Types and functions of adrenal hormones glucocorticoids and androgens

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In the structure of the endocrine system, a pair of glandular organs are secreted, which produce hormones that are indispensable for the functioning of the human body. The gonads, pancreas, thyroid gland also belong to this area.

Adrenal hormones regulate metabolic mechanisms, are responsible for the formation of secondary sexual characteristics, have other functions, getting into the bloodstream or intercellular space. A change in their level is fraught with organ dysfunctions and serious pathologies.

The structure of the adrenal glands

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The adrenal glands are located at the apices of the kidneys, in the retroperitoneal region. The glands are responsible for the production of several dozen hormones.

The right gland is pyramidal, the left gland resembles a crescent moon. They are up to 5 cm long, no thicker than a centimeter, yellowish, uneven, weighing less than ten grams.

The adrenal glands are formed from morphologically and functionally different cells, which determines the type of endocrine secretion in each zone. Let us consider in more detail the areas of influence and significance of adrenal hormones.

The main functions of the adrenal glands

The functional significance of the adrenal glands is manifested, among other things, in the regulation of the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and the synthesis of other substances.

The state and behavior of an individual in different life situations directly depends on the coordinated activity of the adrenal glands, on how much and what hormones are released into the blood.

The various biological effects exerted by hormones are due to the fact that:

  • they have a different biochemical composition,
  • they are associated with other glands and organs,
  • the adrenal glands are formed from morphologically heterogeneous cells.

These essential hormones are responsible for the balance of all metabolic processes in the body. They control metabolism, blood pressure, immune response to stimuli and allergic reactions, and determine the development of sexual characteristics.

If the cells of the gland cannot cope or the organs themselves are removed, their deficiency can be replenished with the help of hormone replacement therapy.

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Table of adrenal hormones and their functionality:

Where is synthesizedHormoneEffect
Glomerular cortexAldosterone, Corticosterone, DeoxycortoneRetention of sodium and water, increased excretion of potassium, increased blood pressure
Bundle area of ​​the cortexCortisol, cortisone, 11-deoxycortisol, corticosterone, dehydrocorticosteroneFormation of resistance to stress and stress, participation in the breakdown of fats into fatty acids, synthesis of glucose from non-carbohydrate compounds, activation or suppression of immunity, suppression of inflammatory processes and allergic responses, regulation of calcium content in bones
Mesh cortexAdrenosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, estrogen, pregnenolone, testosterone, 17-hydroxyprogesteroneCorrect formation of sexual characteristics and functions, gaining muscle mass
Brain matterNorepinephrine, adrenalineReadiness of the body for stress, collection and accumulation of energy, support of gluconeogenesis, lipolysis, thermogenesis

Adrenal cortex

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For the synthesis of hormones of the adrenal cortex, cholesterol is necessary, which we receive with food. The boundaries of different zones of the glands are distinguishable only under a microscope. But they are made up of cells that differ from each other.

The hormones they release play the role of regulators of physical and chemical mechanisms in the body at all levels.

The cells of the glomerular zone produce mineralocorticosteroids. In the middle cortical layer, glucocorticosteroids are produced. Androgens are produced in the mesh area.

Stressful situations and improper nutrition can affect the synthesis of physiologically active substances in the cortex.

The action of hormones of the adrenal cortex is manifested when the body reacts to the effects of environmental factors. They help to physically cope with shock in case of injuries, trauma, are responsible for allergic reactions, stress resistance.


slide 22 - 33The products of the glomerular zone are mineralocorticoids, the most important role for aldosterone. Less significant roles are given to corticosterone, deoxycorticosterone. They control vascular tone and pressure.

Their hypersecretion provokes arterial hypertension, suppression – low blood pressure. Aldosterone inhibits sodium and water loss. In doing so, he removes potassium along with urine. This is especially important for the regulation of water-salt metabolism during increased sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding, for increasing pressure during the development of shock.

