An Introduction to Adrenal Hormones

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Hormones have a significant role in multiple areas such as metabolism, cognition, energy level, and mood. One of the major hubs of hormonal activity is the adrenals. This system is responsible for producing and regulating essential hormones involved in critical functions.

To gain an appreciation for the adrenals it is important to have a basic understanding of their function and learn about some of the most impactful hormones they produce.

Adrenal Basics

The adrenals are small walnut-sized glands that rest on top of the kidneys. This system is part of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), which has a powerful impact on the production, activation, and regulation of nearly all hormones found in the body. Dysfunction of any of these three systems can significantly hinder the efficacy and function of the other two.

The adrenal glands produce numerous hormones that influence a wide range of bodily functions including blood sugar regulation, carbohydrate conversion, fat storage, energy level, inflammation control, immune response, blood pressure, stress response, and neurological activity. Perhaps the greatest responsibility of adrenal hormones is the regulation of the wake/sleep cycle and stress. Unfortunately, all of these areas can be disrupted by poor adrenal activity.

One of the most common forms of adrenal dysfunction is adrenal fatigue. A primary contributor to adrenal fatigue is prolonged or chronic stress, resulting in excessive triggering and synthesis of adrenal hormones. Ultimately, the adrenals become exhausted and cannot maintain hormone production resulting in deficiency.

Adrenal hormone insufficiency causes a wide range of symptoms including:

  • Brain fog
  • Changes in mood
  • Difficulty tolerating stress
  • Dizziness upon standing
  • Easily fatigued after physical activity
  • Fatigue that is not eased with rest
  • Food sensitivities
  • Insomnia
  • Lost libido
  • Muscle weakness
  • Recurrent infections
  • Weight loss

To better understand how adrenal deficiency can cause such a broad range of symptoms we must look at the function of adrenal hormones themselves.

Read this for even more information on the adrenals.

The Impact of Adrenal Hormones

Instead of examining every one of the many hormones produced by the adrenals, we will be taking a closer look at some of the most important and prominent. Perhaps the most well-recognized and significant hormones produced by the adrenals are cortisol, aldosterone, DHEA, and pregnenolone. The impact of these hormones exemplifies the importance of healthy adrenal activity.


Cortisol is often called the stress hormone because it is a critical part of the body’s stress response. When the body experiences stress, cortisol is released to help regulate blood pressure, support cardiovascular activity, and combat infection. These effects allow the body to continue through times of high stress without slowing down.

Cortisol is also involved in other important bodily functions including metabolism and the conversion of macronutrients like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into usable energy. When the adrenals are working properly, cortisol is released in the morning to energize both the body and mind. This action helps the body wake up fully energized and ready to go. If cortisol is deficient, the body may feel sluggish and jittery in the morning and throughout the day.

In the presence of adrenal fatigue others issue may develop including:

  • Chronic infections
  • Difficulty waking up
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to handle stress
  • Low blood sugar

Alternatively, too much cortisol can keep the body in a heightened state of alert leading to symptoms such as anxiety, weight gain, and insomnia.


Aldosterone is a regulatory mineralocorticoid, a class of corticosteroid, that influences body fluid and mineral levels. This important substance also plays a role in the body’s ability to retain salt, allowing for better fluid and mineral control.

Without adequate aldosterone, the body may suffer from poor blood pressure regulation resulting in a variety of symptoms including:

  • Brain fog
  • Cravings for salt
  • Dizziness after standing
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Thirst

Reduced levels of aldosterone may also negatively impact the kidneys, causing them to lose necessary salt and water. This promotes kidney dehydration and limits detoxification.


Dehydroepiandrosterone, more commonly known as DHEA, is an important part of not only adrenal function, but overall health. This powerful hormone is a prominent precursor to all the major sex hormones including estrogens, progesterone, and testosterone. Partially, because of its influence on these significant hormones, DHEA aids in skin hydration, collagen thickness, and supports healthy energy levels, strength, and libido.

Further benefits of DHEA include greater immune function, stress reduction, improved hormone balance, and circulatory support. DHEA is also associated with increased levels of IGF-1, which is a marker for human growth hormone. This hormone is essential for early development and also promotes physical wellness in the form of bone strength, hair growth, and physical performance.

Unfortunately, DHEA levels and production plateau between the ages of 20 and 30. The following years involve a significant and rapid decrease in DHEA levels. This sudden shift can cause low DHEA levels resulting in symptoms such as malaise, fatigue, and hormonal imbalances.


Pregnenolone is often called the mother of hormones because it is the precursor to nearly all steroidal hormones including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, and cortisol. In addition to its key role in the production of hormones, pregnenolone also benefits many other areas of health including memory, cellular repair (specifically nerve tissue and the brain), mood regulation, hormone function, energy level, and enzyme activity.

Reduced levels of pregnenolone can have a cascading effect of dysfunction because it is needed for the synthesis of other important hormones. Pregnenolone deficiency is a common issue among those with adrenal fatigue.

Symptoms of poor pregnenolone levels include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of libido
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor memory
  • Reduced cognitive function
  • Weight gain

Support Your Health by Aiding the Adrenals

The adrenals are an essential part of healthy bodily function. Their influence can be seen in various areas throughout the body including focus, energy level, metabolic function, and many others. The adrenals exert their influence through the production of numerous hormones including cortisol, aldosterone, DHEA, and pregnenolone.

Understanding the impact of these important hormones helps in recognizing the essential nature of the adrenals. By supporting the adrenals and the many important hormones produced by them, you can maintain or improve your health and quality of life.

About Holtorf Medical Group

The Holtorf Medical Group specializes in optimizing quality of life and being medical detectives to uncover the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than just prescribing medications to cover-up the symptoms. We are experts in natural, prescription bioidentical hormone replacement and optimization, complex endocrine dysfunction, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease.

We’ve dedicated our practice to providing you the best in evidenced-based, integrative medicine that’s not only safe and effective, but provides measurable results.