to do with me. That’s fine the feeling is mutual as they had nothing to offer. The girls who talked with me or more were outgoing and very full of personality, I have a special place for every one of them considering how tough it must be to talk with somebody a whole head taller. My wife WAS 5’5″ when I met her, she has shrunk a bit in her old age – unfortunately growing up near Baltimore MD didn’t offer too many opportunities at tall women. The ones I met were big boned and heavy, not my type. All the great looking ones are out in Hollywood or NY. Anyway, if you’ll notice, all of these tall men are in fact very imposing, but each one of them has a huge heart and I’ll bet would do anything for anybody. That is until some idiot acts stupidly brave in front of them, then look out.
I completely understand. My father and I are the tallest in our family. Both of us are at 6’4″, while my mother and two brothers are only 5’8″ at best. Being a girl and that tall is a little difficult. Lots of jokes growing up about my shoe size and pant size only made me stronger. =) lol my husband is even smaller than I am. he he. But it doesn’t bother him. It’s the people that stare that bother me. I guess I am young and have a lot more growing up to do. (Hopefully emotionally and not vertically, lol)
DI article, really!
Has anyone seen “Eegah,” with the MST3000 commentary? Some of Kiel’s best work. [Oh and, watch out for snakes!]
Ironcross: “As somebody who is 6’6″ and 30lbs.”
They should write a DI article about you Ironcross. You must have some damn interesting medical issue if you only weight thrity pounds.
ironcross – people with acromegaly tend to die early if the disease is untreated. I would assume that Richard Kiel has been or is being treated for his condition.
Most of the very tall people I have met are indeed very kind-hearted and gentle – rarely are they bullies. I have a theory that they learn to restrain their physical advantage as kids, or risk being unpopular. Compare this to the average person who gets behind the wheel of a car: What do they do with their physical advantage? Road rage! They exploit it in a really nasty way, and act in a way that they would never consider if they were removed from their auto-armor. They never learned the lesson as kids that exploiting your physical advantage makes you unpopular.
So I wonder if tall people are less likely to be road ragers?
lip_ring said: “I’ve loved Andre the Giant since I was a little girl watching “the Princess Bride” – in the behind-th-scenes, they talked about how much of a sweetheart he was, but how, when the movie was in production, he couldn’t work for very long at a time and they had to rig the scenes when he performed “feats of strength” because his bones and muscles were so fragile. DI!”
My friend’s Uncle was a friend of Andre the Giant. As noted he was very gentle and friendly. Due to his size though, he had to turn sideways and duck to use doorways. He also had a very good sense of humor. People would stare at him wherever we went, but he took it in stride. Usually clowning around for a picture. Yep, I really miss the “Gentle Giant”.
….where he accessed the pituitary by punching through the back of the nose…..
I had this done to me in 1988 to check on a watery mass below my pituitary. First they break your nose, cut inside the top of your upper lip and lift you face up so they can get back there.
NOT a fun few weeks of recovery….
Okay, not thinking here. My wife’s side of the family is tall. Of her four brothers, the runt is 6’5” while the oldest is just shy of 7’. Three of the brothers played varsity sports and did very well in basketball. I stand 6’1” whereas my wife is 5’8”. One of our nephews was 6’6” and wore a size 15-1/2 wide at twelve years of age.
We have two sons that wear the same size clothes. The youngest is 1” shorter than his older brother. The age difference is four years. The youngest is a head taller than his classmates whereas the oldest is a head shorter than his classmates.
I did have a cousin who passed away at 32 and was only 5’ 2”.
So otherwise in my own family there be giants and little people.
Yeah, I cant help but feel I wanted my pituitary to kick in. It is really weird how both sides of my family sport men that range from 6′ 4″ to 6′ 8″, yet I managed to be a whopping 5’7″ at age 21….wait a minute, maybe I can pull an Adam Rainer, but that would bed-stricken me…oh well DI article.
Does anyone else find Carel Struycken’s head to be really creepy with that big line of bone clearly visible?
Also, if tall people are nice drivers, what does that say about dwarfs?
