How Your Adrenal Glands Interact with the Rest of Your Body

Your body is a wonderful chemical factory, with endocrine glands making hormones that tell the body what to do. The adrenal glands are essential for other organs in the body to work well. And nothing in the body occurs in isolation.

When healthcare practitioners think about adrenal gland function in the setting of adrenal fatigue, they aren't just thinking about the adrenal glands. They're often thinking about how the adrenal glands work in conjunction with two other organs, namely the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. The interaction of the hormones produced by these three organs is often referred to as the HPA axis.

Here's the rundown on the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and a couple of other organs that act on, interact with, or are affected by the adrenal glands:

  • Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus is the starter. Located in the brain, it's responsible for producing many hormones that stimulate the release of other hormones in the body. The hypothalamus produces corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which then stimulates the pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH); this stimulates the adrenal gland to make cortisol. The adrenal glands can't produce cortisol if the hypothalamus doesn't first produce CRH.

    The hypothalamus is also a great stimulator for the thyroid gland.

  • Pituitary: The pituitary gland, which is about the size of a pea, sits just under the hypothalamus. The pituitary makes ACTH, which in turn stimulates the production of cortisol in the adrenal glands. As a bonus, the pituitary controls growth, breast milk production, sex organ function, thyroid function, and more.

  • Thyroid: The major function of the thyroid, which is in your neck, is controlling the body's metabolism. It works in concert with the adrenals. There's a tremendous overlap between adrenal fatigue and thyroid dysfunction.

  • Kidneys: The adrenal glands work with the kidneys to help control blood pressure, keep electrolytes in balance, and keep the body in a normal acid-base balance. The kidneys act as the filter of the body; their job consists of excreting all the body's toxins that build up on a daily basis. In addition, they're important in preventing anemia and in keeping bones healthy and strong.

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