The adrenal glands are small triangular glands that are responsible for producing hormones that control several bodily functions. The adrenals or suprarenal glands are located at the top of the kidneys. The adrenal glands are made up of two distinct sections, the cortex and the medulla. These sections produce a variety of hormones and chemicals that regulate and maintain several processes in the body.
Function of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are responsible for initiating the "fight or flight" response when the body is under attack or high levels of stress. They also release the hormones and chemicals that control metabolism and the regulation of sugar and sodium levels in the blood.
The adrenal glands produce the hormones that allow the body to mature sexually, through adolescence and puberty. These hormones also control sexual response and the body's ability to carry a child to full term, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The adrenal cortex is the outer portion of the gland. The cortex produces hormones and chemicals that control metabolism and many body characteristics. It also deposits hydrocortisone, or cortisol, and corticosterone directly into the bloodstream. Hydrocortisone and corticosterone initiate and control inflammatory responses in the body. Hydrocortisone is necessary for the body to assimilate and use carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
The adrenal cortex also produces aldosterone. Aldosterone maintains blood level and pressure by controlling the amount of sodium that is released into the urine, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The adrenal medulla releases chemicals that help the body handle both physical and mental stress, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The medulla is also responsible for the creation of epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Epinephrine, or adrenaline, promotes healthy blood flow to the brain and helps to convert glycogen to glucose in the liver. It also speeds up the heart rate and increases the force of the heart's contractions. Norepinephrine increases blood pressure by constricting blood vessels, but has little effect on other metabolic processes.
Disorders of the Adrenal Glands
Because the adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system, the malfunction of other glands can cause the adrenal glands to malfunction as well. Cushing's syndrome occurs when the body is exposed to too much cortisol. This over-stimulation can be a result of adrenal tumors or certain types of medications.
Tumors on the pituitary gland can cause either an increase or a decrease in the level of hormones produced by the adrenals. If too much hydrocortisone is produced, the resulting disorder is Cushing's disease. Too little of the adrenal hormones can result in Addison's disease, which may be fatal. Addison's disease is the deterioration of the body's "fight or flight" response, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.