Adrenal Glands

Original Editor - Lucinda hampton

Top Contributors - Lucinda hampton, Rucha Gadgil and Cindy John-Chu  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Kidney and adrenal gland.jpeg

Adrenal glands, also called suprarenal glands, are triangle-shaped glands on top of the kidneys. Adrenal glands produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions. The adrenal glands are controlled in part by the brain.

The adrenal gland is made up of the cortex and medulla. The cortex produces steroid hormones including glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, and adrenal androgens, and the medulla produces the catecholamines, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.[1]

Image 1: The kidney (including the surrounding fibrous tissue and fat layer, the renal pelvis, and the ureter) and the adrenal gland, as well as a close-up view of the renal pelvis

Adrenal Cortex[edit | edit source]

The Adrenal Glands.jpeg

The following hormones are produced by the adrenal cortex.

  • Cortisol (glucocorticoid hormone) controls the use of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats by the body. It regulates blood pressure, blood glucose, and decreases bone formation. Cortisol also helps in the suppression of inflammation in the body.
  • Aldosterone (mineralocorticoid hormone) regulates blood pressure and blood pH levels. The hormone regulates electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, in the blood to maintain blood pH.
  • Androgenic steroids and DHEA help in the production of sex hormones.

Image 2: Both adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys and are composed of an outer cortex and an inner medulla, all surrounded by a connective tissue capsule. The cortex can be subdivided into additional zones, all of which produce different types of hormones

Adrenal Medulla[edit | edit source]

Autonomic nervous system.jpeg

Adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) are hormones produced by the adrenal medulla. These play a crucial role in stress response and regulate blood pressure and heart rate. They also function as neurotransmitters[2].

Image 3: A flow diagram showing the process of stimulation of adrenal medulla that makes it release adrenaline, that further acts on adrenoreceptors leading to increased sympathetic activity.

Role in Hormonal Regulation[edit | edit source]

Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.jpeg

The body controls the levels of corticosteroids according to need. The levels tend to be much higher early in the morning than later in the day. When the body is stressed from illness or otherwise, the levels of corticosteroids increase dramatically[3].

  1. The job of the hypothalamus is to wake up the pituitary gland. Although the pituitary is only about the size of a small pea, it has a mighty job. The pituitary releases hormones, which are the messengers in the stress–response system. These hormones travel out of the brain to the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands release cortisol, the stress hormone, or messenger, that is part of the Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA).[4].

Image 4: The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis integrates and mediates the stress response.

Renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system.png

2. The Renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) - Hormone system within the body that is essential for the regulation of blood pressure and fluid balance. Comprised of the three hormones renin, angiotensin II and aldosterone. The RAAS is regulated mostly by the kidneys and rate of renal blood flow). The RAAS causes the adrenal glands to produce more or less aldosterone[3].

Image 5: RAAS

Medical conditions are related to the Adrenal Glands[edit | edit source]

Adrenal gland disorders occur when the adrenal glands produce too much or too little of these hormones.

  • Cushing's syndrome is a condition where the body has too much cortisol. This causes a variety of problems, such as weight gain, a flushed face, bruising and diabetes. Cushing's syndrome is usually caused by taking steroid medication for a long time, but it can sometimes be caused by a tumour of the adrenal gland.
  • Addison’s disease is caused by the adrenal glands failing to make enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. If you have Addison’s disease, you will have a poor appetite and lose weight. You might also have fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, depression, cravings, irregular menstruation or low blood pressure.
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is an inherited group of conditions in which the adrenal glands produce excess male sex hormones. Symptoms can include early puberty in boys and male features in girls.
  • Conn’s syndrome, also known as primary hyperaldosteronism, is a condition in which one or both adrenal glands produce more of the hormone aldosterone than normal, leading to high blood pressure.[5]

Physiotherapy[edit | edit source]

Be a health educator to your clients, if they are stressed this advice will help them.

Take care of your adrenal glands by giving them enough time to rest and repair themselves from the stress of daily function. Adrenal fatigue is characterised by the disruption of your adrenal glands’ ability to produce cortisol efficiently when it is needed. Having the right cortisol balance is essential for health, affecting such things as the body's response to stress, glucose metabolism (which affects energy), reducing inflammation, and controlling blood pressure.

Because of the huge influence adrenal glands have on the body, symptoms of adrenal fatigue vary greatly. These include, but are not limited to, lethargy, decreased brain function, weight gain, mood swings, frequent sickness or infection, insomnia and dizziness.

Of course, these are fairly generic symptoms and are common signs of various diseases and conditions. There are plenty of things you can do to help keep your adrenal glands healthy, most of which are crucial for your overall wellbeing. eg

  • Ensure good sleep hygiene
  • Diet is a major contributing factor to your adrenal health. Eliminating inflammatory foods, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meat, and whole grains is essential. Cutting out any foods that: contain toxins or chemicals, are difficult to digest, are over-processed, and replacing them with nutrient-rich alternatives will go a long way for your overall health, and in turn, your adrenal health.
  • A critical factor for adrenal health is stress. The two are inherently intertwined, so doing everything you can to reduce your stress levels is highly beneficial. This means resting when you are tired, getting a good night sleep (as we’ve mentioned), regulating your sleep cycle, getting plenty of exercises, doing yoga or meditating, relaxing where possible, and trying not to overwork yourself.[6]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Dutt M, Wehrle CJ, Jialal I. Physiology, adrenal gland. StatPearls [Internet]. 2020 May 29.Available: (accessed 9.6.20210
  2. Mom junction What Is Endocrine System? Parts And Functions Explained For Kids Available: (accessed 9.6.2021)
  3. 3.0 3.1 KUMC Endocrinology, Metabolism & Genetics Available: (accessed 9.6.2021)
  4. Bezdek KG, Telzer EH. Have no fear, the brain is here! How your brain responds to stress. AGE. 2017;8:15.Available: 9.6.2021)
  5. Health direct Adrenal Glands Available: (accessed 9.6.2021)
  6. Urology specialist Adrenal glands Available: (accessed 9.6.2021)