A good majority of our hormones are produced in the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is known as the master gland that controls the functions of other important glands, such as the adrenal gland. The human body has two adrenal glands, one sits on top of each kidney.
WHAT DO MY ADRENAL GLANDS DO?
The adrenal glands secrete different hormones which act as ‘chemical messengers’. These hormones travel the bloodstream and act on various tissues to enable them to function properly. These hormones that are produced help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions. There are 2 parts to each kidney, the cortex and the medulla, both of which secrete different key hormones.
ADRENAL GLAND HORMONES
Let’s first discuss the hormones produced in the adrenal cortex:
- Aldosterone: helps the kidneys control the amount of salt in the blood and tissues of the body.
- Cortisol: helps the body manage and use carbohydrates, protein, and fat. It also causes changes in metabolism to help the body manage stress, and it suppresses the immune system. This hormone also controls the sleep/wake cycle.
- Androgens: the male sex hormones. The adrenal glands of both men and women make androgens but in different amounts. Androgens help the organs of the reproductive system grow, develop, and function. It controls the development of male physical traits, such as a deep voice, body and facial hair growth, and body shape. Also needed to make estrogen.
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that your body naturally produces in the adrenal gland. DHEA helps produce other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. Natural DHEA levels peak in early adulthood and then slowly fall as you age.
- Estrogen: the female sex hormone. It controls female reproduction and sexual development, including the development of female characteristics such as the growth of breasts.
The hormones produced in the adrenal medulla act as both hormones and as neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the nervous system). They manage the body’s response to stress.
- Epinephrine (adrenaline): released during times of short-term stress such as sudden shock or fear. It increases heart rate. Blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Norepinephrine (noradrenaline): constricts blood vessels. Like epinephrine, it increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
MOST COMMON ADRENAL GLAND DISORDERS
Sometimes, the adrenal glands produce too much or not enough of their hormones.
1. Adrenal insufficiency: When the adrenal glands do not make enough cortisol. There are many potential causes of this, including:
- Autoimmune disease, being born with damaged adrenal glands, tumors, infections, brain injuries.
Symptoms can include:
- Unexplained weight loss, always feeling tired or weak, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, low blood pressure, irregular or absent periods, joint pain, depression.
2. Cushing’s Syndrome: adrenals that produce too much cortisol. In this circumstance, the most common cause is an adrenal tumor.
- Fat buildup around the base of the neck, a fatty hump between the shoulders, unexplained weight gain, skin that bruises easily, excess hair on the face, neck, chest, abdomen (in females), obesity and slow growth (in children).
It is important to get annual blood work to check that all hormone levels are optimal to ensure that everything is functioning properly.