Adrenal imbalance results in troubling symptoms when the adrenal glands are putting out the wrong levels of stress hormones — either too low or too high — in relation to the amount that's needed.
Adrenal imbalance is especially common with chronic stress, when your adrenals prepare your body by increasing adrenaline and cortisol production. When you are constantly stressed, your cortisol levels remain unnaturally high and can cause a wide range of distressing symptoms, as well as lead to serious health problems.
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When hearing the term “adrenal gland,” you may immediately think of stress or fight-or-flight. This association is the result of adrenaline secretion, which is one of the gland’s primary functions. Adrenaline has several actions to help the body deal with stressful situations, including an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and a widening of the air passages in the lungs.
In addition to stress response, the adrenal glands also release hormones that contribute to your health in the following ways:
- Promoting healthy cardiovascular function
- Utilizing carbohydrates and fats
- Distributing fat reserves
- Promoting healthy gastrointestinal function
Adrenal Gland Anatomy
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and derive their names from their location. “Ad” means “near,” and “renal” refers to the kidneys. The body has two adrenal glands, which are triangular organs with a height of about 1.5 inches and a length of about 3 inches.
Each adrenal gland consists of two distinct parts. The adrenal cortex is the outer region of the gland, and the adrenal medulla is the inner region of the gland. The former secretes hormones that are vital to life—for example, cortisol—and the latter produces non-essential hormones that you don’t need to stay alive, such as adrenaline.
Adrenal Gland Hormones
The adrenal glands release a wide range of hormones with different functions.
Adrenal Cortex Hormones
The adrenal cortex primarily produces two corticosteroid hormones, namely glucocorticoids and mineral corticoids. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland initiate the release of glucocorticoids, and the kidneys trigger the secretion of mineral corticoids.
The hypothalamus produces CRH, which is a corticotrophin-releasing hormone. CRH stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenal corticotrophin hormone or ACTH. Together, CRH and ACTH trigger the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroid hormones.
The glucocorticoid hormones released by the adrenal cortex include:
- Cortisol, also called hydrocortisone: The function of this hormone is to regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular function. Additionally, cortisol also regulates the body’s conversion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into energy.
- Corticosterone: This hormone works in concert with cortisol to regulate the body’s immune response. Corticosterone also suppresses inflammatory reactions.
The primary mineral corticoid released from the adrenal cortex is aldosterone. This hormone maintains the body’s balance of salt and water, and helps to control blood pressure.
Adrenal Medulla Hormones
The adrenal medulla produces non-essential hormones, which means that you don’t need these hormones to live. However, these hormones play a crucial role in helping you cope with stressors in your environment.
The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal medulla to release hormones, usually when there is a cause for emotional or physical stress. These hormones are also responsible for the body’s fight-or-flight response, which can save your life if you have to get away from or confront a threat in your environment.
Hormones of the adrenal medulla include:
- Epinephrine—also called adrenaline: This hormone increases your physical capabilities and prevents fatigue by increasing your heart rate and increasing blood flow to your muscles and brain. Additionally, adrenaline also boosts the conversion of glycogen to glucose to spike your blood sugar levels for added energy.
- Norepinephrine: This hormone works with adrenaline to help the body reduce stress. Vasoconstriction, or narrowing of the blood vessels, can result from norepinephrine release and can increase blood pressure.
Adrenal Gland Disorders
Various factors can affect the function of the adrenal glands. These issues typically result in an over- or underproduction of hormones, which can cause a hormone imbalance. Below are some of the most prominent adrenal gland disorders.
Cushing’s Syndrome is a condition caused by the overproduction of adrenal gland cortisol. In essence, Cushing’s Syndrome is the opposite of Addison’s Disease. Several things can cause this adrenal gland disorder, including a tumor in the pituitary gland or adrenal gland and the excessive production of ACTH.
Common symptoms of this disorder include, among others, rapid weight gain, psychological conditions, immune suppression, sleep disturbances, and muscle and bone weakness.
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is a genetic disorder that is the result of cortisol levels that are too low. People who suffer from this condition may also have problems with their aldosterone levels, which can cause water and salt imbalances.
Adrenal cancer is a rare but debilitating condition. This type of cancer is aggressive and can spread to other organs. An adrenal tumor can result in the overproduction of hormones and cause a wide range of changes in bodily functions.
Addison’s Disease is a rare condition that is the result of an inactive adrenal cortex and an insufficient production of cortisol and aldosterone. Addison’s Disease can affect people of all ages. Symptoms of this condition include:
- Adrenal gland fatigue
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness when standing up
- Abdominal pain
Adrenal gland disorders can harm your health. Adrenal fatigue—when your adrenals are overtaxed and no longer functioning properly—can lower your energy levels, and adrenal gland stress can result in hormone imbalances that can affect your immune system.
With proper adrenal gland support, you can promote your adrenal gland health. One of the most effective ways to care for your adrenal gland health is to pay attention to your nutritional intake. Vitamins and minerals can prevent these disorders and ensure that your adrenal glands function optimally.
Adrenal Support is a dietary supplement that contains vitamins C, B-6, B-12, B-5, and magnesium. With this product, you ensure a healthy intake of these minerals, which can promote healthy cortisol levels and good adrenal health.