My oldest son weighed 8and 1/2 pounds and was 20 inches long at birth, A week later he weighed 12 pounds, and by eight weeks he weighed almost 20 pounds. He went through 3-4 casaes of formula in a week and 8-10 large jars of baby food in a day. The doctors said I fed him too much, but when a child is hungry …. By age 1 he weighed nearly 60 pounds and was just under 4 feet tall. He was tested for everything, but results were always negative. Today he is a healthy 6’5″ 37 year old who still weighs what he did at age 18. He still has a huge appetite, and I’m glad I don’t have to feed him anymore. He took alot of ribbing all his life about his height and his appetite, but he never took it seriously. He and his father are the only 2 people in the family who are tall. The rest of us are all under 5’6″. ..DI article. Thanks.
God said: “Also, if tall people are nice drivers, what does that say about dwarfs?”
That they aren’t allowed to drive cars since they can’t reach the pedals?
BarryW said: “Ironcross: “As somebody who is 6’6″ and 30lbs.”
They should write a DI article about you Ironcross. You must have some damn interesting medical issue if you only weight thrity pounds.”
BAHAHAHAHA! That is too funny, ok I messed up I decided to switch from using a # to using lbs and left off the 8. So make that 6’6″ and 308 POUNDS. Or 22 stone for our English brethren.
You forgot to mention acromegalic movie star Rondo Hatton, though I think only his extremities continued to grow. Unfortunately, he was often cast as the heavy in the few movies he was in.
…excellent article and DI…one of the few times where one particular item, under differeing situations, causes polar opposite conditions…giantism vs dwarfism.
“…About the size of a pea, this demure little gland produces and secretes a cocktail of hormones into the bloodstream from its bony nook inside the skull, helping the body to govern many internal systems. ”
Never thought of the body as a machine that produced cocktails. Then again, the blood bank refused to accept my blood last week ’cause they said they found an olive in it. This is what happens when you have too much blood in your alcohol stream. With that…Cheers!
ironcross said: “The girls who talked with me or more were outgoing and very full of personality, I have a special place for every one of them considering how tough it must be to talk with somebody a whole head taller. … Anyway, if you’ll notice, all of these tall men are in fact very imposing, but each one of them has a huge heart and I’ll bet would do anything for anybody. That is until some idiot acts stupidly brave in front of them, then look out.”
I’m 5′ tall and I had a friend in high school who was 6′ 8″. We actually both had crushes on each other but I was a freshman and he was a senior so my parents would have freaked. But he was one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever known. He really was gentle. Guys would try to fight him to prove something and he hated that because he didn’t have a violent or aggresive bone in his body.
I still wish I’d gone to the prom with him. That would have been so awesome. :)
inmyopinion said: “That they aren’t allowed to drive cars since they can’t reach the pedals?”
Actually cars can be modified to accommodate people who can’t work the pedals. My aunt has spina bifida and can’t use her legs, but her car has hand levers for the gas and brake.
Would have thought this was more DI if I didn’t see every documentary there is about robert wadlow and all the other people with this disorder.
Double Baader-Meinhof Cherubrokker! I also was looking at the Pituitary on Wikipedia yesterday.
P.S Excellent article.
I was once in charge of handing out prizes at a radio station. The prize was WWF shirts. The winner had won the Andre the Giant shirt, which only came in “giant” size, the biggest shirt I had ever seen. She arrived at the station, and she was …a dwarf! Although we had a hard-and-fast rule about prize substitution, I let her select a shirt she could wear.
My late husband was 6’7″ and 300 pounds. His weight, plus a job in which he stood a long time, wore his knees out. Since he was afraid of knee surgery, bad knees led to lack of exercise, which led to weight gain, which led to heart disease. Don’t be afraid of surgery.
jkschlitz said: “Actually cars can be modified to accommodate people who can’t work the pedals. My aunt has spina bifida and can’t use her legs, but her car has hand levers for the gas and brake.”
Excellent! I didnt know.
I think you meant to say Paul Wight.
