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An Introductory Look at the Function of Adrenal Glands

written by: C.D. Crowder • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 9/17/2013

Though you may be tempted to lump all glands together, each gland has a different function, including the adrenal glands. Learn more about these small glands that set just above your kidneys and regulate your hormones.

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    Regulator of Hormones

    Adrenal Glands Adrenal glands are small and triangular glands sitting just above your kidneys. The image to the left shows exactly where the adrenal glands are located. The little yellow images are the glands. Adrenal glands have two parts: the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla. Both parts have different functions in the body.

    Mainly the function of adrenal glands is to regulate the hormones in the body. Hormones affected include hydrocortisone, corticosterone, aldosterone, androgen, epinephrine, norepinephrine. From relaxing the body in stressful situations to affecting how fats are handled, you can thank your adrenal glands.

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    Adrenal Cortex

    For those trying to lose weight, it's important to understand the function of adrenal glands, especially the outer portion called the adrenal cortex. The hydrocortisone hormone controls how the body uses carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Problems with the adrenal glands can affect a person's weight.

    Corticosterone works with hydrocortisone to reduce inflammatory reactions in the human body. It also affects your immune system. Issues with the adrenal glands can often cause a person to get sick more often.

    To help maintain blood pressure and blood volume, the adrenal cortex secretes the aldosterone hormone. This hormone helps to control the sodium excreted into urine. The androgen hormones, also called androgenic steroids, have minor effects on male development.

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    Adrenal Medulla

    The adrenal medulla is the inner portion of the adrenal glands. Though this portion of the adrenal glands isn't considered vital, many would disagree as it controls the hormones necessary for coping with emotional and physical stresses. The hormones the adrenal medulla secretes are responsible for the commonly known fight or flight response. Without these hormones, the body could very likely freeze up in stressful situations instead of continuing to function despite the stress.

    Epinephrine, which is also referred to as adrenaline, controls the increase of your heart rate and heart contraction force. It also helps to keep blood flowing to your muscles and brain in stressful situations.

    Another important function of adrenal glands is converting glycogen to glucose in your liver.

    Norepinephrine is known for its vasoconstrictive effects. It doesn't have any of the effects of the epinephrine hormone. This hormone increases blood pressure, which in a physically stressful situation is extremely beneficial. Unhealthy amounts of this hormone, however, can have negative side effects such as constant high blood pressure.

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    The Big Picture

    The adrenal glands work alongside the other glands in the endocrine system. Both portions of the adrenal glands secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream to control fats and carbs, reduce inflammation, build a stronger immune sysytem, control blood pressure and enable a person to better handle stress. The adrenal glands are crucial to a healthy body.


  • Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons / Roxbury-de
  • University of Maryland Medical Center - http://umm.edu/programs/diabetes/health/endocrinology-health-guide/adrenal-glands