Adrenal Glands: Structure & Function

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  • 0:02 Adrenal Glands
  • 0:59 Adrenal Medulla
  • 2:51 Adrenal Cortex
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Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Your adrenal glands look like little hats sitting on top of your kidneys. Even though they are small, they produce some very important hormones. Learn how hormones from your adrenal glands help you deal with stress and keep fluids balanced.

Adrenal Glands

Here's a riddle for you: Which organ in your body looks like a hat, weighs less than a nickel, and is responsible for giving you an adrenaline rush? It's not your lung, and it's not your pancreas or your liver; the correct answer is your adrenal gland.

You have two adrenal glands, which are hormone-producing glands located on top of the kidneys. You might recall from other lessons that hormones are chemical substances that tell your body what to do. Because of their small size and the way they sit on top of your kidneys, it looks like your kidneys are wearing the adrenal glands like stocking hats. Hormones from these glands help you deal with scary, stressful, and exciting events in life, so let's take a look inside the glands to better understand how they help you throughout your day.

Adrenal Medulla

If you were to cut open an adrenal gland, you would notice that it has two parts. The middle area of the adrenal gland is called the adrenal medulla. It might help you recall this term if you think of 'middle' and 'medulla' as sounding about the same. Your adrenal medulla is thought to be linked to your nervous system, which gives you a bit of a clue as to how the adrenal gland helps you cope with stress.

For instance, let's say you were sitting by a campfire deep in the woods, and all of the sudden, you hear a growl come from the darkness. You look into the woods and see a pair of eyes about eight feet off the ground. This is all it takes to trigger the part of your nervous system that's in charge of fight or flight, meaning you either stand up and confront what is possibly a Big Foot, or you flee to your tent and hide inside your sleeping bag. Your nervous system helps you react to this scary situation by stimulating the adrenal medulla to secrete its hormones into your bloodstream.

One of these hormones is adrenaline, which is also known as epinephrine. Adrenaline is a hormone that helps rev up your body because it increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar level. You've probably experienced a pounding heart when you have been scared or excited; this is partly due to adrenaline and helps you deal with short periods of stress. The heart pumps harder and faster in these types of situations to get more blood to your muscles. We learned that adrenaline also increases your blood sugar level because sugar, also known as glucose, is what your body turns to for quick energy. When a lot of glucose gets dumped into your blood, it becomes readily available energy, just in case you need a little extra to outrun Big Foot.

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