All About Adrenal Glands
Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys. They are endocrine glands which means that they make hormones. The brain controls how much hormone is made through an complex and interactive system called the HPA axis. (The letters stand for hypothalamus, pitutitary and adrenals. The hypothalamus and pituitary are specific parts of the brain.)
The hormones the adrenals make are classified as glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and androgens.
The primary glucocorticoid is cortisol. Cortisol helps maintain blood sugar levels between meals and is a powerful anti-inflammatory. The adrenal glands make cortisol in response to stress, exercise and low blood sugar. We make the most cortisol in the 6th-8th hours of sleep. When we measure cortisol we often measure it first thing in the morning to see it at its highest levels.
The mineralocorticoids, specifically aldosterone, play a role in kidney function. They help control the balance of sodium and potassium in our blood. Keeping them in balance affects our blood volume and blood pressure.
Androgens are the “male” sex hormones, including testosterone and DHEA. These hormones are made by both the adrenal glands and the ovaries or testes. In women, the primary source of DHEA is the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands also make epinephrine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are released in response to stress and stimulate the body to go into “fight or flight” mode.
As a group, the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenals respond to stress. The hormones they produce help our bodies adapt to stress. But unfortunately, most of us are under more and more stress, and these systems begin to malfunction.