Adrenal Glands & Adrenal Fatigue: Everything You Need To Know

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There’s a lot of hype about human-like robotics these days, and yes, it’s amazing how the field has advanced in recent years. But the fact is that it will be a very long time before there are any robots that are nearly as complex as our own bodies. Today we will discuss one of the most important parts of the human body: the adrenal glands. We’ll cover what they are, how they fit into the larger functions of the body, and what the deal is with conditions like “adrenal fatigue” which have become more commonly diagnosed in recent years.


Adrenal Glands Explained

Everyone has two adrenal glands, which measure about 2 inches long and are located just above the kidneys. These glands play some very important roles in regulating hormone levels and other functions, but they don’t work alone. They’re components of a larger system of glands in the body called the endocrine system.

The adrenal glands work in tandem with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain to form what is called the “HPA axis.” Together, they work to maintain homeostasis in the body, which essentially means keeping all the organs and critical systems and functions of the body working normally. The HPA axis helps to regulate blood pressure, body temperature and sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, as well as other hormones like cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” Finally, the adrenal glands trigger the production of adrenaline, which plays a critical role in the fight-or-flight response, among other things. Other endocrine system components that the adrenal glands work with include the thyroid gland, the testicles in males, the ovaries in females, the pancreas and the parathyroid glands.

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What Adrenaline Does

In addition to all the normal day-to-day functions mentioned above, adrenaline also plays a role in helping the body to protect you from a perceived danger, or survive an extremely stressful situation. Stress at work, for instance, will trigger a small increase in adrenaline, probably enough to make you slightly uncomfortable, but not anything serious. That’s because your brain correctly perceives that you aren’t in a dangerous situation. In a truly life-threating scenario, though, you would experience a short-lived, massive release of the hormone called an adrenaline rush.

This is an evolutionary adaptation which occurs in all animals. It triggers the unconscious fight-or-flight response, which helps a living creature fight off an attacker or run away. When this occurs in a human, it’s characterized by an elevation in heartrate and respiration, dilated pupils and raised blood pressure. The person experiencing it will also perceive events differently. The surge in adrenaline causes a feeling of hyperawareness and concentration. Many times, people who survived a life-threatening situation will recall how it felt like things were moving in slow-motion. This sensation is caused by the adrenaline rush. It will also cause a temporary increase in strength and speed to help the individual get away from the danger. It may sound like some kind of superpower from a comic book, but it is in fact just a normal biological response designed to help you survive.

While this physiological response is designed to protect you, it’s only meant to last a few minutes. If it happens too much, it can be quite damaging to the endocrine system and the body as a whole.


What’s the deal with “adrenal fatigue”? Is it a real disease?

This is a topic of debate among many in the medical community. Adrenal fatigue is a supposed condition in which the adrenal glands become “overworked.” It’s characterized by fatigue, body aches, problems with digestion, nervousness and agitation and trouble sleeping. But is it a real disease?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a lot of doctors aren’t convinced, because these are non-specific symptoms and there are many different things that could be causing them. Many of the symptoms above, for instance, can also be caused by an over-dependence on caffeine, which is quite common in modern societies.

There are, however, legitimate disorders of the adrenal glands, such as adrenal insufficiency, otherwise known as Addison’s disease. This occurs when a disease causes the adrenal glands to produce insufficient amounts of adrenaline for the body to function normally.


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Hopefully this helps answer your questions and clears up some misconceptions about this frequently referred to, but often misunderstood, hormone.