What vitamins help the adrenal glands

Adrenal gland

Everyone has 2 adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are at the top of the kidneys. An adrenal gland is about 3 centimeters long and 1.5 centimeters wide and weighs 5-15 grams The adrenal gland is surrounded by a capsule and consists of the outer adrenal cortex and the inner adrenal medulla.


  • Adrenal cortex
    • Function of the hormones of the adrenal cortex
    • Diseases of the adrenal cortex
  • Adrenal medulla
    • Adrenal medulla disorders

Adrenal cortex

The adrenal cortex produces many different steroid hormones. There are 3 main groups:

  • Cortisol (glucocorticoid)
  • Aldosterone
  • Androgens

This mainly regulates the amount and timing of hormone production Adrenal stimulating hormone (adrenocorticotropic hormone, ACTH) from the pituitary gland. ACTH, in turn, is supported by the Corticotrope-releasing hormone (CRH) controlled from the hypothalamus.

Hormone production is subject to a control loop: If the adrenal cortex is supposed to produce and secrete more hormones, the hypothalamus produces more corticotrope-releasing hormone, which the pituitary gland produces Adrenal stimulating hormone stimulates. This then stimulates hormone production in the adrenal cortex. If there are enough adrenal hormones in the body, this is reported to the pituitary gland and hypothalamus (negative feedback) and production is reduced.

The formation of aldosterone is also controlled by the amount of sodium and potassium in the blood and by the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system: If the sodium level in the blood falls or the renin or potassium level increases, this is a stimulus for the adrenal cortex, more aldosterone to build. If the sodium level or the blood volume rises and the potassium level falls, aldosterone production is slowed down.

Function of the adrenal cortex hormones

  • Glucocorticoids
    Cortisol mainly affects the metabolism. It increases the production of sugar, breaks down fat and increases the breakdown of protein. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory effects and suppresses the immune system. Along with catecholamines, cortisol is an important stress hormone. However, it reacts more slowly than the catecholamines adrenaline or noradrenaline.
  • Aldosterone
    Aldosterone and other mineralocorticoids take care of the salt and water balance. They ensure that the concentrations of sodium and potassium are kept constant. They cause more sodium to be absorbed into the blood in the kidneys and intestines. Since sodium binds water, the blood volume increases at the same time. This allows the body to increase blood pressure.
  • Androgens
    Androgens are sex hormones that are converted into the sex hormone testosterone in the body. Only about 5% of androgens in men come from the adrenal cortex, the rest is produced in the testes. Testosterone promotes the growth and function of the penis and scrotum, it regulates the production of sperm, promotes body hair, increases sexual desire and potency and promotes muscle building. In women, an excess of androgens is manifested by acne and signs of masculinization such as deep voice, lack of menstruation, masculinization of body proportions and enlargement of the clitoris. How many androgens are produced is regulated by the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) from the pituitary gland.

Diseases of the adrenal cortex

Various diseases can disrupt the production of hormones in the adrenal cortex. The adrenal cortex can either produce and release too many hormones (overactive) or produce too few (underactive).

Overactive adrenal cortex

Overproduction of cortisol:

Various diseases can cause the adrenal cortex to produce too much cortisol. This clinical picture is called Cushing's disease. One possible cause is e.g. B. a tumor in the pituitary gland that produces adrenocorticotropic hormone that promotes cortisol formation in the adrenal cortex. Other malignant tumors (e.g. lung cancer) can also produce adrenocorticotropic hormone and thus trigger Cushing's disease. Cortisol production can also be boosted by a tumor in the adrenal cortex or adrenal cortex enlarged on both sides and lead to Cushing's disease.

Sick people with fully developed Cushing's disease have a very typical appearance: They have a large, round face, accumulations of fat in the abdomen and neck, and thin legs and arms. Patients are acne prone and have thin, parchment-like skin. Sugar metabolism disorders occur, and some patients develop diabetes. To treat Cushing's disease, the doctor must first find the cause. If possible, a tumor is removed or irradiated. If this is not possible, the patient is given drugs that inhibit cortisol production.

