What Is Somatostatin?

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Somatostatin is a hormone peptide that plays a vital role in many bodily functions. The most notable are brain function and gastrointestinal processes.

The hormone stops the release of other hormones, specifically human growth hormone (HGH). By doing so, it essentially regulates bodily functions and processes by controlling how much other hormones are released at certain times.

This article discusses the function and uses of somatostatin and the conditions associated with the hormone.

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Production

The body produces somatostatin naturally. Various somatostatin receptors in the body work with somatostatin to prevent hormone release for the proper functioning of various bodily systems.

Many tissues within the body produce somatostatin. There are also many areas in the body containing somatostatin receptors. Tissues and organs that can produce the hormone include:

Somatostatin receptors can be found in areas of the body such as:

  • The moist inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract
  • The peripheral nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system that exists outside of the brain and spinal cord
  • The gut-associated lymphoid tissue, which is found in the small intestine
  • The hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that plays a role in memory and learning

What Are Receptors?

Receptors are proteins found in the body that bind messenger molecules to encourage a chemical response in the body that contributes to the growth, division, or death of cells. The chemical responses aid in how the entire body functions depending on the receptor and the molecule it binds to. 

Function

The main job of somatostatin is stopping your body from producing other hormones. By controlling the flow of hormones, it keeps the levels where they need to be.

If somatostatin didn’t perform its job well, other hormones in the body could be produced in excessive amounts, and specific processes would malfunction.

There are various hormones regulated by somatostatin, including:

  • Human growth hormone
  • Pancreatic hormones, including insulin
  • Gastrointestinal hormones, including leptin and gastrin

Somatostatin also keeps the reproduction of specific cells to a minimum. The cells that it focuses on are unnatural ones, like the cancer cells that form tumors.

Because somatostatin also has receptors, it can act as a neurotransmitter and aid in the proper signaling between cells within the body. Other specific actions of somatostatin include:

  • Keeping food from moving through the digestive tract too quickly
  • Reducing gallbladder contraction
  • Regulating blood flow in the intestines and the absorption of nutrients from food
  • Reducing a rapid increase of gastrointestinal lining cells

How Does the Body Control Somatostatin Production?

The hormones that are controlled by somatostatin also manage the production of somatostatin. When levels of certain hormones are high, it stimulates the production of somatostatin.

Associated Conditions  

While somatostatin is meant to keep bodily functions working correctly, too high or too low hormone levels can cause health issues.

In cases of excessive somatostatin, a rare tumor can develop in the gastrointestinal tract or pancreas, known as somatostatinoma. Various health issues and symptoms can arise if someone develops somatostatinoma, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Diarrhea
  • Gallstones
  • Fatty stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • Bowel blockage, which is accompanied by symptoms such as pain, bloating, and constipation
  • Bleeding from the stomach or bowel

When too much somatostatin is in the bloodstream, it can lead to deficiencies in other hormones because production will cease.

For example, if somatostatin is found in high amounts in the bloodstream, it may hinder the body’s ability to produce insulin. When the body doesn’t have enough insulin, a person can develop diabetes.

There are very few reports of somatostatin deficiency. That said, if it occurs, it could lead to a person having excessively high levels of other essential hormones such as HGH.

Health Consequences of High and Low Levels of Somatostatin

The conditions associated with low or high hormone levels will vary depending on what type of hormone has caused the problem. That is why, in many cases, it is hard to determine whether the production of somatostatin is involved in the increase or decrease of crucial hormones.

Uses and Benefits

The actions of somatostatin in the body have led medical researchers to develop an artificial or analog version of the peptide hormone to address specific medical issues.

One specific use for somatostatin is the treatment of carcinoid syndrome, which develops when a carcinoid tumor releases chemicals into the bloodstream.

The two somatostatin medications that help with symptoms of carcinoid tumors are Sandostatin (octreotide) and Somatuline (lanreotide).

Other conditions have also been treated using somatostatin, including:

  • Various types of tumors such as breast, colon, prostate, and lung tumors
  • Noncancerous (benign) tumors such as adenomas
  • Congenital hyperinsulinism
  • Graves' orbitopathy (autoimmune condition)
  • Diabetic retinopathy (damage to the retina)
  • Diabetic macular edema (serious eye complication of diabetes)
  • Chronic refractory diarrhea
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding (hemorrhage)
  • Dumping syndrome (digestive disorder)
  • Intestinal fistula (abnormal opening in the gastrointestinal tract)

Treating Carcinoid Tumor Symptoms With Somatostatin

The somatostatin medications used to treat carcinoid tumors help different symptoms. For example, Sandostatin is often used to treat severe diarrhea. In contrast, Somatuline is used to slow the production of hormones to slow the growth of cancer and control tumor symptoms.

Side Effects

While somatostatin analogs can help people with carcinoid syndrome, the medication can also cause some unwanted side effects, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in blood sugar levels
  • Changes in bowel function

Summary

Somatostatin is a peptide hormone naturally produced in the body and used in various bodily functions. Its primary purpose is to regulate the release of other hormones, but it also plays a role in the function of the gastrointestinal tract and the messaging between cells in the body.

Levels of somatostatin matter. Excessive levels can lead to issues with proper hormone production in the body, leading to a rare tumor known as somatostatinoma.

Medical researchers have made artificial somatostatin analogs to help treat certain health conditions, mainly carcinoid syndrome. Other health disorders that may benefit from somatostatin include various types of cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, and noncancerous tumors. 

A Word From Verywell

Somatostatin is a vital piece of your health puzzle that helps with the function of your nervous system and your gastrointestinal tract. If you have proper somatostatin levels in your system, hormone release and production will typically be adequate.

While it’s not easy to determine if your levels are abnormal, if you do have any concerns because of new symptoms or a hormonal imbalance, contact your healthcare provider. Although rare, your somatostatin levels may be out of balance.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What areas of the body use somatostatin?

    The release and production of hormones depend highly on somatostatin, so your whole body technically relies on it. Typically, your gastrointestinal tract, endocrine system, and nervous system need somatostatin to ensure proper health processes throughout the body.

  • How can I tell if my somatostatin levels are where they need to be?

    It can be hard to determine if your somatostatin levels are off. That is partly because the symptoms of hormone irregularities are often attributed to other health problems. Also, imbalances in somatostatin are incredibly rare. If you have any concerns, contact your healthcare provider.

 

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.