The substance regulates the volume of blood circulating in the body, affects the work of the myocardium, muscle performance.


img5 - 35The bundle zone of the cortical layer is responsible for the formation of glucocorticosteroids such as deoxycortisol, corticosterone, dehydrocorticosterone, the most active are cortisone and cortisol. The name of the class of hormones comes from their ability to increase blood glucose levels.

Its normal level is maintained by insulin, for the secretion of which the pancreas is responsible. The most significant effect on behavior is the stress hormone cortisol. The results of the activity of this glucocorticoid are manifested in many mechanisms.

The maximum cortisol level is observed at eight in the morning. It helps to adapt to strong physical and emotional stress, maintaining muscle tone, regulating metabolic processes, and the immune system.

The substance reduces inflammation, affects tissue regeneration, and is responsible for allergic responses. Corticosteroids affect the nervous system.

They affect the coordinated and correct processing of incoming external impulses, the sensitivity of taste and olfactory receptors.


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Androgens are called male sex hormones produced by the gonads and cells of the adrenal mesh with the participation of corticotropin.

This group is complemented by adrenosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, estrogen, which is also produced in the female hormonal glands, testosterone, also produced in the male testes, pregnenolone, 17-hydroxyprogesterone.

These hormones are involved in timely puberty, the distribution of fat and muscle mass in the body, the appearance of the hairline, and the structure of the figure. They enter the bloodstream most intensively during puberty, but continue to be released after menopause, maintaining muscle tone and libido.

Adrenal medulla

tmp141 - 39The median adrenal region is reserved for the medulla, which is composed of chromaffin cells.

Hormonal synthesis is directed by the sympathetic nervous system. So this layer can be viewed as a specialized sympathetic plexus.

But local adrenal hormones do not enter the bloodstream through synapses, but directly, decaying after half a minute.

Their effect is manifested in conditions of increased stress. A person will either be afraid, numb, freeze from indecision, or be angry, attack, fiercely defend himself.


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Catecholamines are produced in the cells of the adrenal medulla. The dark cells in the medulla release norepinephrine.

It is a neurotransmitter, and it is produced five times less than adrenaline. Adrenaline is produced in the light cells of the layer.

It is a tyrosine derivative, also called epinephrine. It is intensively synthesized during irritation of pain receptors, glucose deficiency in the bloodstream. Exercise and bleeding contribute to the increased release of norepinephrine.

Adrenaline affects the work of the heart muscle (excess of the substance causes the proliferation of myocardial fibers), the mechanisms of adaptation to non-standard, dangerous circumstances, participates in the breakdown of glycogen in the muscles and liver, activates nerve impulses, relieves spasm of smooth muscles.

Insufficient production of the substance leads to a decrease in blood glucose levels, a drop in blood pressure, impairment of memory and attention, and rapid fatigue.

Norepinephrine causes vasoconstriction, increased pressure. An excess of the hormone contributes to the appearance of anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and a lack of depressive conditions.

Disruption types

An excess or deficiency of adrenal hormones causes functional disorders.

A variety of symptoms can indicate hormonal imbalance: from hypertension and excess weight to thinning of the skin, muscular dystrophy and a decrease in the density of bone structures.

Signs of adrenal gland diseases and metabolic disorders can also be:

  • irregular periods
  • intensely manifested premenstrual syndrome,
  • infertility,
  • gastric pathologies,
  • imbalance, bouts of irritability,
  • trouble sleeping
  • erectile dysfunction,
  • alopecia,
  • fluid retention in the body,
  • frequent gain and loss of body weight,
  • dermatological problems.


The adrenal hormones in the medulla are usually produced in normal doses. Their deficiency is rarely observed due to the replacement work of the aortic pheochromocytes, the sympathetic system, and the carotid artery.

And with hypersecretion of these substances, hypertension, accelerated heartbeat, increased glucose levels, cephalalgia are observed. Lack of hormones of the cortex can cause the development of serious systemic disorders, and the removal of the cortical layer threatens with rapid death.

An example of disorders is chronic hypocorticism, which gives a bronze tint to the epidermis of the hands, neck, face, affects the muscle tissue of the heart, causing asthenic syndrome. A person tolerates cold, pain worse, is prone to infectious diseases, and is rapidly losing weight.

The excessive effect of aldosterone is manifested in a violation of the acid-base balance, edema, an abnormal increase in blood volume, and hypertension.

It leads to oversaturation of small vessels with sodium, swelling, and a decrease in their diameter. This is one of the main causes of persistent high blood pressure.

The condition is aggravated by pain in the chest, head, convulsive muscle contractions due to a lack of potassium. Aldosterone deficiency in an adult’s body is not expressed in any special way.

May indicate dehydration, low blood pressure. A sharp decrease in the amount of the hormone causes shock and requires urgent intervention and treatment.

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Excess and disadvantage

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An excess of glucocorticoids causes an increase in serum sugar levels, leaching of minerals from bones, deterioration of adsorption through the intestine, suppression of immunity, dysfunction of neutrophilic and other leukocytes, the appearance of subcutaneous fat, inflammation, poor tissue regeneration, all manifestations of cushingoid, muscle weakness, heart failure, increased acidity of the gastric environment.

A lack of glucocorticosteroids increases insulin sensitivity, reduces glucose and sodium, leads to edema, metabolic disorders.

An increase in the synthesis of cortisol helps to quickly navigate, make choices in difficult and stressful situations.

If it is not produced enough, it can lead to disorientation and panic attack. With a deficiency of the substance, the amount of serotonin and dopamine at the same time decreases. This leads to depression and depression.

Corticosterone is responsible for the metabolism, the normal change in the phases of activity and sleep. If it is not enough, the person is quick-tempered, irritable, does not sleep well.

Hair may fall out, the skin becomes covered with acne. Men have reduced potency, women cannot get pregnant, their monthly cycle is lost.

An increase in the level of this hormone leads to false hermaphroditism in children, painful hardening of the mammary glands in young men. A stomach ulcer develops, the immune system malfunctions, blood pressure rises, and fatty deposits appear in the abdomen.

The increased content of male sex hormones of the adrenal glands provokes masculinization of the appearance.

In women, this may look like increased hairiness in atypical areas, cessation of menstruation, underdevelopment of the reproductive system, voice breaking, male-pattern muscle development, hair loss on the head.

Excess testosterone in a male fetus can cause delayed speech activation in the future. In addition, androgens metabolize cholesterol and prevent sclerotic changes, reduce the inhibitory effect of cortisol on the immune system, and act as antioxidants.

Other organs of the endocrine system also affect the ratio of hormones. For example, a change in the production of somatotropic hormone by the pituitary gland, which, among other tropines, triggers hormonal secretion in the adrenal glands, provokes serious systemic pathologies in both children and adults.

In conclusion

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If a person has signs of a disease, his blood is analyzed for the ratio of various adrenal hormones.

The study of the level of androgens is resorted to in situations of early or late puberty, with problems with conception, gestation. An imbalance of glucocorticoids is sought if the monthly cycle is lost, bone diseases, muscle atrophy, skin manifestations, and a sharp weight gain are observed.

Mineralocorticosteroids are tested for unstable pressure, glandular hyperplasia. Diagnosis and treatment will be more successful if no medication is taken on the eve of sample collection.

Tatyana Jakowenko

Editor-in-chief of the Detonic online magazine, cardiologist Yakovenko-Plahotnaya Tatyana. Author of more than 950 scientific articles, including in foreign medical journals. He has been working as a cardiologist in a clinical hospital for over 12 years. He owns modern methods of diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases and implements them in his professional activities. For example, it uses methods of resuscitation of the heart, decoding of ECG, functional tests, cyclic ergometry and knows echocardiography very well.

For 10 years, she has been an active participant in numerous medical symposia and workshops for doctors - families, therapists and cardiologists. He has many publications on a healthy lifestyle, diagnosis and treatment of heart and vascular diseases.

He regularly monitors new publications of European and American cardiology journals, writes scientific articles, prepares reports at scientific conferences and participates in European cardiology congresses.