Once a hormone is secreted, it travels from the endocrine gland that produced it through the bloodstream to the cells designed to receive its message. These cells are called target cells. Along the way to the target cells, special proteins bind to some of the hormones. These proteins act as carriers that control the amount of hormone that is available for the cells to use.
The target cells have receptors that latch onto only specific hormones, and each hormone has its own receptor, so that each hormone will communicate only with specific target cells that have receptors for that hormone. When the hormone reaches its target cell, it locks onto the cell's specific receptors and these hormone-receptor combinations transmit chemical instructions to the inner workings of the cell.
When hormone levels reach a certain normal amount, the endocrine system helps the body to keep that level of hormone in the blood. For example, if the thyroid gland has secreted the right amount of thyroid hormones into the blood, the pituitary gland senses the normal levels of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream. Then the pituitary gland adjusts its release of thyrotropin, the hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones.
Another example of this process is parathyroid hormone, which increases the level of calcium in the blood. When the blood calcium level rises, the parathyroid glands sense the change and reduce their secretion of parathyroid hormone. This turnoff process is called a negative feedback system.