Adrenal glands function is crucial for physical and mental vitality. Adrenal glands, which are small but powerful, produce several different hormones that are important in metabolic processes, fluid balance, immune response, blood sugar management and sexual health. The adrenal gland is primarily involved in helping the mind and body deal with stressful situations by producing fight-or-flight hormones. Every single tissue, gland and organ in the body benefits from well-functioning adrenal glands.
Adrenal disorders occur when something interrupts the normal adrenal glands function. These are manifested in a variety of ways depending on the extent of the problem and the hormones affected. Typically, persons with a malfunctioning adrenal gland feel exhausted and depressed. They also suffer from insomnia and have difficulty in coping with stressful situations.
Adrenal dysfunction is treated accordingly usually through proper stress management, specialized diet plans and medications. Surgery or radiation therapy might be needed for severe adrenal problems. Those who suffer from the problem should not delay treatment because it could lead to life-threatening conditions.
Structure and location of the Adrenal Glands
The structure of the adrenal gland enables it to perform its function effectively. This small pyramid-like structure sitting above the kidneys is part of the endocrine system. The adrenal gland is just the size of a walnut and weighs a bit lighter than a grape. The gland is composed of interior and exterior parts known as the adrenal medulla and adrenal cortex, respectively. Both of them produce essential hormones that are released into the bloodstream.
Adrenal glands function is stimulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. The hypothalamus first activates the pituitary gland which likewise stimulates the adrenal gland to release the needed hormone. For instance, the hypothalamus detects the need to deal with stressful situations. The hypothalamus responds by producing corticotrophin-releasing hormone to activate the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland then releases corticotrophin hormones to activate the adrenal glands to release corticosteroid hormone, the hormone needed to help people deal stress.
Function of the Adrenal Glands
As part of the endocrine system, adrenal glands function evolves around producing hormones that are released into the bloodstream. These hormones are essential for different bodily processes, such as:
- Fight or flight response
- Dealing with stress and anxiety
- Control of blood pressure and sugar level
- Prevention of water and salt imbalance
- Sexual development and behavior
- Suppression of inflammatory response
The exterior and interior parts of adrenal glands serve separate purposes with regards to the kind of hormones they produce.
The adrenal cortex works in excreting hormones that are essential for life. These are:
This comes in two forms, namely, corticosterone and hydrocortisone. Corticosterone affects the body’s inflammatory and immune response, while hydrocortisone directs the body to get energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins and not from glucose.
This hormone ensures that the right levels of sodium and water and even blood pressure are maintained especially during bouts of diarrhea or sudden drops in blood pressure level.
This has a huge effect on females and is involved in the growth of body hair as well as sexual behavior.
On the other hand, the hormones excreted by the adrenal medulla are essential in coping with emotional and physical stresses. These are:
This hormone is the reason behind the sudden surge of strength or energy during emergency situations by releasing stored fat so the person has extra energy to deal with the situation.
This hormone is actually a precursor for adrenaline which works in constricting the blood vessels to increase the blood pressure.
Causes of Abnormal Adrenal Glands Function
Adrenal glands function may become abnormal either due to adrenal insufficiency, adrenal dysfunction and adrenal disorders. The problem could stem from the gland itself or another source. A problematic adrenal gland causes increased fatigue and recurrent infections due weakened immunity, hormonal imbalance, increased hunger and loss of appetite, as well as mood changes, depression and anxiety. The condition may aggravate and cause long-term health problem if left untreated.
Among the medical conditions related to abnormal adrenal glands function include:
- Cushing’s syndrome
This syndrome occurs due to excessive amounts of the corticosteroid hormone which cause obesity, rounded face, pinkish stretch marks, hypertension and bone loss.
- Addison’s disease
Addison’s disease arises when the adrenal glands produce insufficient amounts of aldosterone and corticosteroid. This causes fatigue, irritability, muscle weakness, joint pain, hyperpigmentation and sexual dysfunction. Addison’s disease can be life-threatening if ignored.
- Adrenal hyperplasia
This is a genetic disorder in which the adrenal gland produces inadequate levels of corticosteroid and aldosterone. Adrenal hyperplasia causes bigger than normal sex organs, early puberty and infertility.
- Adrenal cancer
Adrenal cancer causes overproduction of adrenal hormones which has adverse effects on the body. This is hardly detected during its early stages and may also mimic other adrenal disorders.
Those who suspect to have adrenal problems should see the doctor to confirm if there are any issues related to adrenal glands function. They should take the necessary steps to restore the glands’ normal functioning before the condition worsens.