My boyfriend is 6’6 and I am 5’1 so we always attract some interesting stares when we go out. Especially since he’s 300 lbs. and I weigh in at about 130. Anyhow just wanted to say it is true about gentle giants. He is one of the sweetest people I have ever known and I don’t think he could hurt a fly if he tried
Yep, gave me a chuckle remembering high school. I dated a guy who was 6’7″ and probably weighed about 115 lbs. soaking wet with all his clothes and shoes on. I wasn’t done growing yet, and came in around 5 feet, but I still outweighed him by a bit. People used to call us “the tree and the shrub.” Meanest SOB I ever met, too; not exactly the kindest soul. So much for “gentle giants”; I guess his heart hadn’t caught up with the rest of him yet.
As a full-grown adult I reached a whopping 5’1″, so I knew I was going to have to either marry a really tall guy or keep a lot of footstools around to find out what was on those top shelves. While not really outrageously tall, my 6’5″ big-boy husband gets the job done. And yes, people DO stare. I even had a co-worker ask:
“How do you two…um…I mean, you know…?”
Here it comes, I’m thinking. “Uh, have sex?” I suggest.
“Oh!” she blushed. “No! I was just wondering how do you two…dance?”
The answer, as with anything, is of course: “Very carefully.” ;)
(Anybody want a peanut?)
I’m average – 1.8 m (that’s metric) and 75 kgs (that’s metric too). Who knows how many feet and pounds that is?! On my off days i kill super soldiers and giants. I just kick the dwarfs.
If this subject is interesting, then surely the book “The Height of Your Life” by Ralph Keyes is just as interesting. Take a look! http://www.fetchbook.info/compare.do?search=0062700200
Truly a candidate for the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon… I read this article yesterday, and when I turned on TLC, there was a special about the tallest man alive, a Ukrainian named Leonid Stadnik, who was affected by a malfunctioning pituitary gland. On the plus side for him, it seems to have fixed itself…
BTW – love this site – keep it up!
JoJo said: “My oldest son weighed 8and 1/2 pounds and was 20 inches long at birth, A week later he weighed 12 pounds, and by eight weeks he weighed almost 20 pounds. He went through 3-4 casaes of formula in a week and 8-10 large jars of baby food in a day. The doctors said I fed him too much, but when a child is hungry …. By age 1 he weighed nearly 60 pounds and was just under 4 feet tall. He was tested for everything, but results were always negative. Today he is a healthy 6’5″ 37 year old who still weighs what he did at age 18. He still has a huge appetite, and I’m glad I don’t have to feed him anymore. He took alot of ribbing all his life about his height and his appetite, but he never took it seriously. He and his father are the only 2 people in the family who are tall. The rest of us are all under 5’6″. ..DI article. Thanks.”
A 4ft 1 year old?! And I thought regular sized kids could be difficult. How did you take him places? At 4ft he wouldn’t have fit in a stroller any more. On the plus side, I guess you didn’t need a car seat?
i WANT TO BON=MB THE UAA AND I HAVE FLOWN PLANS IN TO IT
i WILL BOMB THE USA
Uhmmm suuure bomblady >_>
Shouldn’t miss mentioning the giant in Bruce Lee’s “Game of Death”
I actually always found it to be oddly fascinating and an attractive quality on him. Why? No clue. But not creepy to me at all.
Baader-Meinhof indeed! While I haven’t been noticing pituitaries or giants recently, I did just read the article about Baader-Meinhof earlier this afternoon – I had never (to my knowledge) heard (or read) the term before – although of course I had often experienced the effects – and now an hour or two later here I read it three or four times!
I have personal experience with the shorter side of this story. I was born with Growth Hormone Deficiency and stopped growing when I was 10, at about 4′ tall. That’s not a terribly unusual height, so I wasn’t diagnosed until age 12, when my mother became worried that I hadn’t grown in 2 years.The doctor prescribed a synthetic growth hormone, and I grew to be 5′ 6″ by the time I was 15. Unfortunately, I hated the injections used to administer the hormones every night, so I stopped then. Now I’m still the shortest in my family, but I’m average compared to the rest of the world.
(Most of my family is tall, so I should have been at least 5′ 9″, if not taller, by the time I stopped growing.)
Wow. Damn Interesting