Overproduction of aldosterone (hyperaldosteronism = Conn syndrome)

The aldosterone-producing cells in the adrenal cortex can multiply for unknown reasons. A tumor of the adrenal cortex can also lead to an overproduction of aldosterone.

An important symptom of aldosterone overproduction is high blood pressure. In addition, aldosterone lowers the potassium levels in the blood. The potassium deficiency manifests itself in muscle weakness, constipation, frequent urination and great thirst. The disease is either treated with medication or the triggering cause, e.g. B. the tumor, operated on.

Underactive adrenal gland

If the adrenal gland does not produce enough cortisol, doctors also call this adrenal insufficiency. One differentiates between a primary and a secondary form. In primary adrenal insufficiency, the cause lies in the adrenal cortex itself: the most common cause is an autoimmune disease. The hormone cells can also be destroyed by tumors and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. The hormone-producing cells of the adrenal cortex are destroyed so that they can no longer produce hormones. This disease is called Addison's disease.

In secondary adrenal insufficiency, the cause of the hypofunction is found in the pituitary gland or in the hypothalamus. If the hormone production in the hypothalamus or in the pituitary gland is disturbed by a tumor, inflammation, circulatory disorders or after radiation treatment, the organs can no longer produce enough corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) or adrenal-stimulating hormone (ACTH). If these two hormones are missing, the adrenal cortex will no longer produce enough cortisol.

People with cortisol deficiency feel tired, listless, lose weight, have low blood pressure and poor appetite. Women stop menstruating and lose pubic hair. In Addison's disease, the skin (especially nipples), fresh scars, and the nail bed are darker than usual. People with a pituitary gland disorder have pale skin. Often those affected have no complaints in everyday life. Only when the body needs more cortisol during physical or psychological stress can the disease suddenly manifest itself in the form of a drop in blood pressure, shock, diarrhea and vomiting. Doctors call this life-threatening emergency "Addison's crisis". Adrenal insufficiency is treated with cortisol. Patients with Addison's disease are also given mineral corticoids.

Adrenal medulla

The adrenal medulla is part of the sympathetic nervous system. It produces the so-called catecholamines adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine. These hormones are stored in small grains in the area of ​​the cells (granules), from which they can be released into the blood very quickly when needed. The release of catecholamines is promoted by acetylcholine, a messenger substance of the nervous system. The catecholamines act on their target cells at certain docking points, at alpha or beta receptors. Catecholamines have various effects in the body. They are "stress hormones" and prepare the body for a stress reaction: They increase blood pressure and heart rate, increase blood sugar levels, increase sweat secretion, stop bowel activity and widen the airways.

Diseases of the adrenal medulla

Overproduction of catecholamines

The Pheochromocytoma is a tumor in the adrenal medulla or other part of the body that produces excessive catecholamines. The patients suffer from high blood pressure and get attacks of high blood pressure with headaches, palpitations and dizziness. Patients sweat profusely, are pale, and feel anxious. Cardiac arrhythmias, cardiac insufficiency or cerebral haemorrhage can occur as complications. Patients are usually fine between attacks. Some patients lose weight or have circulatory problems.

Lack of catecholamines

With certain nerve diseases, e.g. B. in the context of long-term diabetes mellitus, alcoholics, reduced formation of the red blood pigment hemoglobin (porphyria) or amyloidosis can also affect the adrenal medulla. In addition, a tumor or surgery can destroy the adrenal medulla in such a way that it no longer produces enough hormones.

The lack of catecholamines manifests itself in a disturbed blood pressure regulation: The patient quickly becomes dizzy, some pass out. In addition, the patients suffer from ringing in the ears, headaches, palpitations or pain in the heart area. The doctor prescribes antihypertensive drugs to counteract the catecholamine deficiency.