The Adrenal Glands

We have two adrenal glands. Each adrenal sits near the top of each kidney and is only the size of a walnut. Each adrenal gland is constructed from an outer section known as the adrenal cortex and an inner or core section know as the adrenal medulla.

The adrenal cortex produces mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids and androgens.

The adrenal medulla produces the hormones known as catecholamines, which include adrenaline (epinephrine) and nor-adrenaline (nor-epinephrine)  - these are the 'flight-or-fight response' hormones.

For a thyroid patient it is the adrenal cortex hormones that are usually of more interest.

The androgens are the sex hormones and sometimes these can be of interest to thyroid patients. However, the majority of these are produced by the ovaries in women or the testes in men. The exception is DHEA, which is produced in the adrenal cortex.

The mineralocorticoids are classified as a group of hormones similar to aldosterone. Aldosterone controls the balance between sodium and potassium in the body and works with the kidneys to control blood pressure and blood volume.

The glucocorticoid hormones are a large group of hormones. The most important of these is cortisol because it is produced in such high volume by the adrenal glands.

Cortisol has several functions in the body. One of the main functions of cortisol is to raise the level of blood sugar by affecting glucose metabolism. Cortisol has a suppressive effect on the immune system and prevents the release of substances that cause inflammation. Cortisol is also important in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism.

It is the management of blood sugar that is of primary importance to thyroid patients. If cortisol is low then blood sugar will not be maintained at a high enough level and this may result in too low a supply of glucose into the cells. If this occurs, then cells of the body may not work correctly even if thyroid hormone levels are adequate.