What are Adrenal Glands?

Your adrenal glands help keep you energized and feeling well. There are two of them and they help produce hormones which our bodies need in times of stress. We’re going to look at what the adrenal glands are, how they operate and why they are important.

Location of Adrenal Glands

Your adrenal glands sit atop your kidneys, like two caps. They are part of the “HPA Axis” which includes the hypothalamus of your brain, your pituitary glands and your adrenal glands. All 3 are inter-connected and serve a vital role in keeping your body healthy in times of stress.

They are around 1” wide and 2.5” long and have a orangish tinge of color. The left gland is shaped like a half-moon and the right gland is shaped like a triangle. The glands sit on top of your kidneys because they play an important role in kidney functionality.

Makeup of Adrenal Glands

The glands themselves are made up of 2 different parts:

  • Adrenal cortex, which is the outer part of the gland. This is where the hormones are produced, including cortisol which is responsible for helping your body cope in periods of high stress. Cortisol also helps regulate your metabolism.
  • Adrenal medulla, which is the inner part of the gland. This is where adrenaline is produced. The same kind adrenaline that sometimes gives people super-human strength in very stressful situations.

In addition to protecting your body from stress, the adrenal glands produce other hormones which are critical to the survival and well-being of your body.

HPA Axis and Functionality of the Adrenal Glands

As stated before, the HPA axis is a system that connects the hypothalamus to the pituitary glands which in turn connects to the adrenal glands.  The hypothalamus part of your brain controls the entire system.

Adrenal cortex

The adrenal cortex creates to groups of hornomes: glucocorticoids and mineralcorticoids. The glucocorticoids are released by the cortex when the hypothalamus and pituitary glands require them. The kidneys regulate the release of Mineralcorticoids.

The entire system starts in the hypothalamus. It produces corticotrophin-releasing hormones which stimulate the pituitary gland which in turn release a hormone called adrenal corticotrophic. These hormones tell the adrenal glands to start producing corticosteroid hormones.

Adrenal Medulla

The adrenal medulla does not perform any functions that are vital to survival. However, it does perform a critical function when your body encounters a stressful situations (aka “fight or flight”). The adrenal medulla releases hormones after the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated by the brain in a stressful situation. This is where and when adrenaline is produced

The medulla secretes two different kinds of hormones:

Norepinephrine: Commonly referred to as noreadrenaline, this hormone works in conjunction with the other hormone: Epinephrine. Norepinphrine results in high blood pressure as the blood is rushed to the brain and various parts of the body.

Epinephrine: Aka adrenaline.  Adrenalize rapidly increases your heart rate and rushes blood to the muscles and brain in preparation for whatever stressful situation is about to occur.

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