Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.
The adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys. These are endocrine organs, which means that they secrete hormones directly into your bloodstream. When we take a look inside an adrenal gland, we see that it looks like two different structures. There is the central area called the adrenal medulla, which is enclosed by the adrenal cortex. The adrenal cortex is the outer portion of the adrenal gland that secretes steroid hormones. There are three major groups of steroid hormones known as mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids and sex hormones. In this lesson, we will learn about two of those groups, the glucocorticoids and the sex hormones.
The adrenal cortex is actually comprised of three layers, and the middle layer is where we see the production of glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids play an important role in the body. They promote carbohydrate metabolism and help the body cope with long-term stressors. The term 'glucocorticoid' is easy to recall when we break the word down. The prefix 'gluco' refers to glucose, which is the main carbohydrate we see being metabolized, and the suffix 'corticoid' refers to the adrenal cortex, where the hormones originate. We see that glucocorticoids are secreted from the adrenal cortex only after the cortex is stimulated by the hormone adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH comes from the anterior pituitary gland, which we recall is often referred to as the 'master gland' because its hormones influence so many other glands, such as the adrenal cortex.
Interestingly, ACTH is secreted in response to stress. Therefore, we can see how stress ultimately triggers the release of glucocorticoids, which then in turn help us deal with the stressor. The stress we are talking about here is long-term stress, such as prolonged fasting or prolonged exercise or even prolonged emotional stress, such as the loss of a loved one.
When glucocorticoids are released, we see blood glucose levels rise. This is partly because glucocorticoids promote gluconeogenesis, which we recall is the increased synthesis of glucose from molecules that are not carbohydrates, such as proteins and fats. This additional glucose can be utilized by your body cells for extra energy during the stressful period.
The most important glucocorticoid in your body is called cortisol. We can define cortisol as a steroid hormone from the adrenal cortex that regulates carbohydrate metabolism and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Cortisol is also called hydrocortisone. While all glucocorticoids help the body deal with inflammation, you may be familiar with the term 'hydrocortisone' because it's sometimes produced synthetically and turned into a medication that is used to treat a wide range of inflammatory conditions from skin disorders to arthritis.
We mentioned that the adrenal cortex is comprised of three layers. The innermost layer produces sex hormones. The sex hormones are steroid hormones produced by the adrenal cortex that influence male and female sexual characteristics. These hormones are produced in smaller amounts in the adrenal cortex than we see from the gonads, which are the major producer of sex hormones.
But, it's interesting to note that regardless of whether you are male or female, your adrenal cortex secretes both male and female sex hormones throughout life. Estrogen is the female sex hormone secreted in small amounts from the adrenal cortex. Estrogen is secreted in smaller amounts than androgens, which are the male sex hormones secreted from the adrenal cortex.
Androgens are steroid hormones, such as testosterone. They control the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics. We did note that even women have the production of androgens from the adrenal cortex. This is typically in small enough amounts that masculine characteristics do not develop. However, if there is a hyper-secretion of the androgens due to a problem with the adrenal cortex, it could result in masculinization of the woman. For instance, the woman could develop a beard and other masculine qualities.
The adrenal cortex is the outer portion of the adrenal gland that secretes steroid hormones. Glucocorticoids are one type of steroid hormone that comes from the cortex. The most important glucocorticoid is called cortisol, which also goes by the name 'hydrocortisone.' Glucocorticoids promote carbohydrate metabolism, help the body cope with long-term stressors and have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Glucocorticoids are secreted in response to ACTH, which is secreted from the anterior pituitary gland during times of stress. Glucocorticoids increase blood glucose levels, which provide readily available energy for your body cells.
The adrenal cortex also secretes sex hormones. The sex hormones are steroid hormones that influence male and female sexual characteristics. Estrogen is the female sex hormone. Androgens, such as testosterone, are the male sex hormones.
After watching this lesson, you will be able to:
- Summarize how glucocorticoids are secreted from the adrenal cortex
- Explain the function of glucocorticoids and androgens
- List specific hormones of the glucocorticoid and sex hormone